Each month Sass Brown, an expert in ethical fashion, sustainability and craftsmanship, shares a fashion brand that approaches business differently and innovatively or operates outside of the main fashion systems and capitals. Sass is the former Dean of Art and Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology and the founding Dean at Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation.
VOZ is a New York City based brand launched in 2021 by Jasmine Aarons, with the mission to honor and empower Mapuche artisans, in Chile, by supporting them economically and culturally. The VOZ collection is built around their core traditions of handweaving and hand dying, using cotton and alpaca from that region.
Sass explains that the Mapuche people are the largest indigenous group in South America and were never conquered by the Spanish. She states, “The Mapuche people have a very long heritage of working with natural fibers, local materials, both animal and vegetable, as well as hand weaving and hand spinning. Like many indigenous groups, there are stories and meanings intrinsic in the patterns and symbolism that’s embedded within the things that they weave. It’s very graphic visually.” She explains that the Mapuche typically work with black on a off-white or a beige base, but it can be other colors as well. She continues, “If you look at Jasmine’s work, she often incorporates all sorts of different shapes. It’s usually very graphic patterning on a hand-woven base.”
Because VOZ is based in New York City, and working with indigenous peoples in Chile, Sass underlines that Jasmine’s work is all about celebration of culture, rather than appropriation. “She doesn’t appropriate. She works directly with the artisans. And it’s a partnership to the degree that it’s a collaborative process,” says Sass. And she explains that many of the artisans use their own familial patterns handed down through generations and that those are sometimes incorporated into more contemporary pieces, as well as fairly traditional styles, such as panchos, or wrap some scarves. “It’s the hand weaving and the patterning that’s really beautiful and individual and specific to the families or the communities that produce the weaving. The artisans are accredited in everything Jasmine does.”
VOZ is also operated as a benefit corporation, which requires fair wages and is effectively a triple bottom line incorporation. Sass explains, “A benefit corporation has to equally favor people and planet to profit. So, it is by default, politically and economically supportive of the indigenous people from those regions.” And Sass acknowledges how difficult this can be when working with people dispersed in rural regions and working in informal economies. “She spends a lot of time in Chile working directly with them.”
While this type of business model might not be possible for larger fashion companies, Sass underlines the importance of honoring tradition, suggesting that VOZ can provide an example of how to do that authentically. As an example, Sass illustrates how the store in SoHo became a nexus of conversation and experience around sustainable fashion, gender equality, global culture and ceremonial crafts, all tied to the communities Jasmine works with. Sass describes it as “both a showcase for the work of sympathetic designers, such as Maria Cornejo, and a community for workshops and events. This has continued through the pandemic as a digital space.” Another example is VOZ Woman, a network of brand ambassadors that Jasmine created to showcase her work. Sass emphasizes that these ambassadors “are really inspirational characters in their own right. They’re not models purely chosen because of their physical beauty. They are brand ambassadors who are making a difference in their own way in some shape or form. A true celebration of humanity.”
To learn more about VOZ, you can visit their website at MadeByVOZ.com, or visit their New York City store location in SoHo.