Designer teaches the power of 'WE' to women with HIV

Designer teaches the power of 'WE' to women with HIV

Internationally-known fashion designer joins hands with HIV-positive

women in Cambodia to create and market the 'Bibi for WE' line of

accessories

Photo Supplied

UNAIDS goodwill ambassador Bibi Russell, a designer and former model

from Bangladesh, meets with women of the Modern Dress Sewing Factory

(MDSF), a business initiative by women living with HIV.

Internationally-renowned fashion designer

Bibi Russell has joined hands with the Modern Dress Sewing Factory, a

women's business subsidiary of a network of people living with HIV in

Cambodia, to launch a new designer label called Bibi for WE.

Russell, a succesful fashion model in the 1960s and 70s, is a UNAIDS

goodwill ambassador and founder of  Fashion for Development, a global

movement seeking to help weavers and women across the globe.

"If you join hands with women living with HIV with affection and

confidence, they can create magic with their fingers. Fashion is very

important, and it makes you understand the culture of a country," said

Russell. "Fashion is a part of culture, and textiles are a part of the

history of Cambodia."

The products under the Bibi for WE label will initially consist of a

range of accessories and bags with the intention of expanding the

product range at a later stage. Markets in Bangkok and Canada will

initially be selling the new brand.

"I will do a range of accesories and bags which are easy to sell. We

are not doing fashion items like clothes and dresses just yet. That

will come later," Russell said.

During her nine-day visit, Russell spent time getting to know the women

at MDSF, an initiative started in 2006 by the UN Development Program

that now employs 17 women living with HIV in the factory in Phnom Penh.

She also visited silk farmers in rural areas who will provide the raw

materials for the products, making the finished products 100-percent

made-in-Cambodia.

A positive-thinking girl

COURTESY PHOTO

A member of MDSF displays the WE logo.

Russell was confident that the project would be a success and expressed her admiration for the women of MDSF.

"I am a very positive-thinking girl," said Russell. "I think the

project will go very far. This is just the first step. Knowing these

ladies and visiting the silk villages, I know that this project is

going to be very successful.

"Being with these 17 ladies I see a lot of courage, a lot of strength

to continue our work. They are earning a living, supporting their

families, helping their children to have a better life. Charity I don't

believe in, these women just want some support."

The smiles on the faces of the women of MDSF showed that the admiration

went both ways and that the women were happy and excited to be part of

this new initiative.

"We don't want sympathy, but support to live a life of respect and dignity," said MDSF business manager Pham Srim.

"Severe poverty and stigma and discrimination make our lives

impossible. We have recurrent health problems and have to fend for our

treatment, food and shelter; but the most crushing is the

discrimination by society.

"This project helps us to stand on our feet, earn a living and stay

unfazed by the stigma and discrimination staring in our face," Pham

Shrim said.

In the initial stages, the new Bibi for WE brand will mean a more

steady income for MDSF, which has been producing different kinds of

uniforms and bags since 2006. It is hoped that in time MDSF will employ

more people.

"The collaboration with Bibi Russell and MDSF is to enhance and extend

the products made by the Cambodian women and as a result of Bibi's

visit, we would like to take this project and extend it beyond Cambodia

and take it to the world," said Douglas Broderick, UNDP resident

representative in Cambodia, who urged the private sector and general

public to support the initiative.

The new fashion label represented a new hope and empowerment for all

women living with HIV in Cambodia, added Pham Srim. "With HIV, one can

lead a normal and productive life - that is the message of WE," she

said. 

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