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Bringing Commonwealth Fashion Exchange to the world on Google Arts & Culture

Jun 8th, 2018

The Commonwealth, founded in 1949, is a voluntary association of 53 independent sovereign states from around the world, home to 2.4 billion people and united by shared history, culture, and values. One of its many activities is the Commonwealth Fashion Council, which champions sustainability and ethical design practices within the emerging fashion industries across Commonwealth countries.

Now in a new online exhibit, Google Arts & Culture is showcasing the breadth of talent, skills, and traditions of the Commonwealth in a new exhibit at g.co/commonwealthfashion. This project is in partnership with the Commonwealth Fashion Council.

The centerpiece of this exhibit is a project organised by the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange* earlier this year, which showcases the breadth of talent, skills and traditions across the 53 countries which are part of the Commonwealth. By shining a light on one of the largest industries in the world, the exchange harnessed the power of fashion as a universal language to promote sustainable manufacturing, ethical production and transparent supply chains.

Commonwealth artisans and designers from different countries, sometimes from completely different parts of the world, were brought together to collaborate in the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange and created a collection of 31 sustainably-produced, handcrafted fashion looks, representing the cultures, identities, and creative skills of each nation. Now, each one of those creations and the immersive stories behind them can be found online at Google Arts & Culture.

For example, Designer Afroditi Hera from Cyprus has collaborated with artisans from the Kirbati Handcraft Association to produce a dress which fuses traditional prints from Cyprus meets indigenous ornamental beading from Kiribati; while the gown designed by Cameroonian label Kibonen is trimmed with Maasai beading from Mgece Makory in Tanzania.

Bringing Commonwealth Fashion Exchange to the world on Google Arts & Culture
India x UK: Bringing a modern take to an ancient material, British designer Stella McCartney has created a stunning gown using peace silk from Indian womenswear brand Oshadi, produced using ancient hand-weaving techniques, and naturally dyed by local skilled craftsmen in Tamil Nadu.
Bringing Commonwealth Fashion Exchange to the world on Google Arts & Culture
Canada x Namibia: Canadian designer Lucian Matis exchanged with Namibian artisans from the Omba Arts Trust to create a look that was inspired by the horrors of man-made environmental disasters, using fashion to both highlight our failings and preserve ancient crafts.
Bringing Commonwealth Fashion Exchange to the world on Google Arts & Culture
India x Tuvalu : Indian designer behno exchanged with artisans Fafine Niutao I Aotearoa of Tuvalu to create a look highlighting craftsmanship and traditions from both countries. It is a story of ancient Tuvalu “kolose” crochet, Indian embroidery, and repurposed wool.
Bringing Commonwealth Fashion Exchange to the world on Google Arts & Culture
Malta x India: The disappearing craft of traditional Maltese lace is united with modernized Indian embellishment—designer Charles and Ron exchanged with artisan Khushboo to create a look that was inspired by traditional Maltese door-knockers.
Bringing Commonwealth Fashion Exchange to the world on Google Arts & Culture
Sierra Leone x Ghana x The Gambia: Designer Sydney-Davies from Sierra Leone and artisan Big Dread Kente from Ghana, and Ousman Toure, Continent Clothing from The Gambia combined hand-woven kente cloth and Swarovski upcycled crystals.
Bringing Commonwealth Fashion Exchange to the world on Google Arts & Culture
New Zealand x the Cook Islands: Designer Karen Walker exchanged with artisans Kūki ‘Airani Creative Māmās to highlight traditional craftsmanship and embroidery techniques. A cooperative of women originally from the Cook Islands, Kūki ‘Airani Creative Māmās are expert in the craft of “tivaivai”—a part-patchwork, part-embroidery tradition that is intrinsic to their island culture. Depicting designs that represent age-old legends, sea life and flowers, and often take many years to complete, these bedspreads are rarely bought or sold. Instead they are given as special gifts, demonstrating love and patience, between family members, close friends and the community.
Bringing Commonwealth Fashion Exchange to the world on Google Arts & Culture
Samoa x Papua New Guinea: Samoan designer Afa Ah Loo exchanged with Margie Keates and Ofeira Asuao to create a look that celebrates traditions in both Samoa and Papua New Guinea.  Afa designed his Commonwealth Fashion Exchange gown based on his love of traditional Samoan materials. The look was completed with an original Papua New Guinea curved necklace of brown braided rope, decorated with four bands of cream colored curled shells.

The online project also features exclusive insights from the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC, Baroness Scotland, as well as a conversation between Vogue Editor-at-Large Hamish Bowles and the Creative Director and Founder of Eco-Age, Livia Firth on the curation of the exhibition at Buckingham Palace.

Explore the craftsmanship of the Commonwealth, and check out all The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange collections online with Google Arts & Culture and on our iOS and Android apps.

*The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange has been made possible by Swarovski, The Woolmark Company and MATCHESFASHION.COM, and Eco-Age.