Fashion With Compassion: Mata Traders Is Creating Global Impact With Vibrant Design
Fashioning A Better World
Every purchase we make is a vote for the kind of world we want to live in, and Mata Traders is helping women vote for a more compassionate and fair fashion industry without sacrificing their vibrant style. They are committed to paying fair wages to their talented female artisans in Nepal and India, and offer extensive additional services, education, and community to help empower the women who are crafting each piece.
Mata Traders is a brand for the fashionably adventurous, bringing color and pattern to the world of ethical fashion in fresh new ways. From classic ikat prints to modern florals, there’s a gorgeous handcrafted dress to fit anyone’s style. Their showstopping dresses and globally-inspired jewelry is truly making a difference in the lives of women around the world.
Mata Traders creates fashion that makes women feel adventurous, compassionate, beautiful and powerful.
Behind The Scenes With Maureen Dunn, Founder Of Mata Traders
Ignited by travel and inspired by global cultures, the passion that goes into each piece from Mata Traders is what makes this fair trade brand unique. We had the opportunity to chat with Maureen Dunn, founder of Mata Traders, to learn more about the start of the brand, the inspirations behind the designs, and what fair trade can do for women around the world.
What was your initial inspiration to create a fair trade fashion brand?
I spent time in India with my two best friends (now business partners) after graduating from college, and we fell in love with the color and vibrancy of that culture. You will literally see men in Rajasthan, where some of our clothing is now made, with huge neon orange turbans and regal mustaches that curl!
My first venture was to bring beautiful fabrics from that part of the world back to the market here. That evolved into the business that is now Mata Traders, honoring traditional south Asian textile techniques and the artisans who practice them with handcrafted fair trade clothing and jewelry that appeal to a diverse global marketplace.
We launched Mata Traders in 2007, and our brand has become well known for its vintage inspiration and bright and bold patterns. Mata is proud to support fair trade producer groups in India and one in Nepal that train and employ hundreds of women artisans who come from rural areas, tribal villages and urban slums. These women handcraft Mata fashions that are designed by the Mata team in Chicago and sold around the world.
Women wear Mata because, they tell us, Mata makes them feel adventurous, compassionate, beautiful and powerful. That’s why we say that, together, we’re fashioning a better world.
We adore Mata Traders’ stunning handmade pieces. Tell us what inspires the creative direction for the brand?
The fundamentals of Mata’s creative direction are bright colors, vintage-inspired styles and fits that flatter real women—expressed through centuries-old craft techniques like block and screen printing, hand-woven ikat and embroidery. Our collections are still inspired by our travels and traditional fashion from a variety of cultures. We juxtapose this with trends and what we see on the runways—Tori Burch, Lauren Moffatt, Duro Olowu, Marc Jacobs, Mara Hoffman, etc.— with a bias toward comfortable cuts that flatter the many types of Mata women and are accessibly priced.
Is there a story behind the name ‘Mata Traders’?
Mata means Mother” in Hindi, and is a tribute to Shakti, the female creative power in all of us. During my early years of travel, I was attracted to the strong goddess images in Hinduism. The goddess Kali comes to mind; she wears a garland of skulls and is the remover of ego. Just this idea of female power meant a lot to me when I was going through my own self-discovery in my late 20’s. The Mata brand epitomizes this notion. Women who wear Mata empower women who make Mata to create a better life. Every dress, skirt, top and piece of jewelry bought from Mata creates more opportunity for more women and their families.
“Traders” represents the authentic relationships that Jonit and Michelle (my business partners and travel cohorts) and I established with producer partners in India and Nepal.
Can you tell us about the women you work with in India and Nepal and how this work impacts their life?
As mothers, leaders, activists, and educators, women are changing the world. A key to ending poverty is education, and one way to ensure that all children get that education is by empowering women. That’s what we’ve seen with our artisans—once they start earning a living, they prioritize sending their kids to school. These are women that probably didn’t get more than a 4th-grade education themselves.
Fair trade allows women to change the world. It gives them a voice, skills, the opportunity to do something outside of the home, and the resources to be changemakers in their families and communities.
Do you have a personal favorite Mata jewelry or clothing piece you couldn’t live without?
My favorite pieces are those with natural dye printing processes like Ajrakh or pieces that have heavy embroidery and a real ethnic feel. My favorite from AW17 is the Slate Studio Dress (below!). I also am mad for the Serenade Dress Multi. The hand-loomed ikat feels so special and colorful. It’s a dress you could wear to a party or fancy event. And then for jewelry…my current obsession is the Gold Stacked Sunra Earrings, which I wear almost every day. They give even the most basic outfit a little bohemian flair.