Bibi Russell

UNESCO Artist For Peace and designer Bibi Russell's fashion brand makes clothing, accessories and homeware that revives indigeneous rural craftspeople

Categories

Fashion and Textiles  
Retail and Consumer Goods  
Summary

UNESCO Artist for Peace and well-known designer Bibi Russell launched her fashion brand in 1994 when she returned to Bangladesh from Europe.. after twenty years. The global- innovative and ecological fashion brand aims to revive indigenous handloom textiles and crafts and alleviate the economic situation of the rural craftspeople with one simple vision: "Save the craftspeople and help revive their dreams."


History

Bibi Russell was born and raised in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Giving wings to her dreams.. she earned a graduate degree in fashion from London College of Fashion in 1975. In the next five years she was one of the top models on the global fashion scene and walked for Yves Saint Laurent, Kenzo, Karl Lagerfeld and Giorgio Armani. Fashion's darling.. she was widely featured in Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Harper's Bazaar.

Under the slogan "Fashion For Development", Bibi Russell set up Bibi Productions Fashion for Development in 1995 to save craftspeople by integrating indigenous artistic and cultural elements into her design aesthetic. For the first two years Bibi travelled to villages and got acquainted with the craftspeople and artisans there. She learnt their way of life by living with them following which she learnt the tools of the trade in rural Bangladesh as opposed to the modern technology she had learnt overseas.

"Since I was young I had a dream. I could not understand why Bangladeshi people were thought of as poor. For me, the country was rich with colours and music! When I went to Europe my dream went with me. One day I knew that I was mentally and physically ready to go back home" she told UNESCO. "I believed that the people of Bangladesh needed me as much as I needed them.. Today, after more than twenty years of experience, I know I was right. They know I respect them and help them restore their human dignity.. On the other hand, they give me so much love and affection! This gives me the strength to go forward. Nothing in the world can take me away from this work."

With support from UNESCO, Bibi Russell organised her first European fashion show in Paris in 1996 titled Weavers of Bangladesh followed by a second show titled The Colours of Bangladesh in Spain the following year.  In September 1998 -with support from UNESCO and the British Fashion Council- Bibi brought her third show to London titled "Stars of Bangladesh". The same year- she made her US debut at the closing ceremony of State of the World Forum. In 2017 she took part in India's Rajasthan Heritage Week as a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi and to the rural Rajasthani weavers who created the homespun khadi for her collection. Russell also participated in the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange in 2018 with an exhibit showcasing sustainable fashion from the Commonwealth countries. It was launched at Buckingham Palace with the support of the Queen and the Duchess of Cambridge.

The aim was always to showcase the centuries-old craft of rural weavers and craftspeople of Bangladesh and give them their due recognition on the world fashion map. The way these crafts are showcased may also influence fashion designers to use them in their new collections.. leading to development of these communities through Fashion. The Paris show brought in orders that gave work to roughly 30,000 weavers in Bangladesh. The huge response showed that Bibi Russell's vision to elevate rural craftspeople was obviously working. It was difficult for the weavers who lived in villages to make goods according to the tastes of the people- not to mention at a global level. With Bibi's inspiration and guidance, they had the ideas and the platform to market their products.

"What can be better for the craftsmen if their art comes under the 'fashion' umbrella and is recognised across the globe? The exposure will help increase their confidence and encourage them to stay rooted in their culture. The restoration of the historical glory of our weavers and craftspeople, helping them advancing their economic life and creativity is my mission" she told us. "In fact I owe my wealth of knowledge and experience of the weaves and crafts to the weavers and craftspeople of a particular region. Travelling to these rural areas, sitting down with them to understand their manual processes enabled me to experiment with color, weight and design. And then we found a union of modern design and the culture and creativity of rural village folk."

Of late Bibi Russell has showcased several collections at Rajasthan Heritage Week in Rajasthan in India for which she used pure Khadi, wool and cotton, using different weight — sourced from rural weavers in Rajasthan. She kept the look simple to showcase the fabric's beauty and accessorization, inspired by different parts of Rajasthan and made by her, in-house. 

"We must join forces to support rural craftspeople by bringing together essential components such as culture- creativity- skill- capital- technical assistance- marketing- before many centuries-old fine skills are lost. We must appreciate and encourage confidence among the rural craftspeople and artisans by dedicating time and energy in their heritage, their art" she told us. "Since the dawn of civilisation, art and crafts have been sources of income and livelihoods for many fine artisans. Weaving- particularly- is an age-old vocation. Through art and design.. it is my intention to sensitise and demonstrate the skills and expertise of the local artisans. They really have magic in their fingers and I want to showcase that to the world. I consider it my responsibility. All my work here is for them."


Mission

"Save the craftspeople and help revive their dreams."


Vision

Envisioning that rural craftspeople deserve a better market and bigger opportunities, Bibi Russell wants to help preserve their heritage, foster creativity, provide employment, empower women and contribute towards the eradication of poverty.


Key Team

Bibi Russell (Founder)


Recognition and Awards
Bibi has received both national and international awards for her work with the artisans and weavers in Bangladesh as well as those in India, Africa and Latin America. She was declared "Woman of the Year" by Elle Magazine in 1997, honoured with an "Honorary Fellowship" of the London Institute in 1999, and was declared "Entrepreneur Woman of the Year" by the Foundation of Entrepreneur Women in the same year. She has also been highlighted by Asia Week Magazine as "one of the 20 people to watch in the millennium". Also in 1999, Bibi Russell was named "UNESCO Special Envoy: Designer for Development." UNESCO Director General Federico Mayor gave her the title "in recognition of her commitment to the welfare of weavers of Bangladesh and her devotion to the promotion of traditional crafts in the cause of human dignity, development and eradication of poverty". Bibi has recently been made a Creative Member of the Club of Budapest and of the Global Marshall Plan Initiative with the vision of implementing a global eco-social development plan.

References
Bibi Russell
Leadership team

Bibi Russell (Founder)

Industries

Fashion and Textiles

Retail and Consumer Goods

Products/ Services
Apparel, accessories and homeware
Number of Employees
50 - 100
Headquarters
Bangladesh
Established
1994
Company Registration
TRAD/DSCC/337383/2019
Social Media

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Fri Mar 01 2024
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