One of the newest women's collections in-store is from Osei-Duro. It's a brand we've been following for sometime now. What drew us in initially was their story, the process and the textiles. We took a moment to ask designers Maryanne Mathias and Molly Keogh some questions about how the brand came to be and the long road that's brought them to where they are today.
When was the very first Osei-Duro collection launched? How did the brand come to be and what was the initial vision for it?
MK: "In 2007 Maryanne took a trip around the world and designed capsule collections in textile rich countries such as Ghana, Morocco, Egypt, and India. When she returned to Canada we reconnected and created Osei-Duro. Our initial trip to Ghana together was framed as a "textile experiment," to see what would happen when different aesthetics intersected, and we really continue to see all of our projects as explorations."
How did the two of you meet and what inspired both of you to work on this collection together? How do your roles differ in the company? Were both of your backgrounds in design and fashion?
MM: "We met in 12th grade at the Vancouver Waldorf School, and shared a love for fashion then. We both did Bachelor's Degrees in Fashion Design, and Maryanne then preceded to get her MBA. Molly is currently in grad school studying African Studies. We mostly do everything together, though Molly has an eye for detail and Maryanne is more big-picture. We find that our differences make us great partners!"
Your collection tells us such a beautiful story about a place and time that most people will not get to experience hands on. Tell us about the process from design to fabric conception to working with the artisans and then to production.
"When we first arrived in Ghana we really had to start from scratch. Over the past six years we've built up a very strong team of artisans and tailors, and a lot of our designs come out of the process of working with them. It was trial-and-error to find people who were a good fit with Osei-Duro, and we feel so fortunate to such a dedicated community.
"In Ghana we import most of our silk and rayon from countries that produce it, so usually India and China. We purchase our cotton and linen in Ghana. We do all the hand dying in Ghana, as well as the cutting and sewing. The process of hand-dying is very involved and there is a lot of room for error. We have learned through our mistakes, and now mostly have a solid system, but it's really truly both an art and a science!"
We love that your products empower and employ artisans, especially in areas where work may be harder to find. Your pieces shed light on traditional processes that could be lost in a world of mass produced goods. Initially how did you choose to work with artisans from Ghana as opposed to other places? Now you're also sourcing fabrics and textiles from India and Peru. How has that differed from your work in Ghana and what other areas do you see Osei-Duro expanding into?
"We wanted to find a country that had a rich textile cottage industry, but still wasn't very developed. Ghana was a good choice because it fits that criteria and is also English speaking with a relatively stable economy and government. This year Maryanne traveled to India for three months to work with artisans there and develop our Spring/Summer '16 collection. The Indian handmade textile industry is very established so it was interesting to compare and contrast with the industry in Ghana. The main difference we found was accessibility and logistics of getting an artisan product out to the world. In Ghana there are no agents, so if you want to produce there you have to physically set-up shop and have someone in-house managing production. India has an industry of managers/agents who can help foreigners do business more easily."
Just a little about each of you: What do you like to do in your spare time when not working on the Osei-Duro collection? Of the places you've visited, what was your most memorable or favorite and why?
MM: "I'm taking time off from travel so at the moment I'm trying to settle and gain back some equilibrium in my life. Right now I'm so happy just doing yoga, hiking, cooking and eating good food, spending time with friends, discussing, and listening to music.
"Memorable place: Mauritania was the strangest/most unique country I have visited. I ran out of money and there were no ATMs. A Peace Corps volunteer lent me $40 to get to Morocco. The country is mostly rock and sand, and has very few tourists. I hitchhiked on an iron ore train from the desert to the coast overnight. We, myself and a Mauritanian family who took me under their wing, literally sat on train wagons full of iron ore flakes for 12 hours. We watched the sun set and sun rise, sang songs, and drank tea. I will never forget that experience."
MO: "Having just come back to school I spend a ton of time reading and trying to remember calculus and teaching a rad textile class where we get to light things on fire. I'm enjoying taking advantage of talks and films on campus, and watching the leaves turn here in Indiana. My first fall in many years!
"Memorable travels - oof, hard to choose just one. Ilha do Mel in Brazil is somewhere I remember being profoundly happy. There are no cars on the island, just endless beaches... Niamey, Niger was also a really memorable place. It truly felt like an ancient trade crossroads, with working camels and men in amazing turbans, and a shocking heat that really distorts reality in a great way.
We think it's a beautiful name. What does Osei Duro mean and why did you choose it to represent your brand?
MM: "Osei is a prefix which means "noble, or honorable" and Duro is derived from Oduro and means, medicine, or magic. Put together it's "noble medicine" or "powerful magic."