Monthly Archives: February 2014

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The beautiful Kenyan sunshine that has accompanied us for the second part of our trip signals the end to the short rains (for now) and each day we now awake to a cacophony of bird song and the soft sunshine promising yet another bright day.

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Collins pours the brass into the sand & molasses casts

At the workshop, our finished carvings have been moulded into their sand and molasses casts by Ruben, ready for caster Collins to fill with brass. As we step into Collin’s section of the workshop we are immediately hit by a wall of heat, generated by the white hot furnace in the corner in which he smelts the scrap brass. Beads of sweat form on our upper lips and foreheads as we struggle with the heat while Collins looks remarkably cool and collected, and when we ask him if it’s hot work he simply replies with a shrug and pulls at his jumper and shirt combination beneath his work jacket – clearly not. Ash dances around us and we are all thankful for our safety masks and goggles. He goes on to fill the casts – three at a time – before adding them to the growing pile on the side where they are left to cool.

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The casted pieces cool in the ash

Once cooled, Collins then tips out the now-formed shape into the ash where it cools further. From there the casted pieces are taken to another part of the workshop where the rough edges are sanded down. Frances and I are then able to assemble the jewellery as per our original designs.

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Casted Rings

As well as creating casted pieces, we have been working on pieces Alpha XR from brass sheet and wire- cuffs, rings, earrings and pendants. We spend the majority of our time sitting with Sammie and the development team as they work with us on how best to create our designs – all the time patiently showing us the techniques they use to achieve our results. It’s very much an organic process as we work together and very often the team here at the workshop will put their own signature on the pieces we create; the soundtrack to our work our excited squeals as we see piece after piece completed.

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The finished piece

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Just finished: Double Horn Pendant

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New AW14 Cuffs

Next time we go sourcing treasures from far away lands at Africana House, and brave the crowds to find traditional Kenyan fabrics.

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Alpha XR Designer Frances and Marketing Manager Lizzie are currently at our workshop in Kenya working on our AW14 collection. Lizzie will be updating us on what they’re getting up to over the next couple of weeks:

As I sit here in the workshop garden, in Nairobi, Kenya, I’m surrounded by the intermittent sounds of the chirping Weaver Birds that nest in the huge palm tree which overlooks us, and the consistent noise of drilling, sanding, hammering and general chatter coming from the workers and their tools. A constant stream of craftsmen and women pass us as they walk between the store room for supplies and back to the various working stations of the workshop. As they pass they are all keen to ask us how we are and test out our limited Swahili: Them: ‘Habari’ (how are you?) Us: ‘Mzuri’ (fine thank you), ‘Vipi’? (How’re you – the colloquial version of Habari) Them: ‘Poa’ (Great).  We do this perhaps 50 times a day. Each time we manage to reply in Swahili we beam with unabashed pride.

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Workshop Garden

Arriving in Nairobi from London early on Monday morning Frances and I were shocked and a little disappointed to find that it was raining and slightly chilly. Unnervingly, as we drove to the hotel we were greeted by a number of cars in ditches apparently overcome by the wet tarmac and the genral lack of road safety. Thankfully the rush hour traffic we found ourselves in meant we were unable to drive fast enough to come to any harm, despite the best efforts of weaving Matatu’s (the local Kenyan buses known for their terrible safety record).

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Head of Production, Sammie, getting the mixer ready for carving.

Having off-loaded our luggage and showered briefly we headed off to the workshop. As we bounced along the pot-holed dirt roads we passed women with large loads balanced precariously on the heads, hungry-looking goats huddled at the side of the road and smartly dressed mean and women walking briskly, presumably to their prospective work places.  The recent arrival of the short rains had Alpha XR the countryside around us lush and alive and as we drove closer to the workshop it started to feel very much like we were in Africa.

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Choosing Kanga Fabric.

Our first days here have consisted mainly of working alongside Sammie and his production team, carving new shapes to cast ready for the new AW14 collection.  Seeing Ruben make up our casts from the sand and molasses, ready for the fire felt like Christmas as we waited in anticipation for caster Collins to fill the moulds and wait for the smelted brass to cool.

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Ruben inserts our carvings into the sand and molasses casts

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Ruben packs ur carvings down into the sand and molasses

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Visit us again in a couple of days time and learn how our casted prototypes have turned out and everything else Africa decides to throw our way…

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Fashion has always been ephemeral. Styles are born, they live and they die and are then reincarnated later on in time. We have grown accustomed to calling this normality, but the reality is, this way of operating just isn’t sustainable. Fashion thrives off innovation and each season, shows all over the world showcase the latest in cutting edge design and creativity. In recent years however, there has been a change in attitudes. People are beginning to value ethical practices above all else and designers are starting to take note.

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Esthetica, the exhibition platform for up and coming ethical designers founded by the British Fashion Council, has been showcasing talent for nearly eight years, giving light to labels such as From Somewhere and People Tree.  But while Esthetica seemed to sit on the fringes of Fashion Week, the last few seasons have seen ethical designers such as Christopher Raeburn, showcasing their collections at London Fashion Week amongst some of the biggest names in the industry.

The London collections are famed for their wealth of emerging new talent and are known globally for their presentations of constant creativity. With acclaimed schools like Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of Art. Britain’s fashion education schemes are second to none and allow for talented young aspiring designers to reach their full potential; we need only to remind ourselves of their exports including Mary Katrantzou and the late Alexander McQueen.

A recent graduate will be showcasing at Esthetica this month, her name is Katie Jones from K2TOG, a luxury knitwear label promoting a ‘waste not, want not’ design approach. Having graduated from Central Saint Martins, Katie is interested in having a fresh approach to ethical fashion using reclaimed materials and in her latest collection, taking inspiration from traditional Eastern European folk art. Other talents participating in the showrooms between the 14th and 18th of February include Louise de TestaDevika Dass and Flavia La Rocca.

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Flavia La Roca

So what does the future hold for ethical fashion at fashion week? The UK fashion industry contributes over twenty billion pounds to UK GDP, that’s twice the amount of the publishing and car manufacturing industries. Both the direct and indirect effects fashion has on the greater good of our economy also shows proof of the amount of power it holds. Given already the current interest consumers and brands are beginning to have in ethical practices, it can only grow from here.

Although the problems facing the fashion industry are huge, the good news is that it’s an industry that can make a change. By nurturing new talent, manufacturing in Britain and promoting social responsibility, the fashion industry can be an amazing tool for development . . . and where better to start than London.

Article by Hannah Wilkinson, Dimple Diaries