Cassandra Postema from Emi & Eve (L), Jamie Wenker from Polkadot Boutique (R)
With fabric woven by Thai tsunami victims, clasps made from Cambodia bomb casings, and everything pieced together by disabled workers in China, the Emi & Eve debut handbag collection at Polkadot Boutique is ethical fashion in the extreme! Dubbed “positively luxurious accessories”, these colourful clutches – stitched together with love, hope and stories of overcoming diversity – are available at the Hollywood Road boutique while stocks last.
A fashion graduate from London’s Central St Martins College of Art and Design, Emi & Eve founder Cassandra Postema started her career as a designer in the UK capital, up-cycling vintage gems and making clothes from fabrics sourced on her travels around the world. Despite turning heads in the industry and even being featured in the iconic London Fashion Week, Cassandra felt her work was being compromised as she was pushed and pulled in all directions by both suppliers and buyers.
“I grew up in Asia and missed it, so I decided to move back to Hong Kong and set up a social enterprise with a friend,” Cassandra told Localiiz. “We teamed up with disadvantaged people from around Asia to make handbags, but as time passed I found more and more amazing artisans that I wanted to work with, so I decided to pull out and go it alone.”
After hitting rock bottom, almost going broke and spending a sizeable stint sleeping on friends’ sofas, Cassandra eventually got back on her feet and founded Emi & Eve.
“I just knew that I whatever I did, I wanted it to have a story,” Cassandra explained. “I went to Cambodia to visit a family that had set up a tiny workshop at the front of their home recycling the brass from old bomb casings into handbag clasps and jewellery. I wanted to be part of the positive message of turning war waste into something beautiful.”
Cassandra sources the colourful cotton for her clutches from the Saori Welfare Centre, an initiative in Thailand’s southern Phanggna province that employs female hospitality workers who found their livelihood literally washed away in the devastating 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami.
By its very definition, the art of Saori (which breaks down to mean individual dignity and hand weaving) produces one-of-a-kind creations. Introduced in 1968 by Japanese Ikebana teacher Misao Jo, the Saori philosophy celebrates irregularities and ‘mistakes’ in the fabric, making each piece as unique as a finger print.
With all the raw materials in place, Cassandra finally ships off the fabric and clasps to the Dorcas Designs factory in Guangzhou, China, a social enterprise working with recovered leprosy patients, handicapped workers and earthquake refugees. But despite her extremely ethical credentials, Cassandra insists that her bags should not be bought solely on the merits of their makings.
“When I started my first enterprise in 2007 all the buzz was about ethical food, and ethical fashion was only just beginning. Now you don’t need to educate people about ethical fashion – they just get it,” Cassandra said.
“Right now I have all the stories about the bags’ origins on my website, but there is a theory that you shouldn’t shout too much about all your goodness because you don’t want to pressure people into buying something just because it’s worthy. I’m not going to dictate what anyone should do as I can’t claim that everything I wear is 100% ethical, but it’s a motivator for me to work this way. I prefer to have a meaning to what I do and a story to my designs.”
But according to Polkadot founder Jamie Wenker – who also stocks Bejewelled Bespoke jewellery made from recycled wood, Nancy Dee throwback 50s fashion crafted from bamboo and organic cotton, and fair trade jewellery from Mettle – responsibility is a real selling point in Hong Kong.
“The more things we see in the news about factories falling down in Bangladesh, the more people want to know about where their clothes come from. It really makes you think twice about what you buy,” said Jamie.
“With the Emi & Eve collection, people are initially attracted by the look and the colours, but once they know the story it’s almost like a no brainier. The bags offer a great way to add a punch of colour to any summer outfit, so you can look fashionable and give back at the same time!”