Paul van Zyl, a South African human rights lawyer has chosen the unlikely vehicle of luxury fashion to, as he puts it, “support peace through entrepreneurship”.
Van Zyl is a remarkable man, by any standards. Born and raised in apartheid South Africa, he was deeply conscious of social injustice from a young age, and went to study Law at the University of the Witwatersrand. When the truth and Reconciliation Commission was established, Archbishop Tutu appointed the 24 year old as its executive secretary.
Van Zyl left South Africa when he received a scholarship to study law at New York University. Then he helped set up the International Centre for Transitional Justice, a non-profit organization dedicated to pursuing accountability for mass atrocity and human rights abuse through transitional justice mechanisms. By the time he left the organization, he had worked in 30 countries around the world. Being selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2008, is just one of the many accolades that have come his way.
The idea for Maiyet was born in 2009. In simple terms, the aim is to prevent strife by fostering local economies and mitigate ethnic conflict and human rights abuses by creating a more stable society.
Van Zyl’s intuition told him that the answer lay in fashion. Finding things that people in developing countries such as Kenya, India and Peru could do well and competitively in a global economy and incorporating this in a brand which offers them design direction, access to markets and finance, could unlock their value.
In order to realize his vision, Van Zyl needed a partner with a strong fashion background. Enter Kristy Craylor. Kristy had started her fashion career at GAP, and consulted for global brands including Stronghold Denim, All Saints, Band of Outsiders and Mercado Global, a fair trade company based in Guatemala. As a design consultant for Mercado Global, Kristy worked directly with indigenous artisans, and had a strong desire to bring about social change through business. It was a perfect match. Together with Daniel Lubetzky, a social entrepreneur who creates new business models integrating social objectives with sustainable market-driven forces, they founded Maiyet.
Says Van Zyl, “If you’re a social entrepreneur, and if you have a vision about what you have to do, the greatest risk is if you don’t execute it properly.”
At Maiyet, there is no danger of this. The clothing is beautiful, timeless and luxurious, and the accessories to the highest standard of craftsmanship.
The label shows at Paris Fashion Week, and has its showroom in Manhattan. Merchandise retails at Barneys in new York; Luisa Via Roma in Florence; Montaigne Market in Paris; Boon the Shop in Seoul; Barneys in Tokyo; and Boutique N in Kuwait City.
This is a real success story with a South African origin.