Rana Clothing

rana2-2rana2-5rana2-3rana2-1rana2-6So, remember last week when I got on my wee soapbox and went on a we-should-all-support-fair-trade rant? Well, let me introduce to you Rana Clothing.

Hatched from the mind of Rebecca Dracup and designed by the hands of Angela Parker, Rana offers a range of ethically made office wear (although I reckon that skirt pictured would be pretty amazing on any day really!).

When Rebecca graduated from uni and started working as a sustainability engineer, she did what we all do and went out in search of a new office-worthy wardrobe. What she found was a hole in the market, a lack of shops and designers selling workwear which was openly ethically and/or sustainably produced. Not to be deterred, she began contacting companies to see if she could at least find out if they could provide her with information regarding the source of their clothing but was met with unclear answers or, in some cases, unreassuring silence. And when most of us would probably throw our hands up in the air and give up, Rebecca decided that this was just not good enough – and she dreamed up her own company.

Enter fashion graduate, Angie, the designer with the know-how and eye to create the fashionable yet socially-conscious clothing range. They met up for the first time less than a year ago and made Rana Clothing come to life.

Rana takes its name from the Rana Plaza, a building in Bangladesh that housed thousands of garment workers that make clothing for what is termed the “fast fashion” industry, that is, where most of our clothing comes from at present. This poorly maintained complex collapsed in 2013, killing more than a thousand workers and injuring thousands more. Spurred on by this image and as a reminder of the unjustly poor conditions many individuals work under, Angie travelled to Sri Lanka in search of fabrics and suitable makers.

After many weeks of exploring, questioning and site-visiting, Angie found a number of local craftspeople who welcomed Rana Clothing’s support and fit the mould in terms of transparency and providing gainful employment to workers in a safe and comfortable environment. Excitingly, Rana’s first collection will showcase garments made from locally made handloom materials (a traditional artisan technique!) by a small garment company just out of Colombo, Maya Dress Designers.

Think this is an admirable achievement? Angie and Rebecca have also connected with a number of local Sri Lankan designers whose clothing they will sell alongside Rana’s collections, one of whom creatively uses the excess fabric from larger companies’ projects that would normally go completely to waste. Also, next in the pipeline is sourcing organically farmed cotton which may see Angie travelling to India to get to the heart of its production. If this is the way things are going, I’m so excited to see what is in store and will wholeheartedly get behind these guys.

Rana Clothing have just launched their crowdfunding campaign here. Environmentally and socially conscious shopping? Designers that care and know who make their garments? This is where we’re heading people, let’s make it the requisite and the everyday, not the exception.

Photos courtesy of Rana Clothing by Daniel Hunt

Special shout out to Juanita’s Wine & Tapas Bar for providing such a lovely backdrop for the models

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The hands that make

weaving-1 weaving-2 weaving-3 weaving-4It’s no secret – I love clothes. So much so that at one stage of my life it wasn’t uncommon to be asked point blank, “So how much time do you spend shopping?” (Honestly, not that much, I’m a targeted shopper, I know what I wants and I gots to have it!). But certainly over the last two years, my views towards the all-hallowed, all-hated, and much-debated word fashion (or fashuuuurn if you must) has changed, back-tracked and evolved.

What things have changed the most? I’ve come to realise that more and more a few key principles are informing my choices, almost subconsciously, emerging from life experiences, travels and integral encounters with amazingly selfless and foresighted people. Travelling through Burma and wandering through a number of textile stores and factories got me asking questions and cemented my views even more.

In essence, less is more. And simplicity is king.

And why? Well, not only does this reflect a maturing sense of style which flits around less and less with the tides of trend and seasonality, but more importantly a desire to live more responsibly and knowledgeably, being aware of where my clothes come from to where they will end up.

This isn’t always easy. I mean, there are so many righteous pillars to uphold. Buying local vs abroad. Supporting the artisan over the multimillion dollar megacompany. Is the cotton organically farmed? Is the way in which the natural fibres of my favourite chambray shirt sustainably farmed? Is the clothing made by children or underpaid individuals? And while we’re at it, let’s talk about ethics and fair trade?

There is much smoke and many mirrors that confuse and hardly help us make our decisions. Companies and labels can easily masquerade as seemingly smaller ones and portray an image of “organic-ness” and wholesomeness, but may not always display transparency in the sourcing of materials or making of their products. And, let’s just be honest, sometimes you just need something and you need it quick, like it’s a lot easier to buy a flat-packed coffee table from Ikea than bang one out of upcycled wood in your own backyard, isn’t it?

So, one of my personal endeavours this year is to scout out local companies that think beyond their money-making capabilities and actively make the principles of fair trade a core part of their business ethic, partly because it’s sometimes really hard to ask all those questions yourself when searching for that new shirt for work, but mostly because their example should lead the way for all businesses out there. Fair trade should be a requirement and the norm, so let’s get behind and support the companies that uphold it.

These photos capture traditional handloom weavers at work in a small workshop on Inle Lake, Burma. They use cotton, silk and even lotus root fibres, which is itself a waning craft as it is highly labour intensive.

Travelling Burma – Old Bagan

bagan-33 bagan-20 bagan-25 bagan-4bagan-42bagan-35bagan-41bagan-29bagan-34bagan-17bagan-30bagan-26 bagan-19bagan-11bagan-22bagan-31bagan-21 bagan-16bagan-5bagan-10bagan-27bagan-6bagan-23bagan-8Once home to over 10 000 temples, the otherworldly historical city of Bagan is not to be missed and definitely the favourite destination of our recent travels to Burma. More than 2000 of these ancient and unmistakable pagodas still stand, and walking amongst them truly transports you back to the 11th century when Bagan was the thriving capital of the Pagan Empire. The temples, mostly dedicated to Buddha although dotted with the odd Hindu shrine, range vastly in size from imperious monuments several storeys high to tiny stupas that can only allow one or two people inside at a time. The smoky atmosphere (attributable to the numerous household cooking fires in the area) and entirely unique landscape make every single sunrise and sunset a breathtakingly different experience. It goes without saying, our cameras got an insanely good workout during the few days we had here.

Where to stay and how to get around:
Present day Bagan is separated into three distinct regions – Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyaung Oo. Old Bagan is the heart of the old city where you’ll find most of temples. There are a number of hotels and resorts but they tend to be pretty pricey. New Bagan was essentially created by the government to prevent locals for living in and among the temples and is honestly fairly bland and characterless. We chose to stay in Nyaung Oo. There are many very affordable places to stay and the town is a fun 20 minute bike ride from Old Bagan. It is also home to F.I.T. Street where you will find a number of great restaurants to eat.

You can get to and around Old Bagan by foot, bicycle, electrical bicycle (E-bike), car and even horse cart if that so tickles your fancy. We hugely enjoyed cycling around although that can get pretty hot and gross during the middle of the day. We ended up generally doing most things around sunrise and sunset to get around this (and of course to experience that magical light), but we did hire a car on one day and smashed out a huge number of pagodas.

What to do:
Did I mention there are over 2000 temples to explore? Okay, so it’s pretty unlikely you’re going to be able to see them all, but here are our highlights. Number one experience if you can spare the time and the moolah is a hot air balloon ride that takes you on a once-in-a-lifetime, peaceful sunrise glide over the heart of Old Bagan, just high enough that you feel like you could graze the very top of the Dhammayangi temple. There are three ballooning companies, all of whom cost roughly the same, setting you back a hefty but totally worth it $350 USD per person. We went with Oriental Ballooning and would most definitely recommend them to anyone planning a trip to Bagan.

For another magical sunrise experience (but completely free!), cycle to Bulethi pagoda at the break of dawn to catch the balloons wafting by. This is still a relatively unknown sight, and definitely worth becoming a morning person for.

Go to as many as you can but some must-see pagodas include sunset from Shwesandaw (expect crowds and tour buses but a sunset that will make you forget about them all), Dhammayangi, Ananda, Htilominlo, Sulamani, and Manuha Paya (for its giant reclining Buddha). The best thing to do is just generally get lost in and amongst these ancient structures and just go wherever your exploring feet take you.

If you have extra time and you can’t resist a good market (like me!) then the Nyaung Oo market is worth a gander. I love discovering local produce and cuisine that I’ve never seen, smelt or tasted before. If you’re game to try the food, generally go for stuff that’s piping hot to avoid a nice case of gastro (poor Jinn didn’t escape!). Beyond the food market, there are many beautiful fabric stores and I bought more than ten metres of gorgeous linen for just forty dollars!

The region is also known for their exceptional lacquerware, an ancient craft that originated from China. It involves a labour intensive process that consists of building up over 20 layers of various naturally occurring substances to create beautiful and very hardy pieces, that can range from very functional bowls and plates to purely ornamental art pieces. There are, as always, cheap knock-offs but I would recommend searching out a place called Lotus Collection in New Bagan to find a more artisanal studio versus a number of the larger factories that give off a “mass produced” feel.

How to get here:
Bagan is accessible by air, road, rail and boat, depending on where you’re coming from. Coaches are available and are a good way to see the countryside but can take a long time (around 10 hours from Rangoon/Yangon), so we opted to fly.

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Be sure to bring along your camera, a pair of energetic legs for cycling and pagoda-climbing, a bit of extra cash for an unforgettable balloon ride, and your best “Mingalaba” to soak in and explore Bagan, a truly historical and spiritual centre of this country.

Mingalaba is a Burmese greeting and literally translated means “May your day be filled with auspiciousness!”

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