BY LEE ANN SANDWEISS
For many, the term “designer fashion” conjures up visions of expensive garments destined for the wardrobes of the wealthy. An upcoming exhibit and sale, “Retro Visions: Democratizing Scarf Art,” refutes that notion while helping some of the world’s poorest people—women and children in Kenya.
“The exhibit will present scarf art that is a key part of 20th-century fashion history, and mainly covers the period from the 1950s to the 1990s, from mid-century modern to op art,” explains event organizer Claire Robertson. “The designers were mostly women pioneers in democratizing fashion. They wanted to design clothes for people who weren’t rich.”
For 19 years, Robertson and a team of volunteers have sold jewelry and other African goods to help Kenyan projects. She says the goal of this exhibition and sale is two-fold.
“The exhibit will emphasize scarf design to raise awareness of the contributions of women designers, in particular,” Robertson says. “Some labels, such as Echo, which began in the 1920s with one artist, grew and now employs many, which helps account for high diversity in their designs. Other companies still bear their female founders’ names long after their deaths, such as Anne Klein or Liz Claiborne. It seems fitting that the efforts of the designers and their businesses should also contribute to helping the less fortunate.”
Every two years, Robertson, an African studies scholar and coordinator of the International Outreach Task Force (IOTF) of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington, leads an IOTF group to Kenya to look at the projects’ progress. Three IOTF projects will receive profits from the sale: Ndethya Wa Ngutethya, an agricultural cooperative; the Spurgeon School in Nairobi, which began as an AIDS orphanage in the 1990s and now has almost 500 students; and Msamaria Mwema Children’s Home-Kibichiku, a small residential AIDS orphanage.
The exhibition and sale will be held at the Bloomington/Monroe County Convention Center on April 20 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.