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Isabelle Quehe, founder of the Universal Love Association, is actively promoting ethical fashion and fabrics – fabrics made from ecologically friendly sources or produced by manufacturers using ethical labor codes.


Universal Love started 15 years ago, in 1995 to support young artists and artisans because they were not enough venues in Paris to showcase their art to the public and to sell them..Today, it is without doubt the biggest name in the ethical fashion industry.


The Universal Love Association spread the word further with its Ethical Fashion Show, something that Quehe came up with herself and set up in two years. “I realized that nobody in France was talking about Fair Trade and these passionate designers were never presented in Paris, the fashion capital,” Quehe said. Even though several passionate designers in Europe were on board with Quehe, “the biggest challenge was to prove to fashion professionals that conscious fashion could exist and would become the future.”

The big news came for Issabelle when Messe Frankfurt expressed interest in taking over the Ethical Fashion show. Further to their discussons and in the best interest of the EFS, Messe Frankfurt acquired the Ethical Fashion Show last year and produced their first season in late 2010.

“This has helped me leave the logistics and the business part to them, so that I can concentrate on the artistic part of the vision” says Isabelle.

Here’s an excerpt from my chat with Isabelle:

Bhakti: What prompted you to start the Ethical Fashion Show?Isabelle: My meeting with the two great designers : Oumou Sy and Bibi Russell. They share my vision that Ethical fashion could help their countries in saving the know-how of the weavers and local crafts. Bibi is my god mother and her work to save the Bangladeshi craft is the most humbling, to say the least. Oumou Sy (Sénégal) is instrumental in making a ready to wear collection at the price of the “second hand clothing” sold on the local market. They both drove me to keep faith in the long-term vision of Universal Love.
Bhakti: We know the EFS, Paris is a great success, what is your plan ahead for rest of the world?Issabelle: We want at this moment, to strengthen the EFS in Paris and later perhaps take it to Milan and NYC.

Bhakti: The Australian fashion community is very conscious about Ethical fashion and keep a check on what they create and wear.  Can we expect to see your show here in this country?Isabelle: It would be with a big pleasure that Universal Love , the association that launched Ethical Fashion Show organises a catwalk with some of your Australian brands along with the international ones that we promote through Ethical Fashion show. Now that you are there, we will look at the possibility.

Bhakti: Thank you, Isabelle. We look forward to seeing you here. Speaking of Universal love, what are the on-going and future projects of the organisation?Isabelle: In the current age of runaway globalisation with its tendency to make everything homogenous and simplified, cultures and skills are the pillars of a world rich in diversity and history. Thankfully, traditional skills have survived passing trends to reach us through the ages.
Today, thanks to international exchanges, these skills have intermingled, producing a fusion of designs which please the eye. These artforms have huge potential and maybe the originality and excellence of the techniques which produced them can teach us a few lessons about respecting mankind and the environment.
With Universal love, we are dreaming of organising an exhibition in The fashion museum of Paris (Musé Galliera) with all the natural materials from all continents and show case their ancient know-how.
Universal Love is particularly interested in the protection of the ancient skills and traditions in fabric making across the world. Therefore, ensuring that culture specific skills are sustained and maintained by always making sure that their working conditions are in accordance with international labor organization, we aim to achieve our long term goals. I quote Mahatma Gandhi at every given chance: “There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness!”
We at Universal love believe that it’s very important to protect all the traditional crafts and skills for the future generation and hence this year we aim to work more than ever to support the handicraft cooperatives engaged indevelopment projects from all over the world.
In order to achieve this and to make a beginning, we launched  an accessories collection made in different countries by co-operatives promising to create jobs ethically under the brand name UNIVERSAL LOVE.
The first collection comprises of some cravates (ties), ceintures (belts) and foulards (scarves) made in Rio de Janeiro by the women in jails. We also have some products that are made with recycle materials in Madagascar, crochet jewels made in Brasil, bags made in Peru and some boots made with embrodories in Russia.
Universal love has also started producing Tee shirts and jewellery that are made by the folks in Niger (Africa).
All the benefits are used to  showcase one of the cooperatives to participate with a showroom and catwalk at the Ethical Fashion Show, each year. This will allow the cooperative to present its work in front of a professional and international audience and hence allow international exposure for them.

Bhakti: You have done a great job in creating awareness and supporting Ethical fashion. For me, Ethical fashion has been synonymous with Universal Love for a long time, what has been the biggest challenge for EFS according to you?Isabelle: To survive the initial few years was the biggest challenge because it wasn’t so easy to convince partners and public of the importance of ethical fashion and to explain the meaning of these words to them. To explain to people that ethical fashion is NOT for the poor but  more so for the rich to understand and follow. Now that the teething problems have passed, we are in a more comfortable position and are raring to go!

Bhakti:  I wish you very good luck and lots more success. Before I let you go, tell us- who is your favorite fashion designer? Isabelle: There are plenty and I can’t give you just one name. Linda Maï Phang, Ada Zanditon, Ethos, Ak Classics, Samant Chauhan, Terra Ecologica (Charlene O’Brien) would be the names I vouch for. Also, Veja for their trainers and  Ombre Claire for the jewellery.

End of excerpt

I have known Isabelle for about three years now. Her undying faith in the future of ethical fashion and her dedication towards the cause is a constant inspiration to me. She is a name that most industry people idolise and I have been rather fortunate to know her personally.

Wishing Isabelle and ethical fashion a great future,
Yours truly,

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