A touch of much needed proper fashion glamour is exactly what TEDx Brussels needs. Bringing the vibrant colours and spirited patterns of rural Bangladesh to our grey snowy streets might just get us all smiling. The TEDx fashion show is go!
The eternally youthful Bibi Russell is the driving force behind these clothes and not just as their designer. Bibi Russell was instrumental in breaking down the colour bar in fashion modeling in the 70s and 80s and featured on the covers of Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Harpers Bazaar. She went on to study at the London College of Fashion, the first person from Bangladesh to do so.
She returned to Bangladesh in 1993 and was struck by how people saw her country only as poor and needing help. Russell then set out to focus on providing jobs, self respect and opportunity to the rural poor. Bangladeshis have been making the world's finest muslin for many generations and a square metre of the very best is said to fit inside a matchbox. It was used as wrapping for Egyptian mummies they've been doing it so long! Drawing on these traditions and skills Russell created a global market in order to save and revive these crafts and the communities that make them.
Her company, Bibi Productions, now employs over 35,000 weavers, that makes it about the same size as Cisco Systems for employee numbers by the way. All these people implement her designs usually from home workshops shared in family or village groups. They also share in the profits from featuring in fashion shows, stores and catalogues all over the world.
Bibi Productions in an impressive example of how to create a market with social aims at heart. Furthermore, it's an idea that could be extended to many other countries and communities, think Peru or India or Cambodia. All countries with amazing textile traditions. That's why Bibi Russell is a UN World Ambassador and recipient of so many international honours. So next time you see a shot of a gorgeous model wearing something ridiculous and pushed into a brain dead pose, pause and think she just could be about to give tens of thousands of her compatriots work, self respect and opportunity.
Bibi Russell will be at TEDx Brussels December 6