Bazaaaaar Pop-Up Interview: Osei Duro
(Photo credit: Colin Leaman; Model: Allie Teilz)
Maryanne Mathias and Molly Keogh are the owners of Osei Duro, an ethical fashion line that is run out of Ghana. We talked to them about how they got their start, where they source their materials from, and how they'd like to expand their line for the future.
How did you guys meet and what made you decide to start Osei Duro?
MM: We met in high school—we both had an interest in fashion and textiles and human expression through clothing, but we lost touch. I had been doing design at a small company in Montreal and I decided to travel around the world and research different textiles. I ended up doing capsule collections in different countries and saw an opportunity to do something on a larger scale. Molly and I met back up at our high school reunion and that’s when I asked if she would be interested in working with me. It grew from there.
Was starting an ethical fashion line something you initially set out to do?
MK: We were both interested in that, yeah. We were interested in the politics of production and transparency and doing something that we ultimately felt good about. And then figuring out what that means has been a process as the line develops.
Was there any specific reason that made you guys decide to work out of Ghana?
MK: There was a list of reasons. Maryann had gone to a bunch of different countries that produced their own traditional textiles and Ghana had other components that made it an easier place to start. There was also always the idea that our business could expand into other nearby countries.
What in Ghana inspires you for your clothing?
MK: People in Ghana dress really fearlessly. Things that North Americans tend to shy away from are really normal there, like lots of color, lots of print, and lots of dramatic shapes. That kind of expression and fearlessness is exciting for us to be around.
MM: They also have a lot of unique fabrics which is one of the main things that I love, and they also have a lot of traditional textile techniques, like batiking, which we’re really attracted to.
What are some of the different techniques you use to create your materials? Is there anything native to Ghana?
MK: Weaving. There’s a lot of hand weaving. Besides the batik [for dyeing], which just means wax, there’s other dye techniques. We don’t really do much, if any, tie-dye, but there are other methods that are similar to Japanese shibori, like stitching the fabric and then dyeing it. There’s also marbling. There are so many different things.
MM: We also do hand crochet. A lot of hand crochet.
Do you guys travel to many other places besides Africa to gather inspiration?
MK: Not as much as we’d like to. Maryann is living in Vancouver and she’ll make little trips within BC, and I’ll make trips within southern California where I live. We did travel around West Africa, though.
And did you pick up any other materials there?
MK: Yeah, we’ve bought fabric in all of the countries that we’ve been to around Ghana. We were sourcing a certain handwoven fabric from Togo for a while that we couldn’t find anywhere else.
MM: We're planning on expanding our countries; potentially production, but also textiles.
Can you tell us about some of the people you employ and how you go about finding people to work for you?
MK: The way we found people would be the same way you find people here, mostly by word of mouth. There’s nothing like Craigslist there, so it’s more a matter of talking to people, meeting people, and spending time with them and getting to know them. We work with a small factory that’s owned 2nd generation by a Ghanaian woman – she inherited it from her mother. We work with her, as well as all the people that work there for her. On the smaller scale, we work with individual tailors and seamstresses in our neighborhood. We work really directly with them and they’ll do smaller scale productions for us.
When we do large crochet productions, there’s a woman who organizes all of the crochet and that stays really cottage industry. Everyone who does that does it on a real informal level, so she organized all of these women out of their homes to do the crochet.
Does it take a long time to do all of this by hand?
MK: We try and give ourselves plenty of time. With dyeing we try to give enough time so that it can really be a process with the dyer. We’ll give her an idea, she’ll give us a result, we’ll maybe change something, maybe the result will be different than we thought but we like it better—it’s a real back and forth.
What are you guys excited to see with the pop-up?
MM: There’s another designer involved called Della—she works out of the Volta region in Ghana. I met a couple of her interns on a trip last summer which is how I heard about her, so it’s exciting to be able to meet other designers who are doing similar things.
Do you have any big projects lined up for the future?
MM: We’re in the process of designing 8 new bags and we’re working on another collaboration with the artist Megan Whitmarsh to design the prints. Those will be ready to launch in a few months.
MK: We’re also starting to do research about adding more traditional textiles from more countries into our production capacity which is really exciting.
Any particular textiles in mind so far?
MM: We’re criticized for our fall collections as being too summery because we use a lot of light fabrics and bright colors that are associated with summer in North America, so we’re thinking about using some South American wool to balance out our fall collections.
What’s one thing you want people to take away from your brand?
MK: I feel like it sounds clichéd, and I hesitate to even say it because it feels so clichéd, but clothing production can be transparent and still be exciting. The design doesn’t have to be compromised for the clothing to be thoughtfully made.