The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange Looks

For the first time, The Commonwealth came together to showcase a wealth of design and artisan fashion talent across its 53 countries. Selected design talent included major names such as Karen Walker representing New Zealand, Bibi Russell representing Bangladesh and Burberry and Stella McCartney representing the UK.

Participating designers and artisans collectively represent all 53 commonwealth member countries in a major new initiative which took place ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London, April 2018. The ‘looks’ created through the Fashion Exchange were showcased at a special reception at Buckingham Palace during London Fashion Week in February.

The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange is an ambitious project with long term aims, that is being developed in partnership with Swarovski, The Woolmark Company and MATCHESFASHION.COM, who will launch an edited collection in September this year. 

“I think what’s so remarkable is that so many of these designers, while drawing on their own culture and skills…they have produced extremely chic, wearable high fashion clothes”.

– VOGUE’s International Editor-at-Large, Hamish Bowles

The project is particularly timely as a global wave of interest in handmade products and authentic luxury causes a reassessment of the artisan fashion trades. In this way, The Fashion Exchange brings the values of the modern-day Commonwealth – women’s empowerment, ethical production and supply chains, innovation, economic growth and poverty reduction – to life through the globally appealing medium of fashion.

The initial looks were celebrated during London Fashion Week at a reception at Buckingham Palace on February 19th, before moving to a public exhibition at Australia House on February 21st, and other locations in London where the exhibition was open to the public in the run up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit, April 2018.


Celebrating both shared traditions and unique aesthetics and crafts, exchanges from Asia highlighted exquisite textiles and embellishments, from truck art to mirror embroidery and UNESCO protected Jamdani textiles. Representing countries India, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Brunei Darussalam, Singapore, Pakistan.

India x Tuvalu

behno x Fafine Niutao I Aotearoa: Behno created a repurposed wool coat (Woolmark certified) featuring Indian mirror-work and border and grid beadwork, and a sheer dress made from remnants of blue silk organza, embellished with Swarovski crystals, and scattered with black crochet ‘kolose’ panels. Five women from Tuvalu, artisans from the cooperative Fafine Niutao I Aotearoa, spent a month creating the panels using a crochet technique that is particulary intricate and popular in the region.


Bernard Chandran: The design was created in fine ‘songket’ – a royal Malay brocade, handwoven and patterned with gold and silver threads. He drew inspiration from Malay ‘kerawang’ – a style of traditional embroidery that involves cutting away the base-cloth to create a lace effect, contemporising the look with a geometric feel. The strapless dress is carefully structured and the floor-length coat is embroidered with wool yarn.


Bibi Russell: The design was a simple formal outfit consisting of a skirt, jacket, scarf with matching accessories. The look is made from hand-woven Jamdani cloth, which is unique to Bangladesh, and is considered an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ by UNESCO. Red has been used to emphasise happiness and joy, the beauty Bibi sees in the village of Bangladesh. Through this outfit, Bibi Russell wants to give her tribute to incredible Jamdani weavers for their magical work.

Sri Lanka

Buddhi Batiks: Darshi Keerthisena was surrounded by fabric from an early age, as her family began Buddhi Batiks back in the 70s. Darshi created a wrap coat dress using Seacell™ fabric made from algae and silk which was hand pleated and batiked by Buddhi Batiks’ team of craft women in the village of Koswadiya, and lined with peace (Ahimsa) silk from India. The sleeves are detachable for greater versatility, and the obi belt is made from Piñatex, a pineapple-based leather alternative. The look was embellished with laser cut sequins made from Piñatex and Swarovski upcycled crystals.

Brunei Darussalam x Singapore

Na Forrer x Lully Selb: To celebrate the collaboration between Singapore and Brunei, the focus was on the evolution of the modern Malay woman, as it is a symbol of a shared history and identity. For this project, Na Forrér created an evening dress known as a “Baju Kebaya” – a common traditional womenswear worn by Malay women from Brunei and Singapore during formal events and festivities. The traditional corset crafted from traditional Bruneian Songket fabric is normally worn by brides and grooms for marriage ceremonies and on royal and state occasions. The boxy and high shoulder represents womens’ empowerment and modernity. The dress was made from a 100% wool crepe, featuring a hand-painted Euca silk designed by Lully Selb, and Bruneian Songket, a traditional material woven out of silk and cotton gold and silver threads. Historically, the textile of choice of Malay elite and royalty, Songket was often handed down from father to son or mother to daughter, as prized family heirlooms to be treasured and worn only for the most special of occasions. To exhibit the collaboration between Brunei and Singapore, the Brunei emblem Panji-Panji is featured in the custom textile design.


Rizwan Beyg: Beyg’s design philosophy is, and always has been, ‘Pakistan Modern’. Rizwan created a skirt and coat for the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange, featuring motifs designed by the ‘truck artists’ of Pakistan. The pattern of the garment was first worked on by original truck artists and digitally printed on silk, after which it was embroidered by the village women of Bhwalpur.


Rizwan Beyg: Beyg’s design philosophy is, and always has been, ‘Pakistan Modern’. Rizwan created a skirt and coat for the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange, featuring motifs designed by the ‘truck artists’ of Pakistan. The pattern of the garment was first worked on by original truck artists and digitally printed on silk, after which it was embroidered by the village women of Bhwalpur.

South Africa x Lesotho

Clive Rundle x House of Thethana: Artisans House of Thethana in Lesotho worked under Clive’s direction to design a custom textile print, achieved by superimposing one print onto another – welding two images together to create a visual to print onto silk for the final garment construction. The fabric was then screen-printed using water-based inks on to a silk ‘sandwich’ of organza, georgette, and habotai. The look consists of a wool and organza coat with Swarovski upcycled crystals, accompanied by wool and organza shorts and a woollen collar accessory. Lucilla Booyzen of SAFW facilitated the exchange.

Rwanda x Uganda

Haute Baso x Ihato: Pierra Ntayombya, the creative director of Haute Baso, created a look using wool and upcycled mosquito nets, embellished with upcycled beads from traditional accessories such as necklaces and bracelets, and handmade beads from Ugandan jewellery maker Ihato. The beads are made from recycled paper, which is then cut into triangular shapes, rolled and glued, and finished with varnish. The top was made from a locally sourced mosquito net, naturally dyed grey using fermented cassava. Conventional insecticide treated mosquito nets last between 6 to 12 months therefore thousands of mosquito nets are disposed of annually to protect people from Malaria.

Kenya x Zambia / Kenya

Deepa Dosaja x Artisan Fashion / Mumwa Crafts Association: Deepa Dosaja’s Deepa Flower Garden Gown was hand-embroidered and hand-painted, constructed from organic silk produced in Kenya, with elements of upcycled leather scraps and Swarovski upcycled crystals fashioned into floral embellishments. The embroidery and beading was crafted by Deepa’s in-house team, women who have been trained by Dosaja herself. The gown was also lined with remnant silk pieces, reflecting the brand’s ethos of reducing waste. To finish the look, Dosaja worked with Artisan Fashion, a social enterprise based in Kenya that connects over 1,000 artisans to international fashion. “Deepa’s Flowers” were crafted from sustainable cow horn and recycled brass. The neckline and the beaded belt of the gown is traditional Maasai beadwork. Also collaborating on the look is Mumwa Crafts Association in Zambia, who created a shoulder purse made from Zambian palm leaf. The purse has been embellished with Deepa Flowers crafted from recycled leather, Zambian Shitenge Fabric from Mumwa Crafts and sustainable cow horn along with a recycled brass Deepa Flowers shoulder strap from Artisan Fashion. The look was complete with a woollen shawl.

Botswana x Swaziland

iZAURA x Quazi Design: Mothusi Lesolle of Botswana and Doron Shaltiel of Swaziland collaborated on a design that symbolised principles important to both countries: The white linen fabric represents purity, an expectation of young women in Swaziland. The red recycled paper beads raise awareness of HIV/AIDS, while the black beads signify the power in the culture of the people of Swaziland and pay tribute to the power of women. The corset was created in the shape of a shield, and symbolises the protection afforded to the Commonwealth by the Queen.

Cameroon x United Republic of Tanzania

Kibonen New York x Makory Mgece: The gown designed by Kibonen was made from lightweight Woolmark certified wool, trimmed with Maasai beading from Mgece Makory in Tanzania. Intricate embroidery features on the patterned Toghu cloth, traditionally worn by rulers of the North West region of Cameroon.

Nigeria x Malawi

NKWO x Joel Suya: This look was created with organic British wool and embellished with Swarovski upcycled crystals. The look was designed by Nkwo and named ‘Spirit of the Dance’. It is made from Aso Oke, a hand-loomed cloth woven by a group of women based in Kogi state in central Nigeria, according to a traditional craft of the Yoruba people. The piece was inspired by a secretive religion indigenous to Malawi, called Nyau. During a special ceremony, attendees wear wooden masks and act out spirits of the dead, in order to communicate with them. Avec Amour’s Angela Fuka Mpando sourced an expert wood carver from Blantyre, the second largest city in Malawi, and home to the country’s commercial industries. Carving is a traditional craft in Malawi, skills being passed from father to son. The carver produced 12 miniature masks that have been sewn into the dress and tiny upcycled mirrored embellishments are scattered over the skirt.

Sierra Leone x Ghana / The Gambia

Sydney-Davies x Big Dread Kente / Ousman Toure, Continent Clothing: Sydney-Davies and Big Dread Kente worked together to create a natural raffia-fringed hand-woven kente cloth midi skirt with recyclable plastic blocking, and a bralet top embellished with Swarovski upcycled crystals in queen bee motifs. The outfit was complete with an oversized bardot wrap jacket made from hand-woven gold kente cloth, hand-woven country cloth, and 100% wool, and a handmade necklace and bracelet crafted by Ousman Toure in The Gambia. The necklace was made using glass beads and wooden Malawian trade beads which were traditionally used as tender. Sydney-Davies “came across Big Dread Kente on Instagram and immediately fell in love with kente cloth and its rich history.”

Mozambique x Mauritius

Zinzi De Brouwer x Beautiful Local Hands: Inspired by Maputo’s best-loved architect, Pancho Guedes, who shaped much of the city’s post-modernist buildings, Zinzi created a dress that represents the juxtaposition of past and present in the urban landscape of the city. The fabric nods towards the Maasai tradition for checks and the grid-like structure of the city, while the ruffles and gathers symbolise the lush vegetation and the warm sunshine dappled through palm leaves. Beautiful Local Hands’ artisans, James Warren (aka Pop) and Dany Couyava, created a necklace and bangles to accessorise the look, made from locally sourced polished coconut sewn onto beige canvas.


Highlighting ancient traditions, exchanges from the Pacific celebrated the beauty of natural resources and the power of shared histories. Participating countries included; Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Nauru, Fiji, The Seychelles, New Zealand, Cook Islands, Australia, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati.

Samoa x Papua New Guinea

Afa Ah Loo: Afa designed his Commonwealth Fashion Exchange gown based on his love of traditional Samoan materials. The gown itself was made using linen for the central section, and a floral print from Afa’s archive, then accessorized with a sash made from the traditional Samoan material Afa, which is a yard/rope made out of coconut husk. The gown features handmade and painted flower embellishments, made by Margie Keates of The Lovely Avenue using recycled paper, and by Ofeira Asuao of AliiRas Backdrops using upycled foam. The look was complete with an original Papua New Guinea curved necklace of brown braided rope, decorated with four bands of cream coloured curled shells. The necklace is fastened by two groups of braided cord bands, each decorated with a small white shell pendant.

Tonga x Nauru

Bou Fonua x Rendina Edwards: Bou selected Feta’aki for her design, a papery material made from the bark of the Mulberry tree, and lined with raw silk. The Feta’aki represents the cultural wealth of Tonga, dating back many centuries, and used as a sign of respect in gift-giving. The silk is also made from the mulberry tree and signifies wealth and prosperity. The look was complete with traditionally inspired hand-made jewellery made by Rendina Edwards from Nauru.

Fiji x Vanuatu / Seychelles

Hupfeld Hoerder Designs x Tousong Kalsong / Liza Garo / Marie Rorou / Rolan & Anna Payet: Hupfeld created an off-the-shoulder, corseted blouse from Vanuatu fibre, with a peplum finished with Fijian magimagi (coconut fibre), barkcloth and mother of pearl shells embroidered into a geometric flower pattern. The skirt was made from recycled Fijian Masi cloth (a traditional cotton fabric) which was hand-printed with geometric designs representing various parts of the region and embellished with appliqued flowers. The look was complete with jewellery created by Rolan & Anna Payet, using shells from the Seychelles.

New Zealand x Cook Islands

Karen Walker x Kuki Airani Creative Mamas: Karen Walker worked with a community of tivaivai craftswomen from the Cook Islands, now resident in New Zealand. Her dress was made from dusty pink Italian wool flannel and is covered in claret-coloured tivaivai embroidered flowers. The flowers are iconic flora of the Māmās’ island home and include gardenia, jasmine, orchid, fruit salad plant, hibiscus, fringed hibiscus, red ginger, frangipani and the Cook Islands national flower, Tiare Māori. Added to these are the beloved Karen Walker daisies. The 10 plant varieties are brought to life with 12 different traditional stitch styles.

Australia x Solomon Islands

Kitx x Pasifik Creations: The gown created by KITX has a bodice and skirt made from lightweight GOTS certified organic crepe wool sourced from a Woolmark approved mill, overlaid with a traditional straw skirt from the Solomon Islands and embellished with trochus shell beads made by hand by a cooperative of women expert at this ancient craft.


With a focus on heritage textiles, exchanges of Europe reimagined iconic garments in globally sourced noble fibres and hand coloured finishes. Participating countries included; Cyprus, United Kingdom, Malta.

Cyprus x Kiribati

Afroditi Hera x Kiribati Handicrafts Association: Afroditi designed her signature kaftan in blue silk overlaid with a printed chiffon of her own design. Through the use of buttons the look can be worn in three different ways, and has been completed with traditional ornamental beading created by artisans in Kiribati using grass, paper and shells.


Burberry: Burberry designed a look using the highest quality Oeko-Tex certified Australian Merino wool to create a reimagined trench coat, accompanied by woollen trousers made with Oeko-Tex certified yarns, and knitwear made with non-muelsed wool. The suppliers and manufacturers involved in creating the look are part of Burberry’s 2020 project, involved in capacity building programmes encompassing training relating to ethical performance, audits, chemical management practices, and adhering to Burberry’s code of conduct.

Malta x India

Charles and Ron x Khushboo: Charles & Ron created look of Woolmark certified wool crepe, with a full, floor-length skirt embellished with beaded appliqué Maltese door-knockers. The coordinating blouse features Maltese lace, and a Maltese hand-tooled leather belt completes the look. The Maltese doorknockers were designed by Charles & Ron, then sent to Khushboo in Mumbai. Khushboo is a 24-year-old woman who oversees the creation of beading and embellishments through her network of local artisans. She will select the craftsperson most suited to the various projects commissioned by Charles & Ron, then ensure that the quality is in keeping with the brand’s high standards.

UK x India

Stella McCartney x Oshadi: Stella created a gown using Oshadi’s peace silk, produced using ancient hand-weaving techniques, and naturally dyed by local skilled craftsmen in Tamil Nadu. Peace silk is reeled from empty cocoons, meaning that silkworms are left to hatch into moths before the silk is spun from the cocoons in a way similar to spinning wool. It takes a weaver one day to create 5m of hand woven peace silk using a hand loom, compared to hundreds that can be produced by machine.


An explosion of culture, history, local materials and beautiful craftsmanship, exchanges from the Caribbean and Americas celebrated diverse stories, highlighting the power of fashion for supporting livelihoods. Participating countries included; Jamaica, Belize, Canada, Namibia, St Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, St Vincent and The Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, The Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Antigua and Barbuda.

Jamaica x Belize

drennaLUNA x MayaBags: The skirt portion of this dress was made of individually cut flowers featuring six petals, folded together in three stages and attached to the core fabric of the garment. Fabric for the jacket and bodice was created from the selvedge offcuts of the fabric that was used for these flowers, by sewing rows of selvedge together for a subtly manipulated textile. The look was complete with a hand-made bag from MayaBags, an artisanal company in Belize working to preserve and enhance traditional Maya handwork skills. The “uh tok” or in English “Moon Spark” basket purse is made from a coiled and stitched basket frame woven of plant fiber (Jippi Jappa), covered with a Maya hand-woven fabric, lined with Dupion silk, and fastened with a coconut button and macramé loop closure.

Canada x Namibia

Lucian Matis x Omba Arts Trust: Lucian Matis created a gown made with a wool blend fabric, and embellished with black Swarovski upcycled crystals, inspired by the most recent oil spill in the East China Sea and the destruction caused to our oceans and ecosystems. To accompany the gown, a classic roll necklace was created by three Ju/’hoansi groups living in the eastern region of Namibia. The method for creating the beads is believed to date back 60,000 years, using ostrich eggshells that are broken in to small pieces, clipped into circles and pierced with a hole. The beads are heated to create different colours, from a pale grass tone through to black.

St Kitts and Nevis x Grenada

Iridescent Fashion x Neisha La Touche: This Fashion Exchange gown was a meeting of minds and cultures. Keeanna, Shavaniece and Neisha explored their overlapping cultures to create “Sugar and Spice”, relating to a two day carnival in each country that showcases the large troupe costumes for the festivals of Sugar Mas and Spice Mas. The gown is an explosion of colour – pink, red, orange and yellow, with gold highlights, represented by bold bursts of Swarovski upcycled crystals across the bodice and finished with a plume of feathers.

Trinidad and Tobago x Dominica

Meiling x Vanessa Winston: Meiling designed a hand embroidered gown of organdie, silk and leather, matched with a leather corset belt, tooled with butterflies made in Dominica by Vanessa Winston, and a pair of trousers made from upcycled Indian fabric.

St Vincent + The Grenadines x Saint Lucia

Fashion is Payne x Designs by Nadia: Jeremy chose hemp and organic cotton jersey for his Fashion Exchange gown, tie-dyed with locally grown turmeric. The hand-painted motifs, chosen to connect to indigenous ancestors, reflect the imagery found in local rock carvings, believed to be up to 5000 years old. Nadia Jabour from Saint Lucia completes the look with a custom necklace fashioned from copper and carved coconut shells.

The Bahamas x Barbados

Theodore Elyett x Catherine Rocheford: Theodore created an evening gown that represents the flora and fauna of the island nations. The cotton voile bodice is silk screen printed with leaves and palm trees while the skirt depicts seashells, turtles and sand dollars native to the region, representing the precious aquatic life and environment of Barbados, the Bahamas, and surrounding islands. The fluid skirt reflects the waters that flow around the islands and is embroidered with Swarovski upcycled crystals. The look is complete with bespoke jewellery, handmade by Catherine Rocheford in Barbados, designed to mirror the almost circular motifs of the textile design. The jewellery was made using beading, and hammered sterling silver circles with soldered silver dots, softened with an eyelash ribbon that adds additional volume.


Tanya Taylor: Using a silk hand tie-dyed technique to create a print, Tanya has created a gown for the Fashion Exchange with a silk printed bodice encrusted with Swarovski upcycled crystals and a multi-colored pailette embellished skirt, using fabric from her archives.

Guyana x Antigua and Barbuda

Shasha Designs x Launesha Barnes: This look was inspired by Antigua and Barbuda’s National Costume and their Indigenous people, fusing elements of their Arawak tradition with their National wear. The neck of the dress was made with Burlap and covered with seeds from the shac shac (flamboyant) tree. It was created in the shape of a stick figure which represents one of the creatures that their shaman transforms into. The bodice was made with hand dyed Madras which is Antigua and Barbuda’s national fabric for their National costume. The centre of the bodice was made with palm leaves and fibres woven into a plain weave. Shac Shac seeds, jumbie seeds and buck beads create a triangular form on the front bodice of the design. The architecture of the Arawak Ajoupa (home) specifically the roof, inspired the full skirt of the dress, which was made with brown cotton and dyed burlap. The centre of the skirt was tie-dyed using natural onion skin and beetroot. Buck beads were sewn on the red panels of the skirt. Tibiseri straw (a fibre extracted from a Mauritia flexuosa found in Guyana) was woven with the palm leaves from Antigua (date palm) to create the plain weave used along the bodice of the dress as well as the front panel of the skirt. All other materials for this garment were found in Antigua.