The Genteel
July 8, 2020


Bibi Russell Fashions Debut, December 2011. Source:

Fashion is "a billion dollar industry that creates economic development around the world daily," says Evie Evangelou, the global chair of Fashion 4 Development (F4D), a global awareness campaign that is harnessing the power of the fashion and beauty industries to implement strategies for sustainable growth of communities worldwide. For Evangelou, fashion can empower, enhance and enrich lives; in short, fashion is a tool for growth. 

With the backing of UNESCO, F4D was founded in 1996 by Bangladeshi model, Bibi Russell. The organisation originally focused on developing new textiles, patterns and production procedures in Bangladesh, in the process establishing business and entrepreneurial opportunities for artisans and designers. In 2011, Evangelou relaunched F4D's efforts to include dozens of developing countries and it is now a significant movement that is working to advance the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals - all through the power of fashion. "We are a global platform that chooses to unite and umbrella public and private sector through a global awareness campaign," explains Evangelou, "We want to inspire partnerships and economic development through fashion and beauty, lifting people from poverty."

Evie Evangelou at a UN meeting in 2012. 
Photo courtesy of Fashion 4 Development.

F4D seeks out designers that are largely using either local workers or working with traditional designs or textiles. The organisation invites these designers to participate in events and fashion shows, promoting them and helping them grow. Their growth makes it possible for the designers, in turn, to hire more local workers and further integrate traditional techniques. 

F4D has also organised training workshops in cities across Asia and Africa, teaching locals to work with traditional textiles and techniques. The organisation has helped raise capital for designers and textile initiatives - such as new factories - and has helped textile workers get better prices on materials so they can produce more and earn larger profit margins. Evangelou also speaks frequently at UN meetings to raise awareness about the plight of textile workers, especially women, in third-world countries.

This past September, at its First Ladies Luncheon in New York City, F4D announced that it will now be focusing on Asia as its next region for development. In 2011, F4D started researching opportunities in rural areas in Asia. "We felt we could develop jobs for women and others in partnership with luxury brands throughout Asia," says Evangelou. F4D has already begun setting up partnerships with workers and designers in China and Singapore.   

Among other fashion pros, the fashion show presented at the First Ladies Luncheon highlighted the work of Indonesian designers Sebastian Gunawan and Priyo Oktaviano. Both designers manufacture completely in Indonesia and derive fashion inspiration from Indonesian culture and tradition. 

Fashion is glamorous and attracts attention, and fashion has the power to employ millions of people. And so, the question for me is not 'why fashion,' but 'why not fashion?'

Oktaviano uses local textiles and techniques and employs local workers, in hopes of raising awareness and promoting the Indonesian weaving industry. "I work with and support F4D to raise awareness and promote the Indonesian weaving industry," he says. "It is my hope to help Indonesian cloth and culture to be recognised internationally and to increase the welfare of all traditional weavers in Indonesia." To achieve this, Oktaviano focuses on the use of traditional hand-woven fabrics that showcase the beauty and history of the country. "I love the fabrics from Bali - Endek and Songket - and I like to mix these hand-woven cloths with other fabrics such as chiffon, satin and silk," says Oktaviano.

For his 2012 collection, Oktaviano turned his eye towards Bali and Balinese ambience and lifestyle. "It's all about the rich fabrics and colours," says Oktaviano. "My motif combined this with a touch of Japanese essence, such as origami flowers." His new collection is a departure from the ready-to-wear collections that Oktaviano is famous for. For years, his designs were all about edginess without flash. But the 2012 collection incorporates a bit more flair in what he describes as, "a bit of old Hollywood glitz," mixed with the gold and red tones that are widely associated with Asia.

Gunawan, on the other hand, could easily be described as Oktaviano's opposite. While Oktaviano shies away from glitter, instead using fabric textures and colours to draw the eye, Gunawan's designs are all about flash and glamourHis clothes are playful and chic; a mix of '20s flapper, elegant '50s and flashy disco. Although all of these elements seem impossible to combine successfully, he has somehow managed to make them work together.

Gunawan describes his designs as "constructed," with great emphasis on structures and shapes. There isn't a smooth line when combining colours, textures and layers. Instead, Gunawan likes to create obvious and well-defined lines, making his designs look almost geometrical. "I love to combine fabrics in designing," says Gunawan. "The fabric I very much use is lace and I love to combine it with chiffon, brocade, damask, jacquard and, of course, Indonesia's heritage fabrics like tenun." Tenun is a type of woven silk fabric, native to the Pahang area in Malaysia.

F4D Fashion 4 Development

Priyo Oktaviano 2012 Collection presented
at the First Ladies Luncheon in New York.
Photo courtesy of Fashion 4 Development.

Gunawan is best known for his evening gowns and his dramatic use of crystals, beads and semiprecious stones. In fact, his designs are responsible for the birth of the term "bling-blingism," used in Indonesian fashion to describe flashy fashion that attracts the eye and cannot easily be ignored. Gunawan's focus has always been luxurious prêt-a-porter with touches of haute couture. Every one of his designs requires a lot of manual work, especially because sequins, Swarovski crystals and beads are sewn by hand. 

For his 2012 collection, Gunawan is focusing on, "the evolvement and modernisation of women." "Women inspire me," says the designer. "But this year I've focused on how women have changed so much within a few decades. I design for the modern women; where the lifestyle is not solely focused on serving the husband and raising their children but where career and socialising is another big part of their life." Gunawan was invited to be part of the Luncheon because of his work with Cita Tenun Indonesia (CTI), an association that helps promote and protect Indonesian culture, traditions and textiles. In 2011, Gunawan designed a small collection with the help of workers from CTI and using only traditional textiles. 

The designers' vastly different styles are an example of F4D's goals: to explore all angles of fashion and to reach all people, no matter their style. F4D hopes to raise awareness by helping designers, so those designers can offer more jobs to locals and minorities. "Fashion is glamorous and attracts attention, and fashion has the power to employ millions of people. And so, the question for me is not 'why fashion,' but 'why not fashion?'" says Evangelou.

Whether through design or beauty, F4D is helping textile workers and young designers extend their reach through the world of fashion. By doing so, F4D is also hoping to preserve techniques, materials and products that might otherwise disappear due to industrialised production and the fast fashion industry.



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