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The fashion designer.


Fashion is not usually synonymous with ethics, but May Cortazzi is working hard to change that perception.


After May graduated from Northumbria University — an established fashion university in the UK that is difficult to enter — her streetwear collection was selected to show at London Graduate Fashion Week. She caught the attention of the industry, helping to launch her career.


After working for established brands like Boxfresh, Maharishi and Maria Chen, May was offered a design role from Bono — of U2 fame — and his label Eden, which specialised in eco-fashion. It was here she discovered that it was possible to combine fashion with making a difference.


Life-Changing India


“I decided to move to India and work for an NGO — the Barli Institute For Rural Women. I dedicated my time to training women who live in severe poverty and teaching them tailoring, embroidery, batik and other skills to make money to survive. “I became active in ethical fashion from living in India and seeing the poverty and exploitation within the industry. I knew I wanted to work in fashion but I wanted work in an industry with more purpose, by finding a way of working that didn’t exploit anyone and was more environmentally conscious.”


In India, she was awarded a scholarship to complete a Master of Arts in fashion design and marketing, specialising in ethical and eco-fashion, where she created a line of men’s streetwear and tailoring made from organic bamboo, hemp and cotton.


May returned to the UK and set up her own creative collective space, art gallery and fashion label while lecturing in fashion styling, business and design. “I was nominated by the British Council as a fashion entrepreneur and ambassador for my work in the UK at London Fashion Week, and sent to Madrid and Indonesia to help train and develop the industry.”


Vibrant Vietnam


Offered a three-month job at the London College of Fashion and Design in Hanoi, six years later May is still here.


Her work in Hanoi is focused on developing the fashion industry — training designers, large businesses and companies about design, fabrics, quality and branding. “In some ways, I’m making a larger impact here [with disadvantaged youth and women] through the number of designers and companies I’ve worked with and what I’m doing.


“Fashion is a powerful industry here in Vietnam. It can be used in amazing ways to enrich people’s lives and harness traditional techniques, which may be lost if we don’t create sustainable and ethical businesses to support workers and train them. And it’s so easy here to buy fabric, make your own clothes and pay a tailor a fair price. You can control your own fashion process.”


Seeing others flourish and succeed is where May finds purpose. “Many designers I have taught have gone on to develop sustainable, ethical and eco-brands, or are young pioneers in the fashion industry.


She adds: “I love the fast pace of Vietnam, and as fast as you can think of an idea, you can make it happen. I’m inspired by empowering people to dream big and make their vision come true.


“Right now, I have three jobs, my organic skincare brand Happiness Beauty & Skincare, which will be extended to fashion and lifestyle. I work as a consultant/creative director for a Vietnamese fashion brand. I am also a freelance fashion designer and business consultant, and produce catwalk shows in Hanoi.”


Boho-Beach Chic


May is hesitant to call herself a Bohemian, preferring the term boho-beach chic. “The place I feel happiest is by the ocean. It makes me feel balanced, and when I see the blue skies meet and kiss the ocean, it feeds my soul.”


Selective in the friendships she nurtures, May surrounds herself with those who have similar values, creative and empowering individuals who don’t take advantage of her energy or devalue her purpose.


“You can only be the best version of yourself by trying to find balance, and through attracting the right tribe. I think who you spend time with has a massive influence on how productive and happy you are, and how wholesome you feel. Where attention goes, energy flows.”

Photos by Julie Vola


To read the other articles in this series, click on the following links:


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Diane Lee

Diane Lee is a fifty-something Australian author who quit her secure government job in 2016 because she was dying of boredom and wanted an adventure. Taking a risk and a volunteering job, she escaped to Hanoi and hasn’t regretted it. At all. Diane now works part-time for a social enterprise, and as freelance writer and editor. One day she hopes to marry an Irish or Scottish man named Stan.


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