“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to make a giant hand-carved fish pendant with a black horn chain-link necklace and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Monday 2 June 2014, by Natalie Bui, Victoria

1 inspired

A. The main facts about the activities of the company.

Maiyet is pioneering a new luxury by creating a fashion brand in an ethical way that celebrates rare artisanal skills from unexpected places like Kenya, India, and Peru. Co-founded in 2011 by Paul van Zyl, a human rights lawyer, Daniel Lubetzky, an entrepreneur, and Kristy Caylor, a former head of merchandising for Gap Accessories and Product RED, Maiyet was created. “We decided that 
the meaning of luxury centers around craftsmanship,” Caylor says. Maiyet finds many of its artisan collaborators through Nest, a nonprofit that seeks
 out skilled craftspeople and connects them with fashion brands in the United States. Caylor sketches out designs in Maiyet’s New York City headquarters, artisans make the goods, and the final products are sold at Maiyet’s Soho boutique and various other retailers. So far, Maiyet has attracted a small but respectable number of stockists around the world (40 doors) including influential retailers like Luisa Via Roma, Net-a-Porter and Barneys New York, which carried Maiyet exclusively in its first season. The brand is also available through the company’s recently launched e-commerce site and plans to open its first flagship store, on New York’s Crosby Street, in mid-June. Global expansion is on the horizon, as well. Maiyet hopes to expand within Asia and Europe, as those are major fashion markets.

Maiyet is still a relatively new company but has set out to find ways to alleviate poverty and promote stability in places that need it the most by creating a brand that utilizes the skills of the local people there. Co-founders Paul Van Zyl and Kristy Caylor set out to explore twenty five cities around the world over the course of six months in order to find the artisans that best fit the skills needed for their overall vision. Whether it be “block printing from Jaipur, batiks from Indonesia, Shibori hand dyeing from Japan, embroideries from Ahmedabad or handwoven silks from the Indian Village of Varanasi”, each design embodies a unique craft with a fashionable edge that gives Maiyet a one-of-a-kind collection time and time again.

Unlike other ethical fashion companies that source products from artists in struggling countries, Maiyet is unique in that they source the skills of local artists and co-develop products that fit within the vision for their desired fashion line. Just like any other major fashion label or company, Maiyet will develop a vision for their merchandise based on the season, current trends, and other inspirations in hopes of attracting customers. They do not promote the ethical mission in hopes of gaining more sales; they let the clothes speak for themselves. In order for Maiyet to stand on its own they had to create a beautiful product that would “resonate with the customer irrespective of the social cause behind it”. For this company, the success of the artisans is just as important as the financial success of the brand, because without a strong customer following, many of the artisans in developing countries would not succeed. In fact, in its debut at the 2011 Paris Fashion Week, Maiyet compared favorably to other established and well-known fashion brands.

B. The Ethical challenges this company is addressing.

From its inception in 2011, Maiyet has sought to change the world through fashion. They have expanded their success on a foundation based on promoting entrepreneurship and stability in the places that need it the most. While many of these countries do not hold comparative advantages in food or technology, fashion gives them the opportunity to compete on a global scale. The core of Maiyet’s strategy is to source its collection of beautiful clothing, shoes and accessories from talented artisans in emerging economies. Unlike other ethical fashion companies that may source their strategy with shipment orders, Maiyet is more interested in creating an international brand that promotes sustainability, self-sufficiency, and entrepreneurship in developing countries by celebrating their craftsmanship and artisans. These pieces can range anywhere up to $2,500 which means that success of the brand has the ability to turn local artisans into successful entrepreneurs.

Outside of stabilizing small business, Maiyet is providing these local artisans with a voice. As Co-Founder Paul Van Zyl states “the next generation of luxury producers would come from the Third World, not France or Italy”. Maiyet is helping to represent and promote the local craftsmanship that would have otherwise gone extinct or remained stuck within local confines. Prior to employment, these local artisans are making low-valued products within their local market. Their relationship with non-profit group Nest has helped to improve and expand the small businesses in these emerging communities through the implementation of safe work facilities, training programs, upgraded tools, and “fair financing”.

Paul and the Maiyet team focus on a strategy of capital allocation, which invests in businesses that help to alleviate poverty, empower women, and bring together people from opposite sides of conflicts. According to Van Zyl, the artisans with which Maiyet works face a number of specific challenges. “They lack design direction, access to markets, fair financing, the sort of training and rigour required for them to perform at the highest levels of the luxury market,” he said. “We try through our model to offset all of these obstacles, so these craftsmen can turn their skills into viable businesses.”

C. What makes you believe this company is really ethical and why you trust it?

Maiyet sees competitive advantage in developing countries. They looked into Kenya, India, Peru - where there is artisanship that is underutilised and managed to incorporate what these people into their brand and offer them design direction, access to markets and finance. They essentially give these artisans value and let them display their mastery and artistry. Their idea is to find things that people in developing countries could do well and competitively in a global economy. Maiyet has carefully researched their potential underdeveloped markets, follows through on their projects, meanwhile creating beautifully crafted clothing, bags, accessories of high quality. They have really done their work on the sourcing, infrastructure, and relationship with these artisans and communities. It is evident in everything they present.

With any social endeavour, transparency and authenticity is key although Maiyet encourages customers to discover their story at their own pace. While the brand’s website features educational videos that detail the company’s ethical stance, it’s never used as a marketing tool.

Another redeeming aspect of Maiyet is its impact on the 12 communities it works with from helping them build their own homes to feeding their families. To ensure that these are executed properly, the brand has entered a strategic partnership with non profit organisation Nest which is dedicated to training and developing the artisan businesses.

The company has also forged a strategic partnership with Nest, a not-for-profit organisation on the front lines that helps to implement customised training and leadership development programmes. Recently, Nest secured the services of world-famous architect David Adjaye to design a major silk factory for partners in Varanasi, India. The facility will bring together Muslim and Hindu weavers, enhance their comfort and productivity, and help preserve a centuries-old tradition under threat from mass power loom production. It will produce highly covetable Varanasi silk, something that is rare and exquisitely beautiful and in so doing, promote dignity and prosperity for those who work there.

We’ve seen terms like fair trade fashion and ethical design come in and out of vogue on the high street and the catwalk in recent years. The reason why Maiyet is so admirable is that this purpose is built right into everything the company does. In other words, this goes far beyond a marketing concept or corporate responsibility. Whats even more impressive is that Maiyet has taken the hard-to-crack fashion industry by storm, and is showing that a purpose-driven business can be a commercial success.

D.The possible challenges facing the company in the future and how you think this company may improve.

Maiyet is still a relatively young company with room for improvement. It has not yet established itself as a legacy like its competitors (Greg Lauren, Hermès, Nili Lotan etc). Maiyet has to work harder to gain credibility and respect within the fashion industry. This is made further difficult without any “star designer” for consumers to easily identify. In terms of manufacturing, working with inexperienced artisans from developing economies brings with it multiple issues of concern. With only three years of service, many of the artisans still lack the training and rigour required for them to perform at the highest levels of the luxury market. These artisans have little to no experience working on a global level or wide access to markets and materials. From a communication standpoint, the fact that many of the artisans don’t have consistent access to internet or telephone lines can become very problematic. Co-founder Kristy Caylor states that there are times when the artisans “have no idea why we’re asking what we’re asking for. Furthermore, Maiyet products are individually handcrafted to provide utmost quality and uniqueness to its customers, however, this can also result in the irregularity among products.

Outside of cultural differences, weather and living conditions of participating countries can hinder production and distribution. As Caylor states, “Indonesia can’t produce batik prints during the rainy season because the air is too humid, there are silk weavers who can’t work [out of their homes] when temperatures soar”. Major fashion brands who source their materials from factories or warehouses do not have these same issues to consider.
Maiyet is also a fairly new company so the current scale of the company is manageable. However, once it starts to grow in size and profitability, it will have to source more people to work as artisans for the company. It’s difficult to find talented artisans in other countries because there is only a limited supply of fashion artisans. A similar problem arose at Bottega Veneta, a fashion behemoth, where they had to open a school to train artisans to weave to the high level needed for their company. Maiyet has to find a way to sustain their growth and recruit new talent in other markets besides the current countries of India, Indonesia, Kenya, and Peru. With growth also comes difficulties in controlling the production process from these countries to New York. Since the company is smaller right now, it’s easier to keep a check and ensure that all products and employees are up to par but once the company grows, the employees in the underdeveloped countries might not get as much direction or support.


Location: New York City (United States)

Sector: Wholesale and retail trade

Official website:

Key figures:

Not released

Nbr. visits: 2005

Nbr. inspires: 1