Meet the Makers... Denara from Seda Collective

We would like to introduce you to the faces behind Our Collective – members of our family and our Kabila. We want you to get to know the amazing people we've partnered with to bring you the store we're so proud of. It's no easy feat and we couldn't do it without the wonderful community we work with behind the scenes. Today we're talking to Denara, Uzbek/Uyghur woman and the designer behind the ethical label, Seda Collective.

Describe yourself in 3 words?

Colourful, bold and kinda funny.

Can you tell us a little about you and what you do?

My name is Denara and I'm the girl behind SEDA Collective. I'm a migrant woman from a country called East Turkestan, we migrated here when I was 12 with no English. It was a huge change at such a young age and a complete culture shock. I learnt the truth about my country. Coming to terms with the fact that we were never seeing our family again was difficult.

I experienced an identity crisis like a typical teenager. I went to university in the hopes of becoming a translator or interpreter because I can speak four languages. I felt really lost in my degree, so I decided to move in a different direction. I went to Colombia to learn Spanish.

I ended up being so welcomed by different Indigenous communities. They shared with me their stories of colonisation, survival, food, life and the wisdom of their traditional art and design. They welcomed me like a family member. They taught me to turn my pain into my power. They really empowered me to find my voice again. I fell in love with the traditional art in Colombia, especially beaded jewellery.

At first, I just bought some jewellery for myself, then I asked the artisans how the pieces were made and how long the process took. They told me it takes up to 12 hours to bead a pair of earrings and 3 weeks for the necklaces. Most of the artisans would bead for weeks on end without making much money, it’s just not considered modern anymore and severely underappreciated.

I wanted to create something and give back to these communities that helped me find my voice. I ended my trip early and used that money to begin SEDA. We started with 2 artisans and now we work with over 50 communities. Most of these families now rely solely on SEDA. Despite this year's ups and downs, we took our partnership through Colombia and beyond by working with artisans along the ancient Silk Road. They make one-of-a-kind coats using the textiles of my childhood. It's through this that we have given back to Uyghur supporting initiatives.

Talk us through your creative process.

We create with artisans at SEDA in two ways. We've been very transparent about this.

1) We amplify traditional designs that aren't getting appreciated anymore, like our collars, bracelets and some of the earrings. The pattern, the colours, the shape, the techniques – that's all traditional to the artisans.

Our coat designs belong to the artisans who have been making them since the 60s. We provide a bridge to amplify these arts and remind people of the meaning behind these techniques.

2) We use traditional techniques and upcycled materials. All of our sandals are made with upcycled textiles from Indigenous communities. The unique beaded designs are all done in house by me. Our original jewellery designs are inspired by stories and wisdom told to me by our artisans.

And when we partner with another brand, we are very hands-on and authentic with our collaborators.

What challenges you as a creative?

Sometimes I can be very indecisive. I can never make up my mind! Also maybe that I have too many ideas and need to remind myself to slow down.

What does fashion mean to you?

It's art, it’s a way we tell stories. I always say after many years of studying linguistics and different languages, I realised the most universal language is art – and I think fashion falls under that category. What I wear is always a conversation starter!

Why wear designer brands or polyester when you could wear something really meaningful?I love sharing the stories of the artisans or small businesses I'm supporting and the beautiful fabrics I'm wearing.

How would you describe your personal style?

I only wear vintage, thrifted or ethical small businesses. So I love mixing that. I am a pattern-clasher and accessory-lover. I'm always wearing SEDA jewellery (of course), with lots of gemstone rings collected from around the world. I'm currently waiting for my Umoja Billowing top to arrive and I plan to wear with a vintage skirt from Mexico or these pants I have from Ghana – plus some SEDA jewellery and sandals.