Forward-Thinking Designs from Cesta Collective
by Alexa Hotz
Photographed by Oliver Fernandez
Most luxury accessories come without a story. Or let’s put it this way, there’s a story behind every accessory, but they’re not openly shared or celebrated. “Fashion is the second-most polluting industry in the world,” says designers Courtney Fasciano and Erin Ryder, co-founders of the newly-launched brand Cesta Collective. “We felt the industry as a whole needed to do better. We were compelled to make a difference, specifically in the lives of women, and to create a brand that is part of the solution, rather than a proliferation of the problem.” So when Fasciano, a former fashion editor with Marie Claire and T Magazine, and Ryder, most formerly Director of Brand at Rebecca Taylor, who has also worked for Theory and Helmut Lang, were looking to produce their first handbag design, they took a progressive approach to manufacturing and found Cesta Collective rooted in the hills of Rwanda.
Working with a Fair Trade-certified B-Corporation sourcing partner, each bag is made by women artisans as part of a larger weaving cooperative. “In Rwanda, weaving is a female-run industry, a rite of passage passed down from mother to daughter and an important part of their growing economy post-genocide,” the designers explain. “These women are the breadwinners of their homes, supporting four to five dependents on average.” Depending on the design, it takes one weaver three to seven days to weave a single basket. As part of the collective, artisans set their own price per basket based on the time and energy required. “They have a voice in the process,” they say. “It’s sustainable economic development, not necessarily charity, that’s the goal of our supply chain, and an integral founding principal of our sourcing partner.” Case in point: Each woman working with Cesta Collective makes four to five times the average national salary in Rwanda.
It wasn’t enough to use our fashion backgrounds to simply make more pretty things—we wanted to build a brand that would have a positive impact on a larger scale.
Cesta’s lunchpail design takes inspiration from the traditional Rwandan cathedral basket, a wedding gift passed down from mother to daughter. “We fell in love with the details of the weave, its durability, and its story,” says Cesta. The designers made modern updates with a canvas cotton lining that cinches closed with a drawstring and an Italian leather top handle. At the core of the Cesta bag is sisal, a locally-sourced renewable material extracted from the sisal plant (that resembles an aloe plant). Each leaf of sisal is scythed into fine fibers and dyed to match Pantone colors with organic vegetable dyes. The sisal then gets bunched into coils and bound with a single thread of thin sisal in concentric circles to form a finished basket.
Each weaving cooperative is lead by a master weaver who recruits, trains, and oversees her own collective of artisans. One master weaver named Immacullee, Cesta tells us, started her cooperative with 14 weavers in 2011 and has since grown it into 70 women-strong. “With the money she’s earned weaving, she was able to buy her husband a motorcycle and he now works to transport sisal to the basket center, as well as upgrading his former bicycle taxi service with speedier means,” they explain. “We hope to prove, with time, that handmade artisanal brands can scale and have a larger economic impact on developing countries.”
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Back to the Ancient Future: In the Studio with Romy Northover