Summertime this year means jute apparel
Nature and all things natural have dominated the fashion agenda in recent years. And one aspect of this trend that catches the eye is jute, which has been extremely visible in store windows lately. Of course, jute has always been around and has always been priced in a way that made it accessible to everyone. But these days, it definitely falls into the category of luxury.

Jute has always been around and has always been priced in a way that made it accessible to everyone. But these days, it definitely falls into the category of luxury

Ethnic-themed collections have been popular with many fashion brands in recent years, but more so in summer 2012 collections. The designs, fabric choices and models all seem as though they are conspiring to take you off on a long journey -- maybe to the savannahs of Africa, to the deserts in the Middle East or even to a Native American tribal gathering.

What makes these collections different from those of previous years is that they comprise not only jute outfits but all the various accessories for the outfits as well, from shoes to handbags, and even necklaces and earrings. In other words, these collections treat the look as a whole, with dying techniques and fabric treatments that all fit seamlessly into this trend. Jute looks set to take up more space in our lives, with jute bags grabbing more attention as yet another aspect of the whole ethnic and natural look. Jute shoes and handbags complement pajamas and long dresses bearing ethnic designs. This look has had particular success in collections that put the spotlight on an African feel.

Works with office clothing

Jute is an item that has been accessible to many people for a long time now. But in linking itself with holidays and relaxation, this item has become intertwined with the luxury market this year. It appears everywhere and works well with bright colors. It has even entered the arena of everyday office wear for women. This is particularly true in the area of footwear, where you can see that designers have successfully worked jute into designs that can be worn to the office, even when the agenda does not include holiday plans.

Raffia is not jute

When talking about jute, it is impossible to ignore raffia, a material that has also grabbed the spotlight in recent years. It is very easy to get the two materials confused, and in fact, many of us might even assume raffia is the same as jute. But raffia is a type of palm leaf grown in Africa, while jute is a vegetable fiber. Known also as a Brazilian palm, raffia has extraordinarily long leaves. One of the most important characteristics of raffia is its durability. You can thus find it being used in items made for the home, as well as in shoes.

This year, Dolce & Gabbana paired its printed dresses with bags made from raffia. Some of these handbags boast the natural colors of raffia, while some were dyed turquoise, red, and black. Prada also gave us small and large bags that used special weaving techniques with raffia. And from Valentino to Tory Burch, there are raffia woven bags everywhere these days. One thing that attracts designers to raffia is its natural shine, greater than that of jute.

So this year's jute and raffia designs are more chic than anything we have seen in previous years. Many labels combine leather with these materials in their shoes and bags. Also, the same natural jute and raffia bags which one used to find only in very large sizes in previous years now come in much smaller sizes. Some of the most popular models are those with long handles, or those woven into the shape of boxes. There are also all sorts of different weaving techniques on display for these materials, with leather and beads being thrown into the mix.

You can also find different colors of jute in some of the designs; get ready to see colors you would never have associated with this natural material this season.

Shoes too

And of course, you will be seeing lots of natural jute shoes this season, especially around the heel area. Babette-style shoes as well as espadrilles all feature jute around the main shoe and the heels. For men, a pair of jute espadrilles goes well with a linen jacket without shoulder padding.