For the first time, The Commonwealth comes together to showcase a wealth of design and artisan fashion talent across its 53 countries. Launched by Commonwealth Secretary General the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland and Livia Firth, founder of sustainability consultancy Eco-Age, the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange is a major new initiative that promotes new networks, trade links and lasting sustainable supply chains.
The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange was conceived by ardent ethical campaigner Livia Firth. The idea was to pair designers with artisans from across the 53 nations of the Commonwealth and ask them to create one fashion look.
“This is a project rich in partnerships and creative co-design. For example, one of our very talented designers from India is paired with an artisan group in Tuvalu. As someone who is passionate about joining the threads of global fashion and creating real partnerships you can imagine how exciting it is for us to be involved.”
The launch at Buckingham Palace
On behalf of Her Majesty The Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, HRH The Duchess of Cambridge and HRH The Countess of Wessex hosted a reception to celebrate and showcase designs, designers and artisans from across the Commonwealth’s 53 countries who participated in the inaugural Commonwealth Fashion Exchange (CFE).
The reception saw 30 CFE creations displayed in the Palace’s State Apartment. From Thursday February 22, the looks were displayed at the Australian High Commission, London, before being exhibited during the Commonwealth Summit itself. Both exhibitions at Buckingham Palace and High Commission of Australia were carefully curated by VOGUE’s International Editor at Large, Hamish Bowles.
The Palace celebration included guests from the fashion industry across the Commonwealth nation with attendees including Anna Wintour, Edward Enninful, Livia Firth, Nadja Swarovski, Neelam Gill, Nigel Gosse, Ulric Jerome, Naomi Campbell, Stella McCartney, Adwoa Aboah, and Caroline Rush alongside many of the designers and artisans who created the CFE designs and representatives of the newly-affiliated Commonwealth Fashion Council.
The exhibition at the Australian High Commission, London
The looks were celebrated during London Fashion Week at a reception at Buckingham Palace on February 19th, before moving to a public exhibition at High Commission of Australia, London, on February 21st, where the exhibition was open to the public in the run up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit, April 2018.
The Fashion Exchange: 31 looks, 31 designers, 31 artisans, 53 countries
The project is particularly timely as a global wave of interest in handmade products and authentic luxury causes a reassessment of the artisan fashion trades. In this way, The Fashion Exchange brings the values of the modern-day Commonwealth – women’s empowerment, ethical production and supply chains, innovation, economic growth and poverty reduction – to life through the globally appealing medium of fashion.
Celebrating both shared traditions and unique aesthetics and crafts, exchanges from Asia highlighted exquisite textiles and embellishments, from truck art to mirror embroidery and UNESCO protected Jamdani textiles. Representing countries India, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Brunei Darussalam, Singapore, Pakistan
India x Tuvalu
Behno created a repurposed wool coat (Woolmark certified) featuring Indian mirror-work and border and grid beadwork, and a sheer dress made from remnants of blue silk organza, embellished with Swarovski crystals, and scattered with black crochet ‘kolose’ panels. Five women from Tuvalu, artisans from the cooperative Fafine Niutao I Aotearoa, spent a month creating the panels using a crochet technique that is particulary intricate and popular in the region.
Bernard Chandran created his design in fine ‘songket’ – a royal Malay brocade, handwoven and patterned with gold and silver threads. He drew inspiration from Malay ‘kerawang’ – a style of traditional embroidery that involves cutting away the base-cloth to create a lace effect, contemporising the look with a geometric feel. The strapless dress is carefully structured and the floor-length coat is embroidered with wool yarn.
Bibi Russell designed a simple formal outfit consisting of a skirt, jacket, scarf with matching accessories. The look is made from hand-woven Jamdani cloth, which is unique to Bangladesh, and is considered an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ by UNESCO. Red has been used to emphasise happiness and joy, the beauty Bibi sees in the village of Bangladesh. Through this outfit, Bibi Russell wants to give her tribute to incredible Jamdani weavers for their magical work.
Darshi Keerthisena was surrounded by fabric from an early age, as her family began Buddhi Batiks back in the 70s. Darshi created a wrap coat dress using Seacell™ fabric made from algae and silk which was hand pleated and batiked by Buddhi Batiks’ team of craft women in the village of Koswadiya, and lined with peace (Ahimsa) silk from India. The sleeves are detachable for greater versatility, and the obi belt is made from Piñatex, a pineapple-based leather alternative. The look was embellished with laser cut sequins made from Piñatex and Swarovski upcycled crystals.
Brunei Darussalam x Singapore
To celebrate the collaboration between Singapore and Brunei, the focus was on the evolution of the modern Malay woman, as it is a symbol of a shared history and identity. For this project, Na Forrér created an evening dress known as a “Baju Kebaya” – a common traditional womenswear worn by Malay women from Brunei and Singapore during formal events and festivities. The traditional corset crafted from traditional Bruneian Songket fabric is normally worn by brides and grooms for marriage ceremonies and on royal and state occasions. The boxy and high shoulder represents womens’ empowerment and modernity. The dress was made from a 100% wool crepe, featuring a hand-painted Euca silk designed by Lully Selb, and Bruneian Songket, a traditional material woven out of silk and cotton gold and silver threads. Historically, the textile of choice of Malay elite and royalty, Songket was often handed down from father to son or mother to daughter, as prized family heirlooms to be treasured and worn only for the most special of occasions. To exhibit the collaboration between Brunei and Singapore, the Brunei emblem Panji-Panji is featured in the custom textile design.
Rizwan Beyg’s design philosophy is, and always has been, ‘Pakistan Modern’. Rizwan created a skirt and coat for the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange, featuring motifs designed by the ‘truck artists’ of Pakistan. The pattern of the garment was first worked on by original truck artists and digitally printed on silk, after which it was embroidered by the village women of Bhwalpur.
Drawing from a myriad of diverse cultures across African countries, these exchanges tell stories of heritage, tradition, and modernisation through symbolism and social narratives. Participating countries included; South Africa, Kenya, Zambia, Rwanda, Uganda, Botswana, Swaziland, Cameroon, United Republic of Tanzania, Nigeria, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Gambia, Mozambique, Mauritius
South Africa x Lesotho
House of Thethana in Lesotho worked under Clive’s direction to design a custom textile print, achieved by superimposing one print onto another – welding two images together to create a visual to print onto silk for the final garment construction. The fabric was then screen-printed using water-based inks on to a silk ‘sandwich’ of organza, georgette, and habotai. The look consists of a wool and organza coat with Swarovski upcycled crystals, accompanied by wool and organza shorts and a woollen collar accessory. Lucilla Booyzen of SAFW facilitated the exchange.
Kenya x Zambia / Kenya
Deepa Dosaja’s Deepa Flower Garden Gown was hand-embroidered and hand-painted, constructed from organic silk produced in Kenya, with elements of upcycled leather scraps and Swarovski upcycled crystals fashioned into floral embellishments. The embroidery and beading was crafted by Deepa’s in-house team, women who have been trained by Dosaja herself. The gown was also lined with remnant silk pieces, reflecting the brand’s ethos of reducing waste. To finish the look, Dosaja worked with Artisan Fashion, a social enterprise based in Kenya that connects over 1,000 artisans to international fashion. “Deepa’s Flowers” were crafted from sustainable cow horn and recycled brass. The neckline and the beaded belt of the gown is traditional Maasai beadwork. Also collaborating on the look is Mumwa Crafts Association in Zambia, who created a shoulder purse made from Zambian palm leaf. The purse has been embellished with Deepa Flowers crafted from recycled leather, Zambian Shitenge Fabric from Mumwa Crafts and sustainable cow horn along with a recycled brass Deepa Flowers shoulder strap from Artisan Fashion. The look was complete with a woollen shawl.
Rwanda x Uganda
Pierra Ntayombya, the creative director of Haute Baso, created a look using wool and upcycled mosquito nets, embellished with upcycled beads from traditional accessories such as necklaces and bracelets, and handmade beads from Ugandan jewellery maker Ihato. The beads are made from recycled paper, which is then cut into triangular shapes, rolled and glued, and finished with varnish. The top was made from a locally sourced mosquito net, naturally dyed grey using fermented cassava. Conventional insecticide treated mosquito nets last between 6 to 12 months therefore thousands of mosquito nets are disposed of annually to protect people from Malaria.
Botswana x Swaziland
Mothusi Lesolle of Botswana and Doron Shaltiel of Swaziland collaborated on a design that symbolised principles important to both countries: The white linen fabric represents purity, an expectation of young women in Swaziland. The red recycled paper beads raise awareness of HIV/AIDS, while the black beads signify the power in the culture of the people of Swaziland and pay tribute to the power of women. The corset was created in the shape of a shield, and symbolises the protection afforded to the Commonwealth by the Queen.
Cameroon x United Republic of Tanzania
The gown designed by Kibonen was made from lightweight Woolmark certified wool, trimmed with Maasai beading from Mgece Makory in Tanzania. Intricate embroidery features on the patterned Toghu cloth, traditionally worn by rulers of the North West region of Cameroon.
Nigeria x Malawi
This look was created with organic British wool and embellished with Swarovski upcycled crystals. The look was designed by Nkwo and named ‘Spirit of the Dance’. It is made from Aso Oke, a hand-loomed cloth woven by a group of women based in Kogi state in central Nigeria, according to a traditional craft of the Yoruba people. The piece was inspired by a secretive religion indigenous to Malawi, called Nyau. During a special ceremony, attendees wear wooden masks and act out spirits of the dead, in order to communicate with them. Avec Amour’s Angela Fuka Mpando sourced an expert wood carver from Blantyre, the second largest city in Malawi, and home to the country’s commercial industries. Carving is a traditional craft in Malawi, skills being passed from father to son. The carver produced 12 miniature masks that have been sewn into the dress and tiny upcycled mirrored embellishments are scattered over the skirt.
Sierra Leone x Ghana / The Gambia
Sydney-Davies and Big Dread Kente worked together to create a natural raffia-fringed hand-woven kente cloth midi skirt with recyclable plastic blocking, and a bralet top embellished with Swarovski upcycled crystals in queen bee motifs. The outfit was complete with an oversized bardot wrap jacket made from hand-woven gold kente cloth, hand-woven country cloth, and 100% wool, and a handmade necklace and bracelet crafted by Ousman Toure in The Gambia. The necklace was made using glass beads and wooden Malawian trade beads which were traditionally used as tender. Sydney-Davies “came across Big Dread Kente on Instagram and immediately fell in love with kente cloth and its rich history.”
Mozambique x Mauritius
Inspired by Maputo’s best-loved architect, Pancho Guedes, who shaped much of the city’s post-modernist buildings, Zinzi created a dress that represents the juxtaposition of past and present in the urban landscape of the city. The fabric nods towards the Maasai tradition for checks and the grid-like structure of the city, while the ruffles and gathers symbolise the lush vegetation and the warm sunshine dappled through palm leaves. Beautiful Local Hands’ artisans, James Warren (aka Pop) and Dany Couyava, created a necklace and bangles to accessorise the look, made from locally sourced polished coconut sewn onto beige canvas.
Highlighting ancient traditions, exchanges from the Pacific celebrated the beauty of natural resources and the power of shared histories. Participating countries included; Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Nauru, Fiji, The Seychelles, New Zealand, Cook Islands, Australia, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati
Samoa x Papua New Guinea
Afa designed his Commonwealth Fashion Exchange gown based on his love of traditional Samoan materials. The gown itself was made using linen for the central section, and a floral print from Afa’s archive, then accessorized with a sash made from the traditional Samoan material Afa, which is a yard/rope made out of coconut husk. The gown features handmade and painted flower embellishments, made by Margie Keates of The Lovely Avenue using recycled paper, and by Ofeira Asuao of AliiRas Backdrops using upycled foam. The look was complete with an original Papua New Guinea curved necklace of brown braided rope, decorated with four bands of cream coloured curled shells. The necklace is fastened by two groups of braided cord bands, each decorated with a small white shell pendant.
Tonga x Nauru
Bou selected Feta’aki for her design, a papery material made from the bark of the Mulberry tree, and lined with raw silk. The Feta’aki represents the cultural wealth of Tonga, dating back many centuries, and used as a sign of respect in gift-giving. The silk is also made from the mulberry tree and signifies wealth and prosperity. The look was complete with traditionally inspired hand-made jewellery made by Rendina Edwards from Nauru.
Fiji x Vanuatu / Seychelles
Hupfeld created an off-the-shoulder, corseted blouse from Vanuatu fibre, with a peplum finished with Fijian magimagi (coconut fibre), barkcloth and mother of pearl shells embroidered into a geometric flower pattern. The skirt was made from recycled Fijian Masi cloth (a traditional cotton fabric) which was hand-printed with geometric designs representing various parts of the region and embellished with appliqued flowers. The look was complete with jewellery created by Rolan & Anna Payet, using shells from the Seychelles.
New Zealand x Cook Islands
Karen Walker worked with a community of tivaivai craftswomen from the Cook Islands, now resident in New Zealand. Her dress was made from dusty pink Italian wool flannel and is covered in claret-coloured tivaivai embroidered flowers. The flowers are iconic flora of the Māmās’ island home and include gardenia, jasmine, orchid, fruit salad plant, hibiscus, fringed hibiscus, red ginger, frangipani and the Cook Islands national flower, Tiare Māori. Added to these are the beloved Karen Walker daisies. The 10 plant varieties are brought to life with 12 different traditional stitch styles.
Australia x Solomon Islands
The gown created by KITX has a bodice and skirt made from lightweight GOTS certified organic crepe wool sourced from a Woolmark approved mill, overlaid with a traditional straw skirt from the Solomon Islands and embellished with trochus shell beads made by hand by a cooperative of women expert at this ancient craft.
With a focus on heritage textiles, exchanges of Europe reimagined iconic garments in globally sourced noble fibres and hand coloured finishes. Participating countries included; Cyprus, United Kingdom, Malta
Cyprus x Kiribati
Afroditi designed her signature kaftan in blue silk overlaid with a printed chiffon of her own design. Through the use of buttons the look can be worn in three different ways, and has been completed with traditional ornamental beading created by artisans in Kiribati using grass, paper and shells.
Burberry designed a look using the highest quality Oeko-Tex certified Australian Merino wool to create a reimagined trench coat, accompanied by woollen trousers made with Oeko-Tex certified yarns, and knitwear made with non-muelsed wool. The suppliers and manufacturers involved in creating the look are part of Burberry’s 2020 project, involved in capacity building programmes encompassing training relating to ethical performance, audits, chemical management practices, and adhering to Burberry’s code of conduct.
Malta x India
Charles & Ron created look of Woolmark certified wool crepe, with a full, floor-length skirt embellished with beaded appliqué Maltese door-knockers. The coordinating blouse features Maltese lace, and a Maltese hand-tooled leather belt completes the look. The Maltese doorknockers were designed by Charles & Ron, then sent to Khushboo in Mumbai. Khushboo is a 24-year-old woman who oversees the creation of beading and embellishments through her network of local artisans. She will select the craftsperson most suited to the various projects commissioned by Charles & Ron, then ensure that the quality is in keeping with the brand’s high standards.
UK x India
Stella created a gown using Oshadi’s peace silk, produced using ancient hand-weaving techniques, and naturally dyed by local skilled craftsmen in Tamil Nadu. Peace silk is reeled from empty cocoons, meaning that silkworms are left to hatch into moths before the silk is spun from the cocoons in a way similar to spinning wool. It takes a weaver one day to create 5m of hand woven peace silk using a hand loom, compared to hundreds that can be produced by machine.
Caribbean and Americas
An explosion of culture, history, local materials and beautiful craftsmanship, exchanges from the Caribbean and Americas celebrated diverse stories, highlighting the power of fashion for supporting livelihoods. Participating countries included; Jamaica, Belize, Canada, Namibia, St Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, St Vincent and The Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, The Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Antigua and Barbuda
Jamaica x Belize
The skirt portion of this dress was made of individually cut flowers featuring six petals, folded together in three stages and attached to the core fabric of the garment. Fabric for the jacket and bodice was created from the selvedge offcuts of the fabric that was used for these flowers, by sewing rows of selvedge together for a subtly manipulated textile. The look was complete with a hand-made bag from MayaBags, an artisanal company in Belize working to preserve and enhance traditional Maya handwork skills. The “uh tok” or in English “Moon Spark” basket purse is made from a coiled and stitched basket frame woven of plant fiber (Jippi Jappa), covered with a Maya hand-woven fabric, lined with Dupion silk, and fastened with a coconut button and macramé loop closure.
Canada x Namibia
Lucian Matis created a gown made with a wool blend fabric, and embellished with black Swarovski upcycled crystals, inspired by the most recent oil spill in the East China Sea and the destruction caused to our oceans and ecosystems. To accompany the gown, a classic roll necklace was created by three Ju/’hoansi groups living in the eastern region of Namibia. The method for creating the beads is believed to date back 60,000 years, using ostrich eggshells that are broken in to small pieces, clipped into circles and pierced with a hole. The beads are heated to create different colours, from a pale grass tone through to black.
St Kitts and Nevis x Grenada
This Fashion Exchange gown was a meeting of minds and cultures. Keeanna, Shavaniece and Neisha explored their overlapping cultures to create “Sugar and Spice”, relating to a two day carnival in each country that showcases the large troupe costumes for the festivals of Sugar Mas and Spice Mas. The gown is an explosion of colour – pink, red, orange and yellow, with gold highlights, represented by bold bursts of Swarovski upcycled crystals across the bodice and finished with a plume of feathers.
St. Vincent + The Grenadines x Saint Lucia
Jeremy chose hemp and organic cotton jersey for his Fashion Exchange gown, tie-dyed with locally grown turmeric. The hand-painted motifs, chosen to connect to indigenous ancestors, reflect the imagery found in local rock carvings, believed to be up to 5000 years old. Nadia Jabour from Saint Lucia completes the look with a custom necklace fashioned from copper and carved coconut shells.
Trinidad and Tobago x Dominica
Meiling designed a hand embroidered gown of organdie, silk and leather, matched with a leather corset belt, tooled with butterflies made in Dominica by Vanessa Winston, and a pair of trousers made from upcycled Indian fabric.
Theodore created an evening gown that represents the flora and fauna of the island nations. The cotton voile bodice is silk screen printed with leaves and palm trees while the skirt depicts seashells, turtles and sand dollars native to the region, representing the precious aquatic life and environment of Barbados, the Bahamas, and surrounding islands. The fluid skirt reflects the waters that flow around the islands and is embroidered with Swarovski upcycled crystals. The look is complete with bespoke jewellery, handmade by Catherine Rocheford in Barbados, designed to mirror the almost circular motifs of the textile design. The jewellery was made using beading, and hammered sterling silver circles with soldered silver dots, softened with an eyelash ribbon that adds additional volume.
Guyana x Antigua and Barbuda
This look was inspired by Antigua and Barbuda’s National Costume and their Indigenous people, fusing elements of their Arawak tradition with their National wear. The neck of the dress was made with Burlap and covered with seeds from the shac shac (flamboyant) tree. It was created in the shape of a stick figure which represents one of the creatures that their shaman transforms into. The bodice was made with hand dyed Madras which is Antigua and Barbuda’s national fabric for their National costume. The centre of the bodice was made with palm leaves and fibres woven into a plain weave. Shac Shac seeds, jumbie seeds and buck beads create a triangular form on the front bodice of the design. The architecture of the Arawak Ajoupa (home) specifically the roof, inspired the full skirt of the dress, which was made with brown cotton and dyed burlap. The centre of the skirt was tie-dyed using natural onion skin and beetroot. Buck beads were sewn on the red panels of the skirt. Tibiseri straw (a fibre extracted from a Mauritia flexuosa found in Guyana) was woven with the palm leaves from Antigua (date palm) to create the plain weave used along the bodice of the dress as well as the front panel of the skirt. All other materials for this garment were found in Antigua.
Using a silk hand tie-dyed technique to create a print, Tanya has created a gown for the Fashion Exchange with a silk printed bodice encrusted with Swarovski upcycled crystals and a multi-colored pailette embellished skirt, using fabric from her archives.
Buckingham Palace is the London residence and administrative headquarters of the monarch of the United Kingdom. Located in the City of Westminster, the palace is often at the centre of state occasions and royal hospitality. It has been a focal point for the British people at times of national rejoicing and mourning.
Originally known as Buckingham House, the building at the core of today’s palace was a large townhouse built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703 on a site that had been in private ownership for at least 150 years. It was acquired by King George III in 1761 as a private residence for Queen Charlotte and became known as The Queen’s House. During the 19th century it was enlarged, principally by architects John Nash and Edward Blore, who constructed three wings around a central courtyard. Buckingham Palace became the London residence of the British monarch on the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837.
The last major structural additions were made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the East Front, which contains the well-known balcony on which the royal family traditionally congregates to greet crowds. The palace chapel was destroyed by a German bomb during World War II; the Queen’s Gallery was built on the site and opened to the public in 1962 to exhibit works of art from the Royal Collection.
The original early 19th-century interior designs, many of which survive, include widespread use of brightly coloured scagliola and blue and pink lapis, on the advice of Sir Charles Long. King Edward VII oversaw a partial redecoration in a Belle Époque cream and gold colour scheme. Many smaller reception rooms are furnished in the Chinese regency style with furniture and fittings brought from the Royal Pavilion at Brighton and from Carlton House. The palace has 775 rooms, and the garden is the largest private garden in London. The state rooms, used for official and state entertaining, are open to the public each year for most of August and September and on some days in winter and spring.