We had the opportunity to speak with Andrea Bury, CEO and founder of the ABURY Collection, a sustainable fashion line committed to fair-trade. Andrea Bury believes in preserving traditional craftsmanship by employing artisans from various countries and cultures to create the unique pieces presented in the collection.
Realizing the artisan’s handiwork was a dying art due to the threat of fast fashion, Bury conceptualized the idea for the ABURY Collection. The collection would be constructed on 3 key principles: innovative design, handmade exclusivity and social impact.
Today, the ABURY Collection continues to fight against the fast fashion industry by utilizing local artisans to create its products and encouraging them to preserve their craft. For each ABURY product purchased, the product’s hours of production are converted into hours of education for the community in which it was created through the ABURY Foundation.
What was your motivation for founding ABURY?
I was living in Marrakesh for two years and during this time I fell in love with the local craftsmanship. I started collecting vintage bags, traditionally handmade Berber bags. With each bag I got a story of the unique pattern, but I also got the story of the challenges [the craftsmen] face; the cheap imports from Asia that create decreasing prices so that the artisans can't get fair prices for their work anymore, etc.
For me, these skills are cultural capital. And I thought it is so unfair that people with such amazing skills and heritage are not able to feed their families with their work. So I thought maybe we can create a business that supports the preservation of these dying skills and at the same time gives [the artisans] a basis to earn a good living with their traditional knowledge.
What sets ABURY apart from a typical fashion brand?
ABURY is almost more of a platform than a fashion brand. ABURY connects artisans and designers through the ABURY Design Experience - a global designer contest. They live and work together for two months and co-create a collection for us using local materials, traditional craft skills and modern design ideas. The whole process is documented and super transparent for the customer. Moreover, we re-invest 50% of the profits into local projects again through the ABURY Foundation to create environments where opportunities can grow and crafts skills can be preserved.
Why is sustainability and morality in the fashion industry important?
The fashion industry is, after agriculture, the industry that exploits people and nature the most. We are not aware at all that our garments are traveling the world to always find the cheapest place to do the next production step. This is not ecologically or socially responsible at all. We, along with many others, try to point this out through transparent processes. I think it is super important to educate the customer in a digestible way on the practices of the industry. Our goal is to make it fashionable to care! This is also why we cooperate with big companies - they have the power to create awareness but sometimes lack ideas and flexibility. I think we should create many more cooperations in the fashion industry between start ups and large companies, [similar to] the tech industry.
How does ABURY incorporate sustainability and morality into its business model and practices?
Our business model is a hybrid between for and non-profit. As part of the business model we re-invest parts of the profits (50%) in the ABURY Foundation. In the production process we only work with local materials, we negotiate the prices with the artisan directly, and also pay directly to make sure that he/she gets the money. It is really important to us that the whole production process is transparent - everybody can read the stories behind the products on our blogzine, www.oneofamind.net.
Moreover, we have been just certified as a B Corp. The process of the certification inspired us to also incorporate more sustainable practices in our office, in regards to waste management, energy providers, etc.
How does fast consumerism pose a threat to traditional craftsmen?
If you go to alibaba.com and you type Moroccan design, you can find many products that you can buy there cheap and in big quantities. This is what is kind of happening with a lot of products, e.g. the Babouches. They enter Marrakesh in containers and then are distributed to the different sellers. Obviously a local artisan can't compete with the prices - and then either the quality goes extremely down or he stops.
We definitely lose the knowledge as the children have no motivation in learning the skill anymore. This is just one example. We try to support the crafts and keep it through involving design to make the products more unique and different!
Have you faced any challenges during the creation and development of ABURY? If so, what were they and how did you overcome them?
You always encounter challenges on the way! Starting from the point that it is really difficult to find funding for a socially driven fashion business whose impact is based in foreign countries. So we grow slowly and organically. The thing is, you don't have big funds to secure hard times - especially as we always have to pay production upfront and then sell. Sales is a topic as the fashion / bag business is big - but also full of competition. It needs some creativity to get heard - and we try our best - but this is still one of our biggest challenges.
What is the most important thing you have learned during your time working on the ABURY collection?
I have learned so many things - and I am not stopping... every day there is something! From very practical things like logistics, to more emotional things like how to work with artisans. I learned to be less impatient - but I am still fighting. And then finally - no matter how small you are - think about your corporate culture and live it. The team of ABURY really is my great pleasure and makes me smile and happy to go to work!
What advice would you give to other social entrepreneurs?
Don't be impatient, believe in your idea - but also be open for adaption when necessary and listen carefully to your customer. Know your numbers and learn from them. And, I would never create a company by myself again - I would always look for a co-founder!
What do you hope for the future of ABURY?
I hope that we can work with many more artisans in different countries to help preserve traditional crafts knowledge and support them in earning a bright future with their skills.