Kristy Caylor is President, Creative Director and Co-Founder of Maiyet, a Manhattan-based fashion brand that celebrates and supports niche artisans in Kenya, India, Peru and Colombia. The former Band of Outsiders president and COO has roots in ethical fashion that stem throughout her career. At Gap Inc., Caylor was head of merchandising for Product (RED), a line that raised funds to help eliminate HIV/AIDS in Africa, while her independent consulting business advised brands like Mercado Global, a fair trade company in Guatemala. In 2011, Caylor joined forces with Daniel Lubetzky, the social entrepreneur behind Kind Healthy Snacks, and Paul van Zyle, a leading human rights lawyer, to launch Maiyet.
The line has been called “bohemian” by The Times. Do you think the term works for a luxury label like Maiyet?
Our aesthetic is clean, fresh and features heritage techniques, prints, color and embellishments. The hand craftsmanship and rare artisanship laced throughout the collection is very much our idea of luxury. There is a free spirit vibe to the brand, but it isn’t necessarily what you would traditionally think of as bohemian.
How would you describe the aesthetic?
Maiyet’s aesthetic is modern bohemian minimalist.
Did you ever think you would be designing clothing as a means to bettering the world?
I have always been passionate about materials, origin, construction, and craft. As I became more experienced in the industry, I was drawn to the idea of working with master craftsman in authentic and transparent ways, which in my opinion would do two things—give customers a unique and interesting product and also help sustainably support a generation of global craftsmen.
Do you see collections such as Suno or Edun as contemporaries with a similar cause?
I admire that these brands also care deeply about positively impacting the world. We each have different approaches to product and impact and very different aesthetics.
Are there enough artisans out there who are committed to you to preserve the life of the brand season after season?
There is no shortage of amazing artisans in the world. The key is finding them, supporting them and partnering with them in a smart and effective way.
Does it put constraints on how much you can produce?
We specifically select artisan groups that have excess capacity and the desire and ability to grow and scale as our business grows.
Has there been any one craft that has blown you away?
Oh, they all blow me away in their own unique ways! Every time I’m on the ground working with the artisans, I am mesmerized by their ability, dedication and skills. In the last few months, I have been in Peru, India and Indonesia, and each group of artisans has something spectacular to offer.
How has the quality of life changed for some of the artisans you work with?
Absolutely. For example, in Kenya, we work with a husband and wife team on our signature semi-precious jewelry. We’ve worked with them from the very first season. Their workshop was originally in the back of their very small house with inadequate space, safety concerns, and improper machinery. Through the work we do with Nest, we’ve been able to help this couple move into a new location, build a new, safe and more modern workshop, buy new tools and ultimately produce in a much more efficient way. The master artisan has hired more people into his organization and is also now creating a training program for the younger men in his community to train them in the jewelry craft.
What country will the collection for SS13 be produced in? Is each season concentrated in one place?
We consistently work with Peru, Bolivia, India, Italy, Indonesia, Kenya, and the US.
Can you tell us about the accessories? Did you plan to launch a full collection from the beginning, offering jewelry, handbags, shoes and RTW from day one?
We did, which people thought was crazy! We say that we are pioneering a new luxury and therefore we wanted people to experience a full luxury brand. Offering these categories also allows us to incorporate a larger breadth of artisan details, which helps us achieve our social goals.
Are most of your customers familiar with your story? Do you feel it influences their decision when purchasing pieces from the collection?
We focus our marketing efforts on the product and the artisanal stories behind those products. We feel that the brand needs to stand on design and product quality, not on the social story. As a result, customers familiarize themselves with our story at the rate and to the depth that they desire. Some know everything and purchase as a result, some know very little and purchase because they are in love with the piece, and many sit somewhere in the middle. We welcome them all!