With natural disasters, gun violence, and general political nightmares occupying our thoughts on a daily basis, it’s easy to get a little jaded about fashion. It’s just stuff, isn’t it? Actually, that’s not really fair; 2018 should go down as a great year for fashion, because faced with all of that bad news, it became a greater force for positive change. Clothing is now a tool for us to express our beliefs and frustrations; designers and models are leading the conversation on trans rights; and we’re seeing the rise of brands that are dedicated to making the world a better place, whether it’s through environmental pursuits or social efforts. One of those brands is Cesta Collective, a new, cult-ish handbag line with a feel-good success story you’ll (happily) think about all weekend.
Like most great brand stories, Cesta had humble beginnings: Former fashion editor Courtney Weinblatt Fasciano and creative director Erin Ryder were set up on a blind “friend date” and found themselves talking about a similar dream: to start a fashion business with a social impact, specifically one that supported women. “We asked ourselves, ‘If we started our own thing, what would it look like? What problems are we trying to solve? What really inspires us? What kind of brand do we want to build?’ It’s not just enough to make beautiful things,” Fasciano says. “We wanted to build a business on a larger framework of doing good in the world.”
For some, that kind of big-picture goal might be a little paralyzing, because where do you even begin? Fasciano and Ryder started with one item, an of-the-moment accessory they personally loved: the basket bag. “We both love handbags, and we love baskets—we sketched it on a napkin,” Fasciano says. Figuring out exactly what kind of basket they wanted to make—and who would actually make it—was another thing. “We knew we wanted to work with women artisans who make things by hand, and I ended up meeting this incredible woman on a meditation retreat who works in global sourcing,” she explains. “At one point on the retreat, we were told to manifest to the group what we wanted [to achieve] in the next year, and I said, ‘I think I’m starting a sustainable handbag brand with my friend Erin, and we want to find female weavers.’ And this woman came up to me and offered to help. She introduced us to so many people, and we fell in love with the weaving in Rwanda.” Ryder summed it up with one word: “serendipitous.”
Fasciano and Ryder with Cesta Collective weavers in Rwanda
Photo: Courtesy of Cesta Collective
The Cesta bags you see on The Line, Net-a-Porter, Goop, and The Webster—cleverly called “lunch pails”—are a tweaked version of a Rwandan cathedral basket, a traditional wedding gift in the region. It’s a simple half-moon bucket shape with a pointed lid woven from tightly wrapped sisal, a species of agave plant. While Cesta’s baskets come with drawstring canvas interiors and knotted leather straps, the shape is nearly identical to the Rwandan original. “We loved this style aesthetically, and it’s a rite of passage that’s passed down from mother to daughter,” Ryder says. “And because it isn’t hyper-specialized, it can be easily taught to more women.”