5 Small Brands On How Their Woven Accessories Are Slowing The Fashion Cycle
Velvet is to fall and winter what straw is to spring and summer — stylishly emblematic of the season. Lightweight woven accessories for spring from brands like Bembien and Kayu are usually one of the first warm weather trends, as straw textures translate to every major accessory category including hats, bags, and footwear. What makes woven accessories so investment-worthy is their versatility and effortless polish as temps heat up. A straw bag can be worn à la Jane Birkin with a simple white tee and blue jeans or dressed up and teamed alongside a puff-sleeve prairie dress.
Many smaller labels specialize in weaving techniques and tap craftsmen and women in small communities around the globe who have developed their own unique patterns or styles. A straw bag or pair of sandals often entails hours of work from a highly skilled artisan. So, if you're researching which pieces to add to your closet, investing in certain woven accessories can also mean investing in a slower fashion cycle that prioritizes quality and a gentler impact on the environment.
Keeping these details in mind, continue ahead to hear directly from five woven accessory brands offering a slew of stylish options for the spring season and a slice of the culture their products hail from.
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The Woven Accessory Brand: Cesta Collective
Cesta Collective partners with female artisanal cooperatives in the hills of Rwanda to produce their collection of woven bags. "The industry there is almost entirely female-run and because of their weaving work, these women are the breadwinners of their families," Co-founder Courtney Weinblatt Fasciano tells TZR. She says that for her and partner Erin Ryder it's important that the artisans are paid fair wages, "[they] set the price per basket themselves based on the amount of time and energy each style takes them to weave." The bags are primarily woven using dyed sisal, which Ryder explains is a biodegradable and renewable resource, much of which is grown and harvested locally in Rwanda by the female artisans themselves.
On average, a Cesta bag takes approximately six days to make commencing with the dying of sisal threads and then continuing with bundling and weaving. Because sustainability is a key tenant of their business, Cesta often uses deadstock and organic fabrics for the linings as well as leather that's been sourced from a tannery that's focused on its environmental impact (using water-based finishing techniques, and reducing their emissions of carbon dioxide with cogeneration plants). The company launched back in 2018 and has been a favorite in the fashion crowd, including a recent collaboration with J.Crew and a hefty editor and influencer following.
The Woven Accessory Brand: Bembien
Bembien's woven bags are crafted from a type of reed grown on and around Bali called the Ata leaf. "Once the leaf is harvested, stripped and dried, the artisans weave these strips by hand," Founder Yi-Mei Truxes explains to TZR. "The bags are then smoked over coconut husks, which strengthens the rattan and gives it that warm, golden color." She describes the vibe of the brand as "French New Wave at the beach" thanks to its earthy materials married with '60s and '70s French silhouettes. "We want to blend past and present through vignettes that feel like another time has made its way to today."
The brand hopes to address Bali's growing plastic pollution problem, including a recent collection ("Jolene") that was crafted entirely from recycled plastic retrieved on Bali's beaches. Bembien also partners with Nest, a nonprofit organization that supports artisans. "We give back 10% of all sales to directly support weaving communities because it's so important to us that we protect their craft," she says. "There are so many artisan crafts that are copied and mass-produced in factories, and we want to stop this unfair practice."
Truxes emphasizes the importance of supporting these artisan communities. "Weaving crafts have been around for hundreds of years and in many communities, it's an art form that is passed down from grandmother to mother to child," she says. "When you wear a woven handbag, you're not just wearing a fashion accessory popular this season. You're wearing a piece of history, tradition, and culture."
The Woven Accessory Brand: Kayu
Kayu Founder Jamie Lim grew up in South East Asia "surrounded by beautiful hand made crafts like rattan furniture, batik clothes, and handwoven straw baskets." Though she later moved to the United States, visits home sparked her interest in craftways. "During these visits, I noticed that these artisanal crafts were becoming harder to find and were replaced by mass produced synthetic alternatives." This was when Kayu was born. The brand employs indigenous techniques through a collaboration with artisans that results in a collection of beautifully-crafted straw handbags. "Sustainability, ethics, responsibility, and joie de vivre are at the heart of everything we do and every decision we make," she explains. Kayu's materials are sourced locally where the artisans work (Philippines, Malaysia, and Greece) and include several straw varieties including seagrass, raffia, and rattan, all of which are natural and 100% biodegradable.
The brand's best-selling item is their St. Tropez tote, a lightweight bag that works as easily for vacation as it does for everyday use. "This year we're developing a line of bags made from cactus fiber and deadstock fabric," Lim adds. Though the brand has experienced significant success (its stockists include Moda Operandi, Shopbop, and Net-a-Porter) the pieces maintain their artisanal, one-of-a-kind quality.
The Woven Accessory Brand: Carrie Forbes
If you've spotted a cute pair of woven raffia sandals on Instagram in the last few years there's a good chance they're from Carrie Forbes. Though the designer has been around since 1989, thanks to social media the brand has experienced a renaissance thanks to its photo-friendly assortment of handbags and footwear. "My relationship with artisans goes back to the '90s," Forbes tells TZR. "I started a cottage industry to produce my crochet bag brand in Los Angeles comprised of Mexican women. One of the women, 30 years later, now develops our crochet bag samples!" The brand's woven raffia bags are crafted from natural raffia sourced in Madagascar and the Moroccan shoes Forbes offers are a product of male and female weavers in Essaouira and Mohammedia in Morocco.
"I love the silent environment with the artisans while developing," Forbes shares. "It offers a true spirit of creativity and deep concentration, a nice antidote to our stressful business." The designer is currently developing sustainable bags, which will include faux leather with crocheted raffia detailing on edges.
The Woven Accessory Brand: Greenpacha
Florencia Cavallo and Elise Labau Topaloglu founded Golden Edit as a way to bring together designers from around the globe in celebration of year-round summer essentials. One of the brands they carry is an Argentinian sister duo called Greenpacha. "They work to reformulate the beautiful Ecuadorian tradition of straw hat weaving," Cavallo explains. Though they are based in La Jolla, California, "their collections are made by a community of women in the mountains of Ecuador. Each hat is gently handwoven with natural toquilla palm." These palms grow on the coast of Ecuador where they're harvested by hand. "They’re cut in small fibers, boiled in water, and left to dry in the open air," Labau says. "When the straw is ready it travels to the mountains of Cuenca, in southern Ecuador’s Andes mountains, where the weavers live. Each hat is handmade by an artisan while she walks in nature or runs her errands. Weaving is part of their daily lives."
The brand's most popular piece is the Malibu Toquilla Straw Sunhat. "What we and our customers love about woven bags and hats is that they’re such a perfect year-round accessory," Cavallo says. "They always make me feel like I just got back from vacation, even if I’m in the city running errands."