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Ethical Fashion Initiative Sheds Light On African Artisans During New York Textile Month

“Fabric is a form of art; fabric is part of the art of your body,” said Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI) founder Simone Cipriani, who held a discussion this week for New York Textile Month at Parsons School of Design.

In a small lecture center with an audience of approximately 60 people, Cipriani led an intimate seminar about EFI, his work experience in many African countries and how their artisans’ hand-weaving, dyeing and textile techniques have a place in today’s fashion industry.

Launched in 2009 by Cipriani, EFI brings together African artisans and designers as a development solution. African artisans improve their lives by producing luxury sustainable accessories, garments and footwear for today’s popular fashion designers. Together, both entities establish a more environmentally-friendly fashion industry.

With its roots in Kenya, EFI today is also located in six other nations, including Burkina Faso and Mali, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti and West Bank. In these countries, local artisans are responsible for the initiative’s innovative designs, including traditional methods that highlight tribal heritage.

Cipriani explained two unique processes that African artisans use: hand-weaving cotton and Bogolan dyeing. Traditional looms are used by African artisans in many nations, including Burkina Faso, to hand-weave cotton into beautiful fashion products. Woven fabric from this nation is often found in a tartan design. Hailing from Mali, Bogolan is an ancient dyeing method used by two local tribes. Mud is collected from river beds, seasoned for one year and then the dyer applies the earthy material to the fabric. When removed and washed, it leaves a beautiful black color behind. In Burkina Faso and Mali, EFI works with artisans from the capital of Burkina Faso Bobo and Ouagadougou.

The initiative also established many textile collaborations over the years, including EFI x United Arrows, EFI x Vivienne Westwood and EFI Burkina Faso x Elijah Green. Each collection combines African artisans’ culture with high-fashion items, including handbags and trendy apparel. More partnerships are expected and Cipriani anticipates that Ethical Fashion Initiative will expand to other countries, including Brazil, India and Peru.