Rosario Dawson’s latest philanthropic project is all about Africa…
The 35-year-old Puerto Rican and Afro-Cuban American actress has partnered with her longtime friend and business partner, Abrima Erwiah, to launch Studio One Eighty Nine, an online platform dedicated to promote and foster African culture and African-inspired content through creative projects.
Dawson, who has advocated positive social change through various organizations like Voto Latino, the ONE campaign and the Vagina Monolugues-inspired movement V-Day, came up with the idea to launch the platform after a trip in June 2011 to the City of Joy, a V-Day supported community dedicated to empowering women survivors of violence.
“We were loving the empowerment that was there. It wasn’t just a different philosophy of life. It was saying ‘you’re powerful, you’re strong.'” Dawson tells Pret-a-Reporter. “The whole thing was turning pain into power.”
After meeting with members of the community, Dawson and Erwiah recognized what the women had to offer (“We just felt their kindred spirits,” says Dawson) and what they could give in return. Hence, it was the start of a beautiful relationship with the local creatives and the launch of their project.
The website is currently divided into three sections: an online magazine for showcasing African-inspired creative content; a supporting agency to help organizations with marketing and communications services; and a private fashion collection called Fashion Rising Collection, an artisan-produced label launched in support of V-Day’s One Billion Rising campaign to end violence against women.
“Let’s not just make [the movement] a one-day event, let’s create something that’s going to be impactful and yearlong, so that’s why we decided to call the line Fashion Rising because we’re employing women. We’re not going ‘hey we’re going to keep raising funds to keep your kid in school,’ we’re going to give you help and support for what you’re already doing,” explains Dawson. “That was the whole premise — we’re going to rise together. We’re going to collaborate and you’re going to be able to put your own kids through school.”
Dawson and Abrima, who both travel often to Ghana as well as other African countries, work directly with resident artisans, designers, artists, photographers and bloggers.
“We’re trying to tell long-term sustainable stories that are coming out of Africa to the outside market, as well as the inside market. It’s hard to find brands that are really working through the whole value chain,” says Erwiah, who previously worked at luxury label Bottega Veneta for 10 years, of the economic opportunities that have been created in Ghana, as well as other African countries, with the launch of Fashion Rising Collection. “We do our own textile to sewing and cutting to like every element of craft through the value chain.”
Erwiah adds: “By creating this platform that creates a demand for it, we’re then able to benefit the community by creating jobs because that’s an order, not just for sewing or cutting, it’s an order for every step on that chain.”
Currently selling on their website, the second Fashion Rising Collection (the first was sold at a pop-up shop with Urban Outfitters in L.A. and New York this past May) features pieces such as a green Aggie-print hand-Batik cotton military jacket and lime green ODLR-print hand-Batik terry cloth kimono, as well as Bottletop pink recycled pull can leather tassle purse and vegan leather carry-alls and coin purses.
Designers featured on the e-commerce include Geren Ford, Menzer Hajiyeva and Lulu, to name a few.