Few of us think beyond the garment hanging in our wardrobe. The style, colour, pattern and embellishments are what attract us – but what if that dress, or shirt or cardigan could share its own story. A story of the hands that made it, the stories it was privy to in the places it was made? Shwe: The Wearable Library does just that.
The women behind the Wearable Library project are Brazilian Julia Franco, who also happens to be the gorgeous wife of musician Guy Buttery, and young graduate fashion designer Simone Bufe. Sharing a vision and will to uplift communities and provide entrepreneurial opportunities, the duo set out to connect with social community groups across Durban that support vulnerable women.
They met refugee communities and the homeless involved in the Sewing for Africa Project at the Denis Hurley Centre. Here they listened to the stories of migrant women who all shared a deep love for knitting, crochet or sewing. “Fashion gave them a medium to share their stories. Our aim is to upskill them so that they can earn a living, in turn we’ve learnt a lot from them. “
At TAFTA, they joined forces with elderly residents who are talented with needle and thread, crochet hooks and knitting needles. “We’ve loved working with these remarkable craftswomen whose work can be found in a hand crocheted collar, a beaded pocket, or textured sleeve on one of our fashion garments, adding their own stories and rich histories to the final product.”
At Pinky’s Studio they met a group of women who escaped abusive households and found refuge and a safe space at the home of Pinky, a remarkable woman who created a safe space for these women in her home back in 2002. Here they put their combined creativity to work and together with The Wearable Library Project collaborated on two collections. “Our aim is to house Pinky and other women we work with under one very large and safe roof. Through the sales of our garments we are slowly making this a potential reality.”
Last, but not least, they forged a collaboration with the fashion department at the Durban University of Technology. The Wearable Library Project is both a fashion house and school. The school is free and accessible in several African languages. It offers a range of programmes designed to up-skill and enable women to work in the fashion industry. The Project serves as a co-operative in which women can sell their garments through its website, giving them access to local and international markets.
“Our philosophy is simple. Shwe: The Wearable Library is not just a label, it is a place in which women can share their abilities, develop their capacities in business and the fashion industry and become entrepreneurs in their own right, ultimately developing and enriching their own families and communities,” says Simone.
The collaborative work can be seen in this season’s sophisticated fashion range that aims to be both functional and comfortable to wear. “This season sees abstract patterns making an appearance and brighter colours featuring in statement pieces that include the new wrap dresses, skirts and jumpsuits, shirt dresses, puff jackets and slightly more tailored shirts than in previous collections. “We are very flexible and can make up garments to customer specifics if need be,” said Simone.
Shop online at thewearablelibrary.com