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Archibald London’s Search for Excellence Supports Nest

Say hello to Archibald London, a platform making the finest, most beautifully crafted products available to international shoppers, without the excessive mark-ups of conventional luxury retailers. This young brand champions true craftsmanship and re-visits the people and places that luxury has left behind in pursuit of more industrialized, lower cost alternatives. The team works assiduously to find, and establish personal relationships with, the world’s most talented craftspeople – those toiling without compromise to create exceptional work that can be cherished for years to come. Through the brand’s direct to consumer model, Archibald London is carving a new niche in retail that benefits craftspeople, brand, and consumer by not only exposing rare pockets of excellence, but also providing ACCESS to them.

Archibald London began it’s life as ‘Archibald Optics’, working closely with the community of optical Takumi in Sabae, Japan. Now, entering the next phase of its evolution, Archibald London is broadening its direct and honest approach to traditional luxury and partnering with Nest to support our cause. Beginning today, every purchase from Archibald London will fund a $5 donation to Nest, helping us bring transparency, business development and advocacy to the global artisans community.

 

NEST FELLOW, AUDREY DUCAS, GETS QUILTING WITH BIB & TUCKER IN ALABAMA

In 2016, Nest had the joy of meeting Bib & Tucker Sew-Op on our exploratory trip to Alabama, USA. Through our strategic growth assessments and subsequent collaboration with this phenomenal team of makers, we determined an opportunity to help Bib & Tucker improve its product development strategy through creation of a “manufacturing catalog” that would showcase sample products and techniques to its prospective clients.

Nest knew just the woman for the job: Nest Professional Fellow, Audrey Ducas, is an avid Nest supporter with a heart of gold and an impressively diverse repertoire of experience that includes sewing and weaving. And so Audrey, a Portland resident by way of Brooklyn, born and raised in France, packed her bags for the ‘Deep South’ to roll up her sleeves for a Nest Fellowship alongside Bib & Tucker Sew-Op.


Says Audrey: One of the missions of Lillis Taylor, Bib and Tucker’s co-founder, is to create a nurturing space for people of all ages and background in which to learn new skills, create, play, and grow together. Working with social workers who try to help women from disadvantaged neighborhoods in Birmingham is one of the Sew-Ops greatest goals and endeavors. For example, Heather Wood, a very skilled Sew-Op member is teaching eager sewing novices some basic techniques that can be applied for their own needs (such as hemming pants) or as a vehicle for their creativity to make useful objects (for example making bags).

Audrey spent one week collaborating with the Sew-Op’s inspiring women whose joy in learning she cites as palpable and contagious. Audrey assisted in laying out step-by-step production processes and determining opportunities for learning and training to be integrated within that process. Audrey assisted the Sew-Op’s makers in troubleshooting current barriers to smooth production, as well as in prescribing new solutions and systems that will improve production processes moving forward.

Audrey’s work with Bib & Tucker builds off a powerful history and important social mission. In 2015, The Sew-Op partnered with UAB’s Department of Art & Art History and the Birmingham Museum of Art to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches through open sewing sessions that yielded 461 quilt blocks. Sew-Op members stitched the blocks together and made three quilts which hung at the Selma Public Library and the Alabama Department of Archives in Montgomery during the anniversary.

Due to an overwhelmingly positive response, collaborators agreed that this should become an annual project. Each year, a relevant civil or human rights theme is chosen and Bib & Tucker members facilitate open sewing sessions and discussion surrounding this topic. During these sessions, community members create quilt blocks that express personal feelings about the theme. Bib & Tucker members then stitch the blocks into quilts that will be exhibited in tandem with a relevant anniversary or day of recognition.

Audrey is proud to add her own personal blocks to this project, and she is not the only one who feels a sense of transformation in doing so. Says Bib & Tucker Co-Founder Lillis Taylor: Audrey quickly became a member of the family during her short stay in Birmingham. The four blocks she contributed to The March Quilts project embody the spirit of this project by drawing people in through transmission of culture and history. This project gives people a safe place in which to discuss differing opinions – and in the end, the members of Bib & Tucker stitch the blocks together just as the project stitches the community together. We all walk away with new stories, new perspectives and a bit more compassion. The synergy that was created during Audrey’s fellowship is helping all of the members of Bib & Tucker Sew-Op work harder towards our goals and we can’t wait to get started!

In Cuba, limitations can mean innovation for craftspeople

On Julie’s recent travels to Havana, Cuba, she had the opportunity to visit Alma, a local shop-meets-concept space designed to propel the voices of Havana’s artisans. Alexandra Oppmann, Alma’s visionary and founder, collaborates closely with local artisans to curate a design-forward array of  fashion and accessories and home goods that she sells at Alma. In a resource scarce environment with major limitations on market access, the sales opportunity that Alma provides for Cuba’s artisans is widely needed.

A mother of three, Alex held her three month-old baby in her arms as she and Julie chatted in the small garden attached to Alma. Alex’s reflections on the state of artisanship in Cuba evokes the idea of scarcity as an unexpected mother to innovation and creativity.

Julie: How did you transform Alma from a passion project into a business and store?

Alex: It took a while to find artisans and designers to work with – like all relationships, these partnerships take time to develop and there can be challenges along the way. For example, the woodworkers we partner with Baracoa have beautiful wood, but perhaps not the most interesting designs. So I took a bit of a collaborative approach: I provided them with some images to translate their technique to.  

Sometimes, designs in Cuba can be stuck in a rut. If you go to the market in Havana, you’ll see that 90% of the items appear mass produced, because everyone is making the same thing, thinking that’s what is going to sell. I try to play a role in shifting this mindset. For example, I asked a man making traditional straw bags to try producing a clutch design I had given him to work with. To mollify his worries that these clutches wouldn’t sell, I told him that I personally would buy all un-purchased products. What was the result of his risk-taking? He tells me those clutches are his top-sellers.

Julie: How do you find the artisans that you collaborate with?

To get started, I walked around the markets in Havana and spoke to the artisans selling directly to shoppers, without use of a website or a store. For those artisans based outside Havana around other parts of the island, I often met them through people I know.

One friend referred me to artisans from Trinidad doing beautiful traditional embroidery for tablecloths. They are facing challenges securing fabric, so they purchase bed sheets to work with. It is not ideal. My dream is to get the group some very nice linen; however, it’s difficult to import linen in large quantities. Whatever is coming into the island, has to come in your suitcase, and the government stores here don’t really sell high quality fabric. What they do sell of it is too expensive.

Julie: How do the artisans you work with learn the crafts that they practice?

Alex: The process is very familial. For the women embroiderers, this is a skill passed down from generation to generation – and there is no one else in the world practicing this type of technique. When I visit the artisans, I will find the women on their front porches in the sun, working away alongside mothers, sisters, cousins, and aunts. It is similar for our woodworkers, as well. It is often the father, son, and cousin all working together.

Juli: What impact do you think the Revolution had on the artisan landscape in Cuba?

Alex: There are two sides to answering this question. On the one hand, the artisan is now limited by lack of materials. On the other hand, this lack of material is driving inventiveness and resourcefulness. Take for example, Mariana who takes apart watches and uses the parts for her creations: would she choose to make jewelry in this fashion if she had access to all the tools and materials she needed? No. But yet, something beautiful and unexpected has come out of that limitation – one that likely would not have happened otherwise.