A taste of Parisian haute couture comes to San Francisco tomorrow afternoon (Nov 1) in what will be the final event of this year's State of the World Forum.
But the fabrics aren't from an exclusive Paris fashion-house. They are from the loom of Bangladeshi women, who have taken part in UNESCO's "Fashion for Development" program.
The clothes were designed by Bibi Russell, who was born in Bangladesh, but trained as a designer in London and Paris, where she also worked as a model. The clothes will be modeled by a troupe of Bangladeshi youth.
UNESCO's Sayeeda Rahman, herself from Bangladesh, works in Paris co-ordinating the organization's involvement in the micro-loan program, which began with Bangladesh's Grameen Bank about 20 years ago.
The bank started giving small, short-term loans to poor people, particularly women, so they could start a small business or enterprise, and gradually escape from poverty.
Ms. Rahman estimated that over 10 million people have benefited from the program.
But she said it was hard for the weavers to find a market for their fabric once it was woven. "Unless you sell the fabric you can't pay back the loan. But to sell the fabric, first the fabric has to meet the taste of the people. Now, how can a poor weaver in Bangladesh know what is the taste? The world is now global, and Grameen was already working with Bibi Russell. She is a designer and was working with weavers so that the cloth they made would please their clients."
"The Fashion for Development" program is designed to lift the products of weavers and people working at ground level in to the mainstream of fashion, she said.
UNESCO has already shown one of Ms. Russell's collections made from Bangladeshi cloth in Paris, and has also had involvement with a similar program that has created a market for the knitting of Bosnian women who have had their livelihoods taken away by the war. Next year UNESCO plans to have indigenous weavers from South America come to Paris for a show of their works.
"From that Paris fashion show, 30,000 Bangladeshi weavers got work from the orders that came in after the show, so it's obviously working," Ms. Rahman said. "The idea shocked even UNESCO people in beginning, because we are a serious organization, but we do have to also look to the others of development that aren't often thought about."
The fashion show is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon.