To launch a business—one that is based on art and design, no less—during a global crisis would seem a perplexing, even preposterous, act to most. For Nadja Romain however it was simply the moment to adapt and bring forth a Venice-based, well-packaged social project.
“As we navigate this new world order that has been created by the pandemic, whereby the playing field has been evened and risk runs low, it’s about creating a global network of conscious-minded designers and artisans that can function and benefit the local people,” describes the entrepreneur.
In her long and varied career, Nadja has accumulated roles such as film producer, journalist, artistic director and curator; resulting in unique projects with top-notch artists such as Isaac Julien, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Chila Burman (who recently did the facade of Tate Britain for the Winter Commission), Mathew Barney, Ron Arad and William Eggleston, to name a few.
United by values / Slow design, new normal
At the core of the Paris native’s past work experiences is creativity, and no different is her latest project, Everything I Want (EIW). Currently a virtual boutique that champions global artisans behind consciously crafted pieces, Nadja envisions EIW fluidly expanding its services with the times.
As a special advisor to the non-profit Women for Women UK and founder of Art Action Change, a charity dedicated to helping children generate positive social impact through art, it is precisely Nadja’s longstanding commitment to ethics and women’s empowerment that separates EIW from many of the other eye-catching luxury brands that tend to dabble in green washing.
“Everything I Want is first and foremost a reflection of values as much as it is about creativity and design,” Nadja explains. Cultural heritage, ethics and community are standards by which she personally curates the collections offered on her site. Does she consider EIW a ‘sustainable’ business? “We have to be cautious about the word sustainable and what we mean by sustainable. The only sustainable act is to repair what you already have, as there is an environmental cost to buying something new: energy is consumed, raw materials are taken from somewhere. So I try not to use the word sustainability, as the line between ‘sustainability’ and green washing is very thin. We are trying to reduce our consumption of energy as a lot of what we do is made to order and the inventory is low; we try to find solutions with the people we work with to use the cleanest material possible; and, very importantly, the ethics by which the chain we make sure that everyone is safe, paid correctly.”
From design to execution, everything that EIW offers is handmade by a network of artisans that are committed to the use of local materials, conservation and careful evolution of cultural traditions and, perhaps above all, the inclusion of indigenous peoples.
Take for example the Demetria collection by Margarita Cojuangco. Full of cross-cultural influence and stories, the native Philipine designer has created a line of impeccably constructed handbags made with the highest quality Tuscan leathers. Though she herself has lived in Italy for the past 20 years or so, Cojuangco pays tribute to her roots by partnering with indigenous women in the Philippines for the hand-embroidered details. An archipelago with a strong textile tradition itself, holding a Demetria bag is to carry the cultures that have historically influenced the western Pacific islands: various indigenous tribes, the Spanish, and countries in Asia and South Asia. Through sales, the network of women artisans gain financial independence and a means to pay for their children’s education.
Visually, the Demetria collection is uniquely its own, and yet the brand’s ideals of well-known artists supporting local artisans is echoed in many of the other EIW collaborations. From the fashion accessories of Mola Sasa (Yasmeen Sabet’s partnership with indigenous women throughout Colombia) to the imaginative glass vases of Marco Mencacci (hand blown in Murano, Venice), each collection of functional products captures one’s taste for beauty and quality while making an emotional connection bonded by the deeply personal and human stories.
Evolution of craft and business
At the moment, many of the stories are European-centric as travel restrictions have kept Nadja from freely meeting with potential collaborators beyond her reach and outside of her network. Having lived much of her life between France, London and New York, Nadja is currently based in Venice, yet is eager to meet with artists and designers in Asia and South Asia, where some of the oldest civilizations in the world originated.
“Our culture is what grounds us and therefore is extremely important to understand and preserve. Art and craft are crucial for that,” states Nadja, who has lived much of her life between France, London and New York. “It’s important to not only keep alive tradition but to also allow it to evolve. By creating new collaborations, connecting artists and artisans that wouldn’t have necessarily come together, by implementing new technologies—the artists that team up with EIW are preserving these traditions.”
As much as EIW is a digital solution for the current unease towards travel, there is nothing like experiencing another culture first hand. Over the course of 2021, EIW will enrich its virtual offerings with short films, music and other elements to create a sensorial environment. It’s a gradual evolution towards the complete EIW experience, which Nadja envisions to include exhibitions, events and bespoke journeys once safe travel has returned. “It’s only by seeing and touching that you can appreciate the quality of a piece,” she reminds us.