The story of ancient Tuvalu kolose crochet, Indian embroidery, and repurposed wool

Commonwealth Fashion Council

Explore the exchange story of designer behno from India and artisans Fafine Niutao I Aotearoa from Tuvalu and find out how they created their look for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange, 2018.

“Our mission is to produce beautiful pieces that come from a place that is equally as beautiful.”
Shivam Punjya
The Exchange: India x Tuvalu
For The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange 2018, designer behno exchanged with artisans Fafine Niutao I Aotearoa to create a look which highlights craftsmanship and traditions from both countries. The look was unveiled at Buckingham Palace on February 19, 2018, and later moved to the Australian High Commission, London, where it was open to the public in the run up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit, April 2018.
India: Designer behno
Shivam Punjya had an unlikely education for the creative director of a fashion brand. The founder of behno, the womenswear label designed in NYC and ethically manufactured in Asia, studied politics and global poverty, and was leaning towards a career in academia, when he began to research his thesis on the textile industry in India. “There were two learnings from my research; first there was a massive disparity between what the workers were earning and what they were producing; and second there was a very negative global perception of ‘made in India’.” 

behno, the womenswear label is designed in NYC and ethically manufactured in Asia

Tuvalu: Artisans Fafine Niutao I Aotearoa
From the fourth smallest country in the world comes a craft that arrived in the Pacific islands of Tuvalu in the early 20th century, and quickly became a national craft. ‘Kolose’ is a form of intricate crochet that encourages self-expression. The Kolose artists adopt a freestyle approach to each design, making patterns up as they go along and choosing colours while they work, to portray their love of their island, community and culture. 

Keeping tradition alive

Fafine Niutao I Aotearoa is a collective of women artists who work together to create Tuvaluan crochet in the form of fashion and wall hangings. This cooperative of women is part of a Tuvalu community that has migrated to New Zealand. They keep alive their memories of island life by meeting every Thursday to crochet together while singing songs and telling stories. Taking their lead from behno, five of the finest Kolose artisans spent a month crocheting 100 square panels for behno’s design.

The story behind the look
behno originated a signature style for the brand that combines innovative textiles with strong masculine tailoring. 

Illustration of the coat

behno's sketch of the coat that was created for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange, using repurposed wool (certified by Woolmark)

behno created a repurposed wool coat, certified by The Woolmark Company

The process of embellishing behno's repurposed wool coat with Indian mirror-work and border and grid beadwork

Indian mirror-work on behno's repurposed wool coat

Illustration of the dress

behno's sheer dress made from remnants of silk organza, embellished with Swarovski upcycled crystals, and scattered with black crochet 'kolose' panels

Artisan from Fafine Niutao I Aotearoa who specialises in Kolose crochet creating square panels for behno's design. Kolose crochet is a national craft that arrived in the Pacific islands of Tuvalu in the early 20th century.

The cooperative of women that make up Fafine Niutao I Aotearoa migrated to New Zealand and keep their memories of island life alive by meeting every Thursday to crochet together while singing songs and telling stories.

Five of the finest Kolose artisans from Tuvalu spent a month crocheting 100 square panels to complete behno's dress.

“The Tuvaluan people have so many artistic talents in terms of handicrafts and design work.”

Kolose crochet square panels that completed behno's design

Final look on display at Buckingham Palace, 19 February 2018

Final look on display at the Australian High Commission, London, 22 February 2018

Credits: Story

This content has been specifically curated for the Google Arts & Culture platform on behalf of the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange exhibition that launched on the 19th of February at Buckingham Palace in partnership with Swarovski, The Woolmark Company and MATCHESFASHION.COM.

The project, created and managed by Eco-Age, with the support of The Commonwealth Fashion Council and The British Fashion Council.

More information about the images is available by clicking on them.
Read more about the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange at http://eco-age.com/commonwealth-fashion-exchange/

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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