It was Oliver Wayman’s mother who first discovered the crochet technique that creates the chain mail effect, which explains how these classic bags can be made from recycled ring pulls. The technique originated in Brazil and these bags are one of the core products of the Bottletop Fashion Company, a fashion house with a difference.
The fashion house supports employment in the countries where its products are manufactured and any profits made, go into funding the overheads of the charitable foundation associated with it.
Oliver, one of the co-founders of Bottletop, initially studied Industrial Relations at Sussex University and was for a short time, a scout in the music industry. He met Cameron Saul his co-founder when they were working together on some music projects. They launched the social enterprise, Bottletop, last year.
The week before my interview, Oliver had attended both the London and Paris Fashion Weeks on behalf of the fashion side of the business. He has just met with some buyers from Harrods, but it is obvious he is most engaged when talking about the charitable projects which the company helps finance through the foundation.
The Bottletop foundation is the charitable arm, which raises funds through contemporary art and music projects. The foundation runs its own contemporary art event in the run up to Frieze, exhibiting well known and up and coming artists.
On the music side, The Bottletop band was created to bring together leading artists from the UK, such as the Arctic monkeys, Tim Burgess, the lead singer of the Charlatans, and musicians from Brazil. An album Dream Service has been produced, the proceeds from sales going to the charity- all the musicians have worked for free
The Bottletop foundation is currently supporting projects in Malawi, Kenya, Rwanda and Mozambique. These projects focus on creative education around safe sex and HIV prevention. Oliver says the foundation tends to support existing projects where Bottletop is not the only source of funding. This way “we support capacity building and the money will make a big difference.”
The company also supports two projects in Salvador, Brazil where the handbags are made, these include a theatre group helping single mothers and a health insurance scheme for the workers.
Last year the foundation was able to spend £36,000 on projects. “ We are growing the business in an effective and meaningful way”, Oliver says.
I wonder how he marries his two roles in a fashion house and a charitable foundation. Does he not find the fashion industry a little pretentious and superficial?
“Wearing different hats makes it more interesting” Oliver says and adds that he doesn’t take the fashion side “too seriously.” “It gives us much greater meaning and purpose in what we are doing.”