Banana Republic collaborates with local textile designers to create fresh summer prints
US company Piece & Co helps local women's cooperative hit pay dirt
It's a long dirt road down to Langa Lapu, the women's co-operative just outside Plettenberg Bay. Founded by Pru Bolus 20 years ago, the fabric house specialises in hand-dyed textiles that have supplied her local shop and the global quilting market.
"I love working with fabric," says Bolus, who previously ran community projects in the Transkei. "It's such a creative process and the quilting market is wonderful - you can just do anything and everything."
Bolus made the leap into this specialist area after a meeting with US textile designer Kaffe Fassett, who advised her to get into the quilting market by attending US trade shows, According to her there are eight million quilters in the US and naturally, by servicing this market, the business took off.
Another chance meeting opened a different path for Langa Lapu. Last year Bolus was contacted by Piece & Co, a US-based company that's acting as a catalyst for ethically sourced, sustainable textiles and products.
Through collaboration with women's initiatives across the globe Piece & Co supports hereditary customs through fashion and design co-operatives that have real collateral.
Its latest project, a partnership with Banana Republic, involved working not only with Langa Lapu, but also with a female-led artisanal group in Ghana.
The project resulted in a capsule collection of fresh summer prints in modern silhouettes that feed into Banana Republic's unique contemporary style. The 20-piece range, in a palette of rich blues and purples with accents of grey and white, is now on sale at Banana Republic stores in North America and Japan.
For Bolus and her team it was a mammoth undertaking. They hand-dyed 10km of silk in four months, creating abstract floral prints through their proprietary sun-dying technique.
Their small wooden workshop is set on 10ha of indigenous forest land, where the team found natural inspiration.
"We start every day by gathering flowers and leaves," says Barbie Marbie, who joined Bolus shortly after she founded the co-op.
"We have to do this quickly because we're working with the heat of the sun and things can change quickly."
To manage the Piece & Co order, local women were brought in to work alongside Marbie and Ellen Thys, who is also core to the Langa Lapu team.
On any day there were up to 12 people laying hibiscus flowers and gum leaves, painting with their non-toxic dye, folding, packing, or managing the process.
"Working on this order really made a big difference to us," says Marbie. "Yes, it was and is hugely financially beneficial for us, but it's also a good feeling to know that we're capable of creating on such a big scale."
From New York, the founder and CEO of Piece & Co, Kathleen Wright, says: "I started with the mission to empower women, and working with the talented and courageous artisans in Langa Lapu is an inspiration."
• This article was originally published in The Times.