Having a positive impact on the world usually only merges with high-end fashion in the ball gowns worn to charity galas. But the forces behind the new label Maiyet are bent on changing that. Their big idea is to hire artisans in developing countries to have a role in creating luxury clothing, the kind a woman might buy even if she didn't know that the floral embroidery on her linen dress is the work of an Ahmedabadi studio that stabilizes its community by employing both Hindus and Muslims. It's akin to what Ali Hewson and Bono are attempting with Edun, but at a higher price point and without the celebrity gloss. Still, it's heavy stuff for a world that prefers to be light as a Champagne bubble.
The label's South African founder, Paul Van Zyl, a human rights lawyer with global connections, and company president Kristy Caylor spent six months sourcing craftsmen in Colombia, South Africa, Kenya, Indonesia, and India in advance of the label's first collection. Clearly Van Zyl and Caylor mean business, as evidenced by the bold statement of Maiyet's Paris fashion week debut. The clothes they showed, along with a pretty extensive line of shoes, jewelry, and chic utilitarian bags, are quite sophisticated in the way they embrace simplicity. "The overall approach is to keep it clean so that the embroidery and the craftsmanship play a key role," explained Caylor. She and her design team like the subtlety of a sharp tailored blazer in a white tonal jacquard woven in Varanasi, or something like the tiny block-printed floral from Jaipur peeking out from the lining on a silk cotton tunic dress. It's a subtle point of view in the vein of Dosa or old Dries Van Noten. At any rate, it already has its fans. Top on the list is Barneys New York, which secured an exclusive for spring.