What Do You Stand For? Maiyet and Patagonia Have This Down Cold

May 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

Daria Werbowy for Maiyet

Image Source: Maiyet

I first saw the Barney’s ads in The New York Times Sunday Style Section last year – Maiyet.  I’d not heard of the line and went to Barneys.com to check it out. Three words came to mind: bohemian, luxurious, pricey.

I put it out of my mind until  this spring, when awareness of the brand really took off: following their securing placement in Barney’s, Maiyet landed model Daria Werbowy to star in their print and video campaign; and they showed at New York Fashion Week. And they had a story to tell, a very compelling story.

This is a company founded on the belief that it’s possible to do good business and do good, at the same time.  A recent piece in The Business of Fashion, “The Luxurious Goodness of Maiyet,” gives us the background:

Co-founded in 2011 by Paul van Zyl, a human rights lawyer, Daniel Lubetzky, an entrepreneur, and Kristy Caylor, a former head of merchandising for Gap Accessories and Product RED, Maiyet sources highly specialised and refined craftwork from artisans in off-the-beaten path places around the world, from Nairobi, Kenya and Ahmedabad, India, to the mountains of Peru.

But crucially, Maiyet isn’t “sourcing products from the artisans; we are sourcing skills and co-developing products with them that fit into our seasonal vision,” Ms Caylor told BoF. This distinction is the crux of the company’s business model…

Van Zyl maintains that he founded the company to “find ways to alleviate poverty and promote stability in places around the world that needed it most by creating a brand that sources skills from these places.”

And yet, their primary focus is on design.  They create luxury collections that people want to buy, regardless of the company’s social mission.  This is a good thing.

As the article points out, they face challenges when it comes to scaling the business.  A Women’s Wear Daily piece published today, announced a high-profile event being hosted by Maiyet and their nonprofit partner Nest this evening at the Consulate General of India in New York, at which they’ll showcase their latest joint project:

A “facility” — otherwise known as a factory — in Varanasi, India, designed by no less a star architect than David Adjaye. Ground is scheduled to break this fall, and the building will house a minimum of 25 Varanasi silk weavers, with room for up to 100 once the business scales.

The factory will bring together Hindu and Muslim weavers who typically work from home, while making accomodations for the religious and cultural norms of the area.

Maiyet is funded in part by Double Bottom Line Venture Capital, a fund that invests “in companies that can deliver top-tier venture capital returns (First Bottom Line), while working with our companies to enable social, environmental and economic improvement in the regions in which they operate (Second Bottom Line).”  You’ve got to hope that they make it; that they expand and provide more work for people in developing countries.  They know what they stand for.

AN UPDATE: Read about Co-founder Kristy Caylor’s trip to Peru and Bolivia, to visit artisans and get inspired, over at Elle.com.


Image Source: Patagonia

If Maiyet is searching for an example of how to do it right, they can look to businessman Yves Chouinard and his clothing company, Patagonia. While not in the luxury category, design, quality and innovation are hallmarks of the brand.  And, this is a company into which corporate social responsibility is woven into the fabric of their business model (pun intended).

Launched ver 30 years, Patagonia continues to further its commitment to a range of causes, from continuing to minimize the environmental impact of its production to ensuring safe working conditions in the factories producing the apparel and continuing to build support for 1% for the Planet, a group of over 1,000 companies who donate at least 1% of their annual sales to a worldwide network of approved environmental agencies.

The “Patagonian ethos” is a living thing.  I saw this first-hand in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when employees from their Manhattan stores worked to coordinate teams of people to get out to the Far Rockaways and Long Beach to help those most devastated by the storm.  Their thinking?  They surf there, they help there.

And, apparently, doing good and making money do mix.  Coming off  of a fantastic couple of years, earlier this week, Patagonia announced the launch an in-house venture fund, $20 Million & Change.  According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, “unlike traditional corporate funds, many of which simply aim to reduce risk by diversifying company assets, Patagonia’s fund will invest in startups that try to make a positive impact in five areas: clothing, food, water, energy, and waste.”

An extra – Both Patagonia and Maiyet create killer content for their respective sites.  Patagonia has a fantastic blog, The Cleanest Line, Worn Wear, a place on their site where Patagonia devotees tell stories about their gear, and The Footprint Chronicles, a page that serves to create transparency into their supply chain.  As for Maiyet, they have a fantastic handcrafted video series, and their first video collaboration with director Cary Fukunaga, “Sleepwalking in the Rift,” was named by The Business of Fashion as one of the Top 10 Fashion Films of the Season. Entertainment + Education = Engagement.  And engagement, if done right, equals money.


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