Andrea Kolb And Her Fashion Brand Ask Us To Reconsider How Social And Sexy Go Together

Alyssa Jade McDonald talks to Andrea Kolb, founder of the fashion brand ABURY, about her ambition to combine modern trends with old traditions.

Andrea founded ABURY in 2011 in Berlin, made her first project in Morocco and is now evolving the idea of sexy and social to Ecuador. Her big goal is to use modern fashion as the tool to ‘meet’ and bring old traditions out from the back of the cupboard and put them on a catwalk. Literally, she did this with handbags from her berber friends in Morocco years ago when she sold their ‘old’ (aka vintage) bags at Berlin fashion week to raise the funds to start a sewing school in 2 villages, enabling the ladies to reclaim their local crafts and have them be purposeful in the modern environment.

We spoke to Andrea Kolb about the inspiration for ABURY and how she balances her love of fashion with her desire to make a difference in the world.

Andrea explains:

“Living in Morocco for a while I was able to dive into the culture and crafts. And I saw these fascinating skills which are about to get lost – not because they are not good, but because they are disconnected from the market – and its quality - and design requirements. So the idea is as simple as connect the old traditions with the avantgarde.”

It was a stroke of genius, which unthreaded what we know as social and sexy in Germany, and into the USA.

She found a French designer, who knew the balance between style and substance and created a new line of bags (for ipad, iphone etc) and reinvests 50% of the new products back into the community. Together, they have built water wells and libraries for schools.

“Paying fair, which means about 300 Euros a month, is not enough to support the people in doing the next step. So we decided to share profits with the ABURY Foundation to also support community projects,” says Andrea.

During this time, Andrea tip-toed between two seemingly diametric worlds, the superficial fashion scene and the change making social scene, cards from the fashion week still in her jeans, she would go check on water well progress while on the phone with retailers in the US who wanted to stock her bags.

To Andrea, it all felt perfectly normal, to be connecting a world which is famed for losing touch with the essence of humanity, and real-functional-dirty-hands design and manufacture in developing communities.

To Andrea, the words social and fashion, come together naturally. 

“I believe in a more inclusive market where diversity of cultures is cherished and embraced - and the people respected. I believe this is true luxury,’' she says.

With ABURY, the company doesn’t ‘compete’ in the typical fashion world style with glossy advertising, rather she invites people into her world, telling them the stories of the ladies who make the bags and those stories of the ladies making the designs, become the stories of the ones who end up buying them.

I know, I have a pair of Boots from ABURY and tell everyone about where they are made and from who, how long it took and what the fairy tale behind it is.

Story telling, is Andrea’s antidote to ‘brand’ power. She doesn’t believe in marketing and instruments of capitalism as a way to ‘seduce’ people into believing owning an item will ‘make them XYZ’. Rather, being part of the story and development of how something is made, is inviting a buyer into the discourse themselves.

Andrea explains: “It is all about telling real and authentic stories – stories that are not perfectly groomed but stories that show also the vulnerability and challenges – stories that people can relate to – which finally make you become a trusted brand.”

A particular story of the moment is about Luz and Maria who are best friends in Ecuador.

While Maria grew up pinching pennies and lived with her husband’s mother, Luz was forced to marry an older man whom she did not love. Luz has eight sons and eleven grandchildren; Maria has six children. They chat together every week over their knitting baskets. They both get up at 4:30am to milk cattle, feed the animals and take care of the children in the house.

They are part of TEXAL Artisans Association which is is an NGO that promotes economical, social and personal growth of the people in Salinas by fostering the traditional craftsmanship of weaving garments from the local Alpaca wool.

Maria and Luz are part of a cooperation where they work with Daniela from ABURY, a designer who comes up with ideas together with the ladies about what garments to make for Winter 2014-2015 at Berlin Fashion Week.

And this is where Andrea brings together her worlds of digital story telling, fashion and social enterprise. The new KUYA Collection is knitwear that brings the love from Ecuador to the world!

“Kuya means Love in Quechua – the language of the people in the Andes there – and we thought it is the perfect name for this collection – because – these women, with all what they have experienced in their lives, they still have so much love to give – and in sharing their stories, we share their love, bring it to the world and back to them,” says Andrea.

And you can be part of this development too, you can vote for which KUYA Collection designs are MADE!

Alyssa Jade McDonald-Baertl  is the founding MD of BLYSS GmbH. The name BLYSS comes from the English word „bliss“, which literally describes a state of profound happiness and joy. Alyssa Jade felt the fusion of bliss and her own name, Lyss, was a commitment to bringing joy into the world via a consciously-indulgent gourmet experience and evolving business methods to bring communities forward together, from addressing diabetes in the Gulf to standards of living in South America. 

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