Who says fashion has to be frivolous? A project organized by German Agro Action in cooperation with Deutsche Welle proves that fashion is an international language that can raise cultural awareness across the globe.
Clothes as a political statement
It was a far cry from the sulky chic of the Paris prêt-à-porter shows, but the third "World Robes" fashion show at the Deutsche Welle building in Bonn was all the more enjoyable for it.
At first glance, many of the outfits paraded down the catwalk couldn't have been more diverse. But in fact, all the pieces modeled had one thing in common -- they were made of fabric produced in Mali, India and Peru and based on traditional ethnic costumes.
Developme n t bo n us
Clothes are a part of cultural heritage
The event was showcasing the winning entries of the "World Robes" initiative, a competition that gets fashion students exploring the cultures of other countries and learning about their fabrics, their clothes-making traditions and skills. Each year a fashion school from India, West Africa or South America participates as an exclusive partner, with revenue from the project ploughed back into development projects in the partner countries.
This year, the partner was the renowned National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi. The project was so successful it was recently honored by the initiative "Germany - Land of Ideas."
The task at hand is to design a collection within a semester consisting of some 15 outfits and accessories made of fabric provided by German Agro Action. The material comes from countries where the organization is actively involved in projects and manufactured in accordance with ecological and social standards. This year, the textiles ranged from cotton with traditional printed motifs from Mali to delicate Paisley silk from Southern India and thick hand-woven, woolen cloth in glowing colors of the rainbow from the Peruvian Andes.
Cha n gi n g the world
Modern interpretations of traditional dress
The challenge for the participants was to set these unusual textiles in a new, modern context -- and the students were happy to rise to it.
Among the winners was 31-year-old Rafael Gomes, a German-Brazilian student at Munich's leading fashion school. The dress he designed was a Rococo-style frock with a corset made of pumpkin seeds, beans and coconut shells teamed with a tall wig made of bast fiber. The look was Marie Antoinette meets ethnic chic, and a comment on the disposability of contemporary culture.
"I would jump at the chance to take part in more projects like this one," Gomes said. "I'd love to change the world with fashion.The contest was a way of showing that fashion can make a contribution, it can be socially aware and very effective."
Participant Monika Hordoan from Hanover University was equally enthusiastic about the contest.
"You had to pick a country to concentrate on and do all the necessary research," she said. "You had to find out what it has in common with Europe, what's currently going on there, what are its traditions, how do people there look and what are the current fashions. That's when you started to get some ideas."
Ce n turies of traditio n
Ingeborg Schäuble, chairwoman of German Agro Action, is well aware that where politics can be divisive, fashion can be bonding. And she also believes it's important to show countries generally associated with poverty in a new, more positive light.
"We're usually so busy reporting on hunger, suffering, death and disaster," she said. "So we decided we'd like to report on something positive, about culture -- and clothes, because everyone is interested in clothes. In many of these countries clothes and textiles are rooted in traditions that go back centuries and it's a fascinating topic to explore."