WHEN Caroline Poiner was travelling in India, she was struck equally by the extreme beauty of the work of the country's artisans, and the extreme poverty in which they lived.
''The handcraft industry is actually the second largest export industry in India, yet these people are living in abject poverty,'' Ms Poiner said. ''That seemed to be a big gap to me, so I thought there must be somehow we can make a difference.''
Ms Poiner's solution was to launch the Artisans of Fashion, an organisation aimed at forging partnerships between Australian designers and traditional Indian artisans to increase awareness about their exquisite beading, embroidering and hand-weaving and transform it into global products and sustainable incomes.
Earlier this year Ms Poiner took garments by 25 Australian designers to India to shoot an evocative essay by photographers Georges Antoni and Robyn Beeche showcasing the work of Indian artisans used by the likes of Easton Pearson, Megan Park and J'Aton.
Artisans of Fashion has since signed the cricketer Brett Lee as an ambassador - ''the way they love Brett Lee in India, he could change a whole community's lives'' - and hopes to produce a series of handwoven scarves with him and a community in Kolkata.
On Wednesday The Strand will launch a campaign called The Art of Authenticity, which it has created with Artisans of Fashion to showcase the handwork of Indian communities behind designers such as Akira Isogawa, Ms Couture, Alex Perry and Jayson Brunsdon. Starring the Australian model of the moment, Nicole Pollard, the campaign was shot in Jaipur against the historic 14th century Neemrana Fort-Palace.
The initiative is also aimed at reinforcing the ''bespoke'' nature of many retailers in The Strand, including the Ms Couture designer Juilee Chione-Tullio, who works with beaders in India to create evening wear, lingerie and corsetry. ''The beading for them is not merely a profession, it is the vein of their culture,'' she said.
''They are true artisans and their techniques open up a treasure trove of creative possibilities for me as a designer that I didn't even know were possible.''
From: The Sydney Morning Herald