Growing up in South Africa in a family of white Afrikaners who opposed apartheid, Paul van Zyl knew early on he would pursue a life of activism. The former human rights lawyer who served alongside Archbishop Desmond Tutu on South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission - and logged mega miles jetting around the world to post-conflict hotspots in order to combat human rights abuses - recently made the next logical career move: fashion.
"I had worked in 30 countries and had the strong sense that what they needed most was to have these small businesses that thrive," he explains in the July/August issue of WSJ. Magazine. "That was my rough intuition, which translated into a small step into fashion." Partnering up with Daniel Lubetzky, the Mexican-Jewish founder of Kind Healthy Snacks, the do-gooding duo created Maiyet, a luxury brand of clothing & accessories made in locations where lack of economic opportunity has bred conflict. luxurious brand that covers a range of products, from clothes to accessories, much of it manufactured in places where a lack of economic opportunity has bred conflict. "Apart from making sure his artisans are skilled enough to produce an Art Nouveau–esque 18-karat-gold cuff that might sell at Barneys for $2,400, van Zyl wants to build a sustainable infrastructure by supplying them with updated machinery and improving their working conditions," notes Daniella Vitale, chief women's merchant at Barneys. "We were skeptical, but they put product first. The aesthetic is very much what's going on today—very clean, beautiful materials, minimal hardware."
Which is evidenced by the fact that the socially-responsible label sells out & speedily. "No matter what they tell you in a survey, people don't buy products because of their social mission," adds Lubetzky. "Certainly, they won't buy them again and again."
- Lesley Scott