TORONTO Back for its fifth installment, Canadian luxury retailer Holt Renfrew unveils more inspiring stories of altruism and artisanal design in 2019 with its March 1 launch of “Uncrate Southeast Asia.”

Following earlier H Project spotlights on India, Africa, South America and Canada, this socially conscious initiative brings together 20 brands for Uncrate Southeast Asia’s debut in-store and online, giving consumers across the country access to some of the best, well-crafted artisanal finds from Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Thailand.

“I’ve traveled to Asia before and have been mesmerized by how vast it is and how varied the crafts are that are now produced there,” said Alexandra Weston, Holt Renfrew’s divisional vice president, brand and creative strategy.

“We did a lot of digging for a good part of a year. It’s one of our best shows,” said Weston, who frankly highlights the unique challenges her team grappled with to bring this edition to life.

“This time we did not travel to our Uncrate location, which was a first for us,” said Weston.

“Southeast Asia is so large and spread out. For that reason we partnered with a vendor and piggybacked on their travels. It was challenging, but we tried it.”

As well, with the help of Turquoise Mountain — an organization that works with women in areas of civil war — Weston’s team also made its first attempt to assist artisans in areas of conflict, particularly in Myanmar, giving them the chance “to support these women in ways we really wanted to,” she added.

Uncrate Southeast Asia also presented a plethora of new day-to-day challenges.

“When you are working outside your comfort zone — as we clearly were here — we found ourselves dealing with designers who had never shipped items before internationally, as well as all their questions on how to do it and meet Canada’s rigid compliance code. The language was also a problem,” said Weston. “But we’ve become very good at helping designers and insuring their work.”

Yet despite such trials 2019’s lineup — which includes clothing, handbags, jewelry, homeware and more — more than makes up for it.

For the first time Uncrate Southeast Asia incorporates activewear and swimwear into its mix, “which ties in with the ready-to-wear now available at Holts,” Weston said.

One of this year’s most noteworthy inclusions, in fact, comes from Thailand-based brand Angelys Balekis, 195 Canadian dollars, which is made using 100 percent recycled fabrics. The sustainable line also uses Carvico Vita fabric for all solid and color-blocked swimwear and activewear styles. Moreover, Vita is made of Econyl-regenerated nylon, a sustainable techno-fabric that turns waste problems into fashion and interior solutions.

Uncrate’s latest design assortment also features the largest rtw selection yet for the H Project series.

Topping that list is Beachgold — an exclusive, Bali-made apparel brand that creates “ethical” contemporary resortwear priced between 195 and 250 Canadian dollars, as well as Kalita — a lively collection of flowing dresses, 495 to 1,095 Canadian dollars, made entirely from AZO-free, hand-dyed parachute silk.

As well, this entire collection of rtw will now be on sale online — another first.

Finally, working in conjunction with Canadian jewelrymaker John Hardy, Uncrate breaks more new ground by selling a seven-day trip for two to Bali, priced at 8,500 Canadian dollars, so consumers can experience handmade jewelry design in Hardy’s workshop in Ubud.

From that Uncrate will donate 1,300 Canadian dollars to 1000 Bamboo Villages, an organization that helps restore millions of hectares of degraded land in Indonesia.

To date, H Project’s total donations from charitable initiatives — including the Uncrate program — has reached $1.4 million (CDN).

“Year-after-year our sales increase and I believe that’s a sign of success,” Weston said. “But I’m also highly convinced that these artisans’ work fits with the high-end contemporary fashion at Holt Renfrew.

“H Project is growing in omni ways as a business and by 2020 we’ll be looking at the world overall in a bigger, more global way. But hearing people’s response to what we are doing has been validating,” Weston said.

“This is all about conscious curation in a unique space that speaks to our customer. Philanthropy is important to them.”

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