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January 30, 2004

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For Development


Clad in heavy jewellery, a simple blue top and a matching woven toopee, Bibi Russel walked through her new showroom in Banani, opened on January 23, 2004, with ease and confidence. The showroom breathed craftsmanship, displaying a vast variety of items, ranging from tie-die kurtas and shawls to pillow cases and plates. Bangladesh's finest stood proud: muslin curtains with handwork hung from the windows next to placemats made from jute.

The showroom is presented by Essentials, and has switched locations, and is now situated in Banani. It showcases craftswork from different parts of Bangladesh, and some even from Rajasthan in India. Except for the Rajasthani work, everything in the showroom is designed by Bibi -- with a little help from the friends she made during her frequent trips to the villages of Bangladesh in the last two years.

"What I am trying to do is promote local crafts under the banner of my name," says Russel. "After agriculture, crafts is one of our biggest markets. The key is to compete with local work in a global sphere. I believe I can do that because I have made a name for myself in the International fashion world."

"It's not about charity, it's about giving back to these people who work hard and are never recognised," she continues. "In countries like ours fashion is like a culture. We have to change the mentality of what fashion is -- it is important in our every day lives. I make my line accessible to everyone, so that it is something everyone can afford, and not just a select few."

Russel's first education came at home, having "excellent parents" who supported her dream of fashion, which she has been fostering "from day one. Although she grew up in Bangladesh, she graduated from the London College of Fashion and is now a Fellow at the London Institute, the head of all art colleges in London.

Her label, followed by the slogan "Fashion for Development and recognised by the Fashion Council, provides her with the opportunity to promote her own culture through fashion. Every fabric in the show is originated from and handmade in Bangladesh, such as jute and muslin.

"I never change the traditional way of weaving that my craftspeople do," she says. "I just simplify it -- I change colours and designs, and provide my clients with different options"

"Love and affection is my strength. Although I don't have a particular project or own any of these workers, they are all mine, because I sit with them and improve certain things or make adjustments myself. My first priority is taking care of my work. I have never had anything sent back to me from anywhere."

This concept paints a different picture of the fashion industry from the usual confetti of glamour and jazz. The running joke of most Miss World, Miss USA and Miss Universe contestants saying that they want "world peace" (and not really doing much about it) is not too far from the truth. To Bibi Russel, however, it is no joke. She takes her work seriously and strives to better the world around us by using her art.


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