An eco-ethical fashion brand makes ‘art that you can wear’

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The fashion and design house Rags2Riches turns garbage into gold with their latest collection of handwoven leather bags. Photo courtesy of RAGS2RICHES

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Rags2Riches (R2R), a fashion brand known for turning garbage into gold — cloth scraps into designer material — has launched their Fall/Holiday collection of handmade bags for this year. The collection is inspired by the scenic landscapes of the medina quarters — the narrow, maze like streets — of Morocco and the nearby cities of North Africa.

Dubbed a social enterprise, it’s no surprise that the brand is stimulated by places that exude communal values. Empowering community artisans by teaching them the art of weaving — and employing them, in turn — Rags2Riches stays down-to-earth by aligning themselves with such a source of inspiration: the highly dense yet culture-rich, almost exotic vibrance that a medina is known for. The vision is reminiscent of Manila’s own dirt and glitter — although medinas are not so much a counterpart of a slum as maybe a glamorized version of it. Yet, like our own untouchable urban recesses, each carry so much history.

Medina Collection Launch 03.jpg Rags2Riches strives for eco-ethical fashion by using upcycled and organic materials. Photo courtesy of RAGS2RICHES  

The starting line of Rags2Riches’ backstory is literally littered with garbage, when the brand’s president Reese Ruiz-Fernandez took a visit to Payatas, where she found it in her to help the community, especially the impoverished women of the area. Mothers in the dirt-stricken community would take scraps of cloth from the dumpsite and weave them into foot rugs, which they would sell along the streets. As unemployment was rising in the area, people have taken to sourcing scraps from garment factories and selling them from one hand to another until they reach the Payatas weavers, with the price already quadrupled.

The first initiative of R2R was to link these women directly to the garment factories, and later on Ruiz-Fernandez employed them while helping them enhance the foot rugs they were making. Today, the company continues to empower the women of Payatas and community artisans alike through their art, by moving on to fashion accessories and bags made from upcycled scrap cloth, organic materials, and indigenous fabrics.

Medina Collection Artisans 01.jpg Some of Rags2Riches' artisans gather as they make the bags of the Medina collection. Photo courtesy of RAGS2RICHES  

The Medina collection is special in that it celebrates the different parts and colors that mold a community. Each bag is unique, embroidered and stitched by hand for hours on end. The collection includes three kinds of bags: the Rania bucket bag, the Ghita shoulder bag, and the Selma handbag.

The roomy Rania comes in a light mocha color that stands out in a sea of leather bucket bags, and takes six hours to embroider. The Ghita shoulder bag is a smaller companion and is best for travelling light, with a wide base for makeup kits and gadgets. It takes seven-and-a-half hours to embroider. The one that takes longest to embroider (for twelve-and-a-half hours), and takes up the most space, is the Selma, with a classic handbag silhouette and with an intricate Moroccan-inspired design. All the bags come in shades of mocha and charcoal gray. Every piece is made with the signature R2R weave, which the brand has developed on its own, along with its community artisan collaborators.

Medina collection.jpg (From left to right) The Rania bucket bag, the Ghita shoulder bag, and the Selma handbag. Photo courtesy of RAGS2RICHES  

The collection reflects R2R’s constant pursuit of eco-ethical fashion. “Each piece in the Medina collection tells the stories of our community through art, and this is why we are all very excited for it,” says Ruiz-Fernandez. “It is quite literally, art you can wear and art that can inspire as it has inspired us.”

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The Medina collection is available at Rags2Riches' online shop.