Taking a Fair Look at Fashion: The Women Behind What You Wear

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Geneva Foundation for Women and the Arts™ and the Nicaraguan project that has the support of the Whole Planet Foundation®.

René Geneva, of René Geneva Design, LLC, has a new Fair Trade project up her sleeve, and it has caught the attention of the Whole Planet Foundation®.

Geneva has worked in getting the word out about fair trade fashion for some time now. In 2003 she began working with a family in Pakistan to make their high quality corsets and wears. When that didn't work out so well, she turned her attention to Central America and India, with the focus of helping woman and indigenous communities. "Consistently I observed the women in poorer areas taking initiatives to improve their communities, and being a woman, that is an empowering notion" says Geneva, although she adds that their projects do not disclude men.

Landing in Nicaragua in 2004, she has since helped women in a sewing cooperative develop artisan sewing skills, and brought indigenous design to her own designs by working with communities and their rare and exotic textiles; all with the fierce practice of fair wages. Adding the Sun Power Project in hopes of providing solar energy to these communities, she made friends in different aspects of the green movement. During her adventures, however, she noticed that the worker-owned cooperative model of fair trade in fashion has a hard time working successfully in the long term. "It seems in other industries that cooperatives function, but in fashion, it seems like a giant challenge that doesn't have the greatest success rate", says René.

She wrote a new business model, driven by micro-credit loans, and met the Whole Planet Foundation® in early 2008 while giving a short talk at a Whole Foods event. Since then she has created the Geneva Foundation for Women and the Arts™, a non-profit to help educate women and communities and to provide a fair wage model to independent workers, from product development to the logistics of import and export. The idea, explains Geneva, is to create a sustainable community that works with other communities in the same country providing a common goal with both the end product and the purpose of the micro-credit repayment.

Their first project in Central Nicaragua, involves 3 indigenous communities, native agriculture, solar implementation, and the direct support of two other non-profits (including a NP to directly provide the loans). It may sound big, but Geneva insists that starting small and steady and working together with realistic goals and dedicated education is the key to creating a sustainable project.

This past October, she met with women of several communities in Nicaragua, which will craft jewelry, woven textiles, and sewn product to be included in René Geneva Design's apparel collections, including Sofî™, an exclusive line for Whole Foods Market. The non-profit hopes that with in a couple of years, they will have enough women trained to open their doors to outside contracts. In the meantime, be on the look out for some unique and very special fashions.

Since 1997, Rene Geneva Design has been designing fashion that holds environmental and social responsibility in the highest regard. Headquarters are located in Austin, Tx.

WE Television; Wedding Central - Amazing Wedding Gowns, 2008
Veria Network; Simply Beautiful, 2007
Hollywood Live, 2008

Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, Los Angeles, 2007, 2008
FIT NY Fashion Show, 2007
The Fashion Show at the Fashion Show Mall, 2008

Publications, Blogs:
California Apparel News, Multiple
Women's Wear Daily, Multiple
Surface, 2008
Yogi Times, 2007
Dwell, 2006
Rare, 2005
Tree Hugger, 2006


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