Selling the beauty of Bangladesh

Jet-setting supermodel turned designer Bibi Russell renowned for her work, “fashion for development” in Bangladesh, will show her creations at the upcoming HSBC Colombo Fashion Week

“HSBC Colombo Fashion Week is one of my favourite fashion weeks,” says Bibi Russell who has travelled the world with global celebrities like Mikhail Gorbachov and Adrian Brody among others on community development missions. She will soon be in Colombo to show her collection at the HSBC Colombo Fashion Week, on February 4, 5 and 6.

Bibi was the first woman from Bangladesh to study at the London College of Fashion. When she graduated in 1975 she modelled at her own graduation show and was immediately offered modelling assignments with Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld and Giorgio Armani.

A top model whose pictures featured in the late 70’s in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Cosmopolitan magazines, Bibi was model for leading brands such as Kodak, Channel, BMW, Toyota, Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Giorgio Armani etc. and strode the catwalk with supermodels such as Naomi, Claudia Schiffer etc.

She then returned to her homeland to make “fashion for development” and has seen her business grow beyond her expectations. She now employs 30,000 weavers all over Bangladesh.

“Everyone thinks Bangladesh is a poor country. For me - it’s rich in culture and everything. It gives me a lot of energy. I live in Bangladesh. Most of the time I’m in villages and I’m competing with top designers,” she says.

She sold her house and possessions to fund her dream. She lived in the villages and the jet-setting supermodel travelled by road, because it was a self-funded project. “People sell poverty. I sold the beauty in poverty,” is how she explains her work.

Bibi won critical acclaim at the London Fashion Week the first time she showed her khadi (or khaddor as they say) and handloom collection. Top department store Harrods stocked her designs, and she had an eventful debut in the U.S. too.

Bibi’s star was rising. She was highlighted by Asia Week Magazine as one of the ‘20 people to watch in the millennium.’ UNESCO named her ‘Designer for Development’ in 1999 for her unfailing commitment to human dignity, development and the eradication of poverty. This title was replaced by the title Artist of Peace in 2001. She was awarded Spain’s top honour given to a non-Spanish person by Queen Sofia, for service to humanity.

Bibi feels that in the same way that she promotes Bangladeshi weavers and develops the design industry, Sri Lanka too has the potential to showcase its own skills and talent.  She has been an inspiration for Sri Lankan designers and the design industry as a whole.  

For the past eight years the organizers of the HSBC Colombo Fashion Week have been on a mission to promote the local industry through the Fashion Week and bring the fashion industry on par with international standards. Giving them the exposure and the opportunity to interact with designers such as Bibi has brought their goal of creating a fashion retail infrastructure in Sri Lanka that much closer.

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