Building a Sustainable Textile Business

How Five | Six Textiles began.

A few weeks ago, I went to the book launch of Grace Bonney’s (founder of Design Sponge) collection of business origins, In the Company of Women. The incredibly inspiring evening has given way to a fascinating few evenings as I have torn through the pages of words of wisdom from women who have created their own businesses. It also got me thinking about how Five | Six Textiles started.

Laine and I formally started the company in Brooklyn in 2015 via Kickstarter. Our angle — a textile company that embraces time-honored weaving techniques, blending them with a modern aesthetic, and translating them into products that reflect your well-traveled home. We wanted to show off these textiles that were basically functional art.

Five | Six Throws

However, the seed for Five | Six was planted a year earlier. At the time I was working as a researcher at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. During lunch with one of the curators, we started talking about an upcoming trip she was organizing. Participants would explore Côte d’Ivoire with Jerry Vogel — a renowned Ivorian art historian — visiting artisans and studying the artistic practices of a country that was rebuilding after a 10-year civil war. When she asked if I wanted to go, I instantly said yes. I was looking for a PhD topic and was interested in wood sculpture, another popular craft in the country.

Abou, a master carver from Korhogo

More business beyond the borders of their community meant a more sustainable daily life and would ensure the longevity of their practice.

Weaver in Grand Bassam

This all changed the moment I met the artisans of Waraniéné. Hundreds of looms surrounded an area where children played and women sat chatting while stitching together strips of cloth. The head of the collective, Vali, came to our hotel the day after we visited the village. He sat down and asked if we knew of anyone in the U.S. that might be interested in working with them to increase exposure to consumers outside of their community and assist them with relevant product selection. More business beyond the borders of their community meant a more sustainable daily life and would ensure the longevity of their practice.

Vali (the head of the Collective) and his son, master weaver Amara.

Upon my return to the States, I couldn’t get that conversation out of my head. While catching up with Laine, over wine (and probably excessive amounts of cheese) she said she would be interested in collaborating. With her fashion and design background, Laine provided that creative eye that has since developed the silhouettes that make up Five | Six. We took a chance and jumped in heart first.

Dyers at Waraniéné
Mariam, secretary for the women of Waraniéné

18 months later we launched our F|W 2016 collection that combines our backgrounds with Waraniéné’s incredible artistry. We spend time with the artisans piecing together their motifs and developing silhouettes that mesh with the modern home. Each piece is handwoven with 100% cotton into narrow strips of cloth on upright frame looms. The same way cloth has been produced for centuries. The patterns are created by the artisans of Waraniéné and are unique to each product.

Waraniéné’s philosophy and approach to weaving stems from a desire to create a productive community that works, collectively, to keep the rich history of their shared craftsmanship alive. Plus, a percentage of each Five I Six purchase is put into a fund that grows to help with the local maternity clinic and school in Waraniéné.