Have you noticed that fashionable goods, once solely produced in French ateliers and Italian tanneries, now seem to increasingly come from the rural collectives, isolated villages and up-country workshops of the developing world? With growing concern over the world's finite resources, our tastes have become less ostentatious and as consumers we have become more educated, looking for sustainable products made and sold under fair trade practices. Stylish items that benefit disadvantaged communities are even better. Overleaf are five upscale brands or designers that blend looking and feeling good with doing good.
ERIC RAISINA: The Madagascan-born couturier (whose work is pictured here) imparts knowledge garnered in the fashion houses of Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Lacroix to young Khmer weavers at his roadside workshop in Siem Reap, Cambodia, tel: (855-63) 963 207. Using looms that Raisina has built since leaving his position as an advisor to the NGO Artisans d'Angkor, the weavers fashion ball gowns inspired by the surrounding temples, wraps made of psychedelic-hued "silk fur," and traditional fishermen's pants updated in preppy cotton pinstripes and Prince de Gaul plaid. The garments are top sellers at the nearby Raffles and Amansara resorts while bespoke textile is exported directly to YSL muse and designer Loulou de la Falaise.
MANOP RACHOTE: Thai houseware and accessories designer Manop Rachote, manop-rachote.com, may live in one of Bangkok's swankiest mansions but he's not above trekking through the rice paddies of northern Thailand to the villages of Nan province, 320 km east of Chiang Mai, to help local women preserve their indigenous basket weaving, which uses local grasses and favors a distinctive triangular shape. Collections commissioned by Rachote are retailed at his outlet in Bangkok's Gaysorn Plaza. If there's space left in your luggage, grab a couple of his stylized interpretations of Thai monks' begging bowls, carved in mango wood.
WEAVES OF CAMBODIA: Blending in perfectly with the stylish, big-ticket items on the shelves of Barneys New York, Weaves of Cambodia silk scarves swaddle the buyer in sumptuousness while opening a world of possibilities to the land-mine survivors of Tbeng Meanchey, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold eight hours' drive along a bumpy dirt road from Phnom Penh. Carol Cassidy, the innovative American weaver behind Vientiane-based Lao Textiles took over the town's craft studio from Vietnam Veterans International in 2003, training, employing and providing health care to over 40 disabled but gifted artisans whom she says "possess natural abilities to weave high-quality silk in spite of their disabilities." weavescambodia.com
JAWHARA NAFA: A recent vacation in India proved inspirational for Cairo-based clothing designer Jawhara Nafa, tel: (20-12) 313 7649. Nafa came across a local women's co-operative in the shadow of Aman-i-Khas the luxury resort in Rajasthan's Ranthambore National Park turning out souvenirs that were well-made but of kitsch design and limited appeal. She decided to redirect the women's skills into the creation of more marketable products, allowing them to copy the glamorous contents of her frock-filled suitcase in locally produced, hand-block-printed cottons. Nafa took some of the resulting "hippie chic" pieces back to Cairo, and dispatched others to outlets in Bali. Customers love them, and the designer has already placed orders for more.
HUVAFEN FUSHI: The 100% pure virgin coconut oil used at this Maldivian resort's groundbreaking underwater Lime Spa, huvafenfushi.com, is made by the families on the nearby island of Makunudhu. Formerly unemployed, the families now turn out 140 liters of the luscious oil each week. The oil is used for massages and is offered for sale to guests in 150-ml handblown glass bottles, with $5 of each bottle's $40 retail price allocated to local community projects.