Somali Sisters Recreate African Designs
Identical twins Ayaan and Idyl Mohallim are making a name for themselves in the fashion arena by designing a range of clothes inspired by Africa.
Born in Somalia, but moved to the United States at age nine to escape the civil war, these sisters grew up in Washington D.C. before going to college — one in Boston and the other in Michigan. After graduation they headed for New York City and set up their fashion label Mataano — the Somali word for twins.
Their designs take inspiration from the entire continent of Africa but draw on the traditional dress of specific regions and subcultures because the label aims to re-introduce traditional attire and say “it’s relevant and you can wear it in a western culture.”
Lately, it seems as if all I see in fashion are African prints. I feel as though every time I open a magazine or surf the web, there’s some model or celebrity dressed in African-inspired clothing, for instance Beyonce was recently spotted wearing an outfit sewn with African print. I know these pieces of clothing are all African-inspired because not only do the captions say so but our fabrics are quite easy to spot – they are colorful and have a certain look and feel to them. These fabrics are used to makes clothes that can easily be worn to work, to play or anything in between and my closet boasts a few western clothes created with African fabric.
Long gone are the traditional African attires that several far-removed generations wore. Now the fashion on the continent, though inspired by traditional native attire, is modified to reflect this day and age and fitted for young urban professional twenty-somethings needing an outfit that pays homage to their roots while accommodating their need for style and youthfulness. These fabrics are also fitted to designs for every age and lifestyle with dolls also dressed in African garb (I absolutely adore the Queens of Africa Dolls). I must say that I always get glances and stares – some curious, others admiring – every time I’m out and about in one of my outfits (Thanks to Bezalel and Oholiab).
Designers seeking inspiration are increasingly turning to Africa for fresh ideas, new fabrics and color palettes. This search for something new is not limited to fashion designers alone. Rather, it’s across the board as chefs, entrepreneurs, policy administrators and even education enthusiasts reach to faraway Africa for new approaches to stale problems. For a continent that’s considered “dark” and “without hope”, I find it ironic that the world looks to us to spark their innovative juices but I’m not surprised as Africa boasts a world of untapped potential so it’s only natural that curious minds, seeking to elevate and differentiate their brand, will tap into this potential.
One thing I must note though – credit is being given to the source of the inspiration by those who leverage it. This is the reason the average consumer in the western world is becoming better acquainted with African fabrics and African-inspired clothing. This inclination to give credit where credit is due is important because as we strive to showcase different parts of Africa to the world, our efforts cannot always be carried out by us, Africans, alone. We must leverage others whose voices may be louder than ours to share our stories, heritage, personality and beauty with the world. At the end of the day, the more Africa is identified as the source of the inspiration, the more the world gets to look beyond our faces to the soul beneath and to who we really are.