Luxury Philanthropic Line Maiyet Comes to Barneys

Launch Slideshow

The fashion world is full of second acts—creative talents pursuing a career in style after toiling elsewhere. But Paul van Zyl has managed to incorporate his primary job as a human rights lawyer (he once worked alongside Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his native South Africa) into luxury retail with Maiyet, a philanthropic luxury brand sold exclusively at Barneys New York.

The CEO joined co-founder Kristy Caylor at the department store's Madison Avenue flagship yesterday to chat with the department store's now-former fashion director Amanda Brooks about the brand's ethos of sustainable entrepreneurship, thanks to quality- and design-driven goods handcrafted by artisans across several continents.

Years of promoting international reconciliation gave van Zyl an understanding that setting up solid, profitable businesses for employment growth diminishes community violence and other issues.

"My instinct was, I think that there's a really unique opportunity to do this in fashion. And then at that point I reached the limits of my expertise…I had a very small fashion brand and sensibility," van Zyl admits, so Caylor, former president of Band of Outsiders, came on board. She knows a thing or two about charitable fashion endeavors, having once managed Gap's Product (RED), the mass retailer's AIDS-awareness initiative. The two racked up many a frequent-flyer mile on their 6-month, 25-city exploratory trip to narrow down the talent.

Maiyet, named for the ancient Egyptian term for truth and harmony, isn't the first fashion line to partner with artisans and international craftsmen, but what differentiates the brand is their focus on excellent design, led by Creative Director Gabriella Zanzani, in collaboration with the workers' unique skills.

"Causes don't sell products; products sell the product," Caylor said. The luxe leather, quality detailing, and interesting materials used in the jewelry, clothes, shoes, and bags—produced by craftsmen from Kenya to Peru to India—sell themselves.

The brand has already shown in Paris and snagged Daria Werbowy as their campaign face. Not bad for only two seasons in business!