Shopping with Change

What happens when public health and fashion collide? A little disruption.

One of the first concepts you discuss in public health is social determinants of health. We learn that health is not merely based on one’s decisions, but one’s health outcomes are influenced by social determinants, like gender, employment, race, and even where we live. Without considering issues like unemployment and social class, our ability to improve the health of populations can only go so far.

As a public health professional, I am interested in nutrition, women’s health, and maternal and child health. My doctoral research is guided by feminist theory. As such, I seek to not only positively impact the issues I mentioned, but to also uncover aspects of self empowerment and resistance within the experience of women and other marginalized communities. Honoring my commitment to these topics and also my love of fashion is challenging me to explore ways to bring these two areas more into alignment. So, while you won’t find a weekly list of the latest ever-changing fashion trends on my blog (unless it is really something that I love), you will find a bit of social commentary from time to time about issues that I hold dear and how fashion relates to these areas.

With that, I’ve rounded up a few great fashion brands, ran by women who are disrupting the status quo through innovative approaches that support empowerment. Check out the list, why I love them, and my favorite picks from their stores.

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  1. Beaded Souls

I recently discovered Beaded Souls and their introductory collection of sandals. Their beautiful Masai sandals are handmade in Kenya by local artists. The line, created by a mother-daughter duo, masterfully combines the traditional beaded work of Kenyan artists with modern design. Like many of the other lines I will share in this post, I love that their work brings creative art and economic empowerment together. If there is one more sandal for me to purchase this season, it will be from this collection.

Favorite Pick: The Ida. Isn’t she lovely? This sandal is also available in a variety of colors. Zora comes in as a close second.

The Ida.PNG
Photo Credit: Beaded Souls

2. Fame and Partners

Fame are Partners is like having your own personal designer and tailor. Each piece is handmade to order and can also be customized to meet your unique style preference. That means you can add a pocket, change the neckline, lengthen the skirt, add sleeves, adjust a pattern, and so on. Their collections are filled with all things pretty (i.e. ruffles, cut-outs, and beautiful flowing silhouettes). Five dollars from each sale goes to a charity that support women’s empowerment. Bonus: You can book a free styling session with their stylist.

From the jumpsuits to the maxi dresses, it is difficult to decide on a favorite!

Favorite Pick: The Dusk Jumpsuit

The Dusk Jumpsuit
Photo Credit: Fame and Partners

3. Nor Black Nor White

NBNW is partly an anthropological experiment, part art and part fashion.” – Nor Black Nor White.

Nor Black Nor White brings modern interpretation to traditional art forms and artisan communities in India. I am intrigued by their use of colors, patterns, and textures to join modern with traditional. When I think of their designs, I think of preserving the old through rebirth and reinterpretation.

Favorite Pick: The Shimma Printed Skirt.  Metallics, full pleated skirt, with a color palatte that reminds me of Holi. Bonus: It is reversible.

shimma skirt
Photo Credit: Nor Black Nor White

4. Studio 189

Studio One Eighty Nine, created by Rosario Dawson and Abrima Erwiah, is a  “social enterprise that provides a platform to help promote and curate African and African-inspired content and brands”. Through their own private label brand, they aim to use fashion as an agent for social change by creating jobs, fostering education, developing skills, and empowering communities. Their garments are made by an artisan community in Ghana. Their pieces are definitely on the higher end of the scale. A girl can dream, right?  But, I am also more open to spending more on clothing, budget willing of course, if it means that a community will be positively impacted by the sales. Artisan concepts are a sustainable model for doing just that. It is like the saying, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime”.

Favorite Pick: Yellow Sankara Skirt 

Yellow Sankara
Photo Credit: Studio One Eighty Nine

5. Thandos

Whether you wear flats regularly or prefer heels with the occasional functional flat, we all need a pair of comfortable flat shoes. Style and purpose align with Thandos shoes and this creative take on the foldable flat. For the woman who feels that comfort and convenience do not have to substitute for style, this collection of shoes offers both. The production of and profit from the shoes support African women in the fabric trade industry along with other African artists across the continent, providing opportunity for these artists to reach a global market. A portion of the profit also goes to charitable efforts that support families in Nigeria displaced by emergencies. The company boasts claims of super comfort with design bonuses like memory foam insoles.

Favorite Pick: Akonmi Hunter

Thando
Photo Credit: Thandos

I sat in a lecture some time ago learning about a researcher’s work in a recovering conflict zone. With a collapsed economic system in this area, adolescent girls often resulted in transactional sex as a means for providing for themselves and their families. I left wondering, as we often do in public health, “What can we do, given these circumstances, to have the most impact?” The complexity of issues like this one is too much to cover here and fashion, of course, is not the only answer and means for empowering communities with more agency. The artisan models do, however, provide an interesting and innovative cross-sector approach that can lead positive economic outcomes.

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