Would you ever go out wearing earrings made from pop can tabs? Or a necklace made from door locks, keys or clock dials? And would you ever relax in your living room on a couch made out of tires? My adventure in recycled fashion starts at the Re(f)use atelier on Fontanella Borghese, one of the most popular fashion streets in Rome, near the Spanish Steps.
When I first met Ilaria Venturini Fendi, I couldn't believe how down to Earth she was given her last name. She is the girl next door in her tight jeans and large sweater and as cheerful as a mother with her big, sincere smile. I would never have guessed I was face-to-face with a third generation heiress of the Fendi Empire. Beyond her appearance, she impressed me by the brightness of her eyes and her strong resolve to make a dramatic change to her life.
Ilaria Venturini Fendi
In 2004, sick of luxury and swallowed up by the fast fashion system, Venturini Fendi quit her job as an accessories designer and opened a farm, I Casali del Pino, on via Cassia just outside the centre of Rome. Dedicating herself to organic agriculture on the farm, she discovered the value of nature and committed herself to social projects, "I needed to slow down, take long walks, enjoy the silence and reset my mind far away from the show business". Nevertheless, her passion for fashion was too strong, and it touched her heart again in a very different way from her Fendi heritage. This time, she was challenged by eco-friendly luxury.
The new challenge knocked at her door. Everything began from a simple conference bag that Venturini Fendi received in 2006 during the Aidos (Association of Italian Women in Development) campaign against female genital mutilation. She looked at that bag for a moment when the idea came to her to piece bags together with scrap material from industrial waste, tarps, end-of-the-line stock and discarded textiles. She turned idea into reality and it was a big success: she re-made 97 bags like the first one, which sold very quickly, with proceeds going to charity.
But destiny can be cheeky sometimes! Africa was just around the corner. Whilst studying to be a proper farmer, she met a group of beekeepers from Cameroon, and when she finally went to Africa, her mission became clear to her. The local Cameroonian women gave her a large hand-crocheted hat as a gift. She looked at it, both curious and anxious. She loved the colours (red and blue) and couldn't wait to make handbags like it.
The result of her experience in Cameroon was Carmina Campus, a brand and an ethical fashion project that cooperates with the International Trade Center, the joint agency of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, to promote sustainable fashion and to assist people in Uganda and Kenya. Thanks to ITC and Carmina Campus training programs, as well as the know-how of highly skilled Italian craftsmen on location, 65 women in Nairobi have the chance to work under fair conditions and for a fair salary. "They used to live in garbage dumps and shantytowns, with no food or civil rights. Since being involved in the training program, they had the money to buy land and houses. At the beginning, they just decorated the handbags I entirely designed and made in Italy with printed or embroidered vintage fabrics, now they take care of the whole manufacturing process", Venturini Fendi states.
Not charity, just work, to give them dignity and decision making power. This is the recent Carmina Campus claim sewn on the new handbag collection that is 100% made in Africa. Overseas markets went crazy for the Summer and Winter collections so that for the third season, the Japanese department store chain, Takashimaya, wanted to sell out the Ilaria Venturini Fendi products and the design store 10 Corso Como in Milan and Seoul asked for a co-branding with Carmina Campus.
What's so special about the handbags? Well, you need to look, touch and smell them. Each one-of-a-kind piece has a story behind it. They're unique, numbered and catalogued, created with refused goods that can be reused, such as belts, shower curtains, car upholstery, mountain ropes and sailing lines, scraps of the Masai warriors' clothes and colourful leather and fur samples.
(Photo courtesy of Carmina Campus).
Eco-friendly yes, but not cheap. Even though the products are for mid- to high-end budgets, they can still be affordable. For around 100 euros, you can take home original jewelley designed by Venturini Fendi. If you want to be trendy when you go shopping, you can't miss the Karla Bag made out of military blankets and field tents. Venturini Fendi strongly believes "waste can be treated as a precious and high quality product. We can contribute to save the planet with a cultural revolution, starting from fashion". Her future plans? Top secret. In the meantime, start saving for your next trip to Italy, as a Carmina Campus handbag and a look around the Re(f)use showroom is worth it. I promise!
Via Fontanella Borghese, 40 - Roma
Ph. +39 0668136975
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