When looking at this photograph from Paris fashion week:
… not many of us think of this:
I will be the first to admit that despite my love of (and occasional indulgence in) design and luxury goods, I rarely think about where these items originated. In what country were they made? How were they made and in what conditions? Who made them and how are they being compensated for their work? Where did the artisans learn these specialty techniques? Enter Maiyet: a relatively-young luxury fashion label that partners with artisans in emerging economies around the world to create unique, high-end designs while at the same time promoting sustainable business practices and growth.
Maiyet was founded in 2010 by Paul van Zyl (Co-Founder and CEO), Kristy Caylor (Founder and President), and Daniel Lubetzky (Founder). Between van Zyl’s background as a lawyer and human rights activist, Caylor’s prior life in retail goods and socially-conscious missions therein, and Lubetzky’s experience as a lawyer and serial social impact entrepreneur, the team was well-positioned to disrupt the traditional luxury fashion operating model. (Please see attached video for more on Maiyet’s origins: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60S5vYZ2D0g)
Let’s start with the artisans. Human capital is central to Maiyet’s deeply-interdependent operating and business models; without the artisans, there is no Maiyet. The team has a process in place to identify and back craftsmen and women in communities where they can scale up, drive positive change, diminish poverty, and empower workers, women in particular. So far, Maiyet has partnerships in India, Kenya, Mongolia, Italy, Peru, Bolivia, Thailand, and Indonesia, and continues to source more opportunities globally. The firm prides itself on its creation of an operating model where it can bring renewed awareness to ancient techniques like batik, bone carving, handloom silk weaving, and block printing. To preserve and enhance its human capital, Maiyet works with artisans to create short- and long-term training and development programs, and after providing fair wages to employees with advance deposits, the firm reinvests a meaningful portion of its profits back into these programs. The firm’s ability to vertically integrate down to the local regions where these crafts are produced has allowed Maiyet to effectively execute and control its core quality and social impact missions.
Stepping back to consider the broader mechanics of the organization, a key driver of Maiyet’s business success is attributable to its integration of key partnerships and collaborators into the business. Maiyet works closely with its non-profit sister organization, Nest, which is dedicated to building sustainable businesses amongst artisans in developing economies, and to helping partners measure double and triple bottom lines through the creation of social and environmental evaluation metrics. Nest brings valuable infrastructure to Maiyet, aiding them in implementing everything from formal reporting and operating systems and processes, to training and leadership development programs for artisan workers. In many of Maiyet’s partner communities, artisans were previously working in deplorable conditions, often from home, which not only was unsafe, but also affected product quality and consistency; Nest and Maiyet have worked together to build several small factories where workers are protected and have access to abundant resources to execute their craft, resulting in increased collaboration, creativity, and consistency in product quality. Each of these workshops is tailored to the specific needs and artisanal techniques of the region, whether that be metalworking in Nairobi, batik-dying in West Java, or jewelry-making in Kenya. See below for a picture of Maiyet’s most recent project, the construction of a silk weaving workshop in Varanasi, India. The design of the building (which, for the record, is also environmentally-friendly) offers artisans not only the resources to produce high quality crafts, but also the space to establish a community and enhance their quality of work and life.
Maiyet’s operating systems have allowed it to connect back to the world of Paris fashion week and luxury goods through partnerships with groups like Warby Parker, projects with Karigars in Mumbai and with FAIR Cashmere in Mongolia, and an exclusive retail partnership with Barneys, raising continued awareness that then feeds back into the intricate system they have built. To expand on this awareness and engage with the broader global community, including individuals like myself who would otherwise be unaware of the mechanics of an operation like this, Maiyet maintains a blog, spreads word through social media, and releases videos that offer insight into the creative process behind its product offerings (please see video below).
Maiyet’s ability to source the right artisans and provide them with the operational infrastructure necessary to effect change in their lives and communities, coupled with its use of processes to streamline output while continuously measuring and expanding social impact, have led to the firm’s successful execution of its business model. Maiyet is a unique outlier, and hopefully continues to be a major influencer, in the world of high-end fashion.