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Who’s HauTe: Interview with Molly Keogh and Maryanne Mathias of Osei Duro

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The genesis of Osei-Duro can be traced back to 1997, when two young aspiring fashion designers met and quickly became friends. Maryanne Mathias and Molly Keogh became acquainted in high school in Vancouver, BC, and maintained their friendship for the next 10 years while following divergent paths in the fashion world. Mathias completed a fashion design degree in Vancouver before heading to Montreal to found her successful independent line, Hastings + Main, which she ran there for 6 years. Keogh completed her BFA in Fashion Design in San Francisco at California College of the Arts and then moved to Los Angeles to work as a costume maker and stylist on a wide variety of projects, from films to fine art to advertising. Fast forward to present day and together the run the ethical African label, Osei Duro. What’s interesting is that they are both non-African but are very passionate about African textile and fashion industry and keen on building sustainable garment production in Africa, starting off with Ghana. HFA just had to find out more about the ladies behind the Osei Duro brand and what drives their passion!

HFA: Who are Molly Keogh and Maryanne Mathias?

OSEI DURO: Molly Keogh is a costume stylist living in Los Angeles, CA and Maryanne Mathias is an independent designer and marketing teacher from Vancouver, BC.

HFA: You both have backgrounds in fashion designing and initially had individual aspirations as designers. What brought you two together to create Osei Duro?

OSEI DURO: We are old friends who happened to reconnect at a time when we were both ready for the adventure and challenge of Osei – Duro. Funny that it was almost by chance that we started this project -which has now totally taken over our lives!

HFA: What is the creative common ground that you both share for Osei Duro?

OSEI DURO: While our personal aesthetics are quite different, we both have a high regard for quality details, uncommon textiles, and clothing that feels good!

HFA: Maryanne, your profile says your designs ‘battle between conformity and chaos’ and Molly is more conceptual and ‘interested in the place where the cerebral and the sensual meet’. Surely there will be conflicts of interests! How do your ideas then converge and are able to create cohesive collections?

OSEI DURO: The co-designing process is constantly changing and improving with us. For the first collection we designed individual pieces alone, then for the second one we did all the pieces together. These days we are somewhere in between, weighing in on each other’s work and building a cohesive group together. Ultimately though, each piece has a lead designer who sees it through.

HFA: You have both styled celebrities and received coverage from the media and done lots of travelling (India, Morocco, Ghana…). Have these experiences been imbibed into your work and in what way?

OSEI DURO: Our wide (and different!) ranges of experience constantly inform the work.  Different climates and beliefs influence people to dress in different ways -something that continually fascinates us.

Spring/Summer 2011 Editorial

HFA: From Vancouver to Ghana… Why Ghana? What inspires you about the country and how has its rich culture influenced you and your label?

OSEI DURO: I could go on about this for a long time… Obviously the range of wax and screen prints available commercially is incredible, and the diversity of the hand weaving should not be underestimated. The hand dyeing and batik techniques used locally are exquisite. But the fearless ways of dressing! My mind is blown every time I leave the house. Ghanaians will wear 4 prints at once, men will wear pink lace head to toe, women wear floor-length gowns to the market, my husband’s little sister wears a blouse as a skirt, the short-sleeved suit is unreal! All this self-confidence and creativity inspires us on a daily basis. We are convinced that Accra is an undiscovered street fashion capital.

HFA: We love ethical fashion and fair trade and your label is big on it! How have your incorporated these into your business and still able to keep it profitable for you and the communities you work with?

OSEI DURO: Our intention is to consider the repercussions of each decision we make, however small.  Some ethical choices are more expensive, but some actually save us money. For instance by working directly with each seamstress we are able to give the full pay for the work to them, as opposed to paying the overhead of a factory where we don’t really know how much the sewer gets. This also keeps our cost down. On the other hand when we buy wax print we seek out those that are produced in West Africa, as opposed to the cheap Chinese knockoffs. While the local fabric costs more, our mandate is to support and grow local industry, so buying the imported fabric would have the opposite effect.

HFA: We read that you introduced silk to the traditional dyers in Ghana. We find very interesting. What other fabrics do you work with and how has it been working with the communities. You must have learnt a lot from them and likewise?

OSEI DURO: The silk has been a very successful experiment that we plan to expand on. We want to try traditional techniques on other new materials now! We also love Bogalon, or Mudcloth, the mineral-dyed hand-woven cloth from the Southern Sahara, and use it whenever possible. We love the idea of applying traditional techniques in new ways. We also think that in order for the textile and garment industry here to thrive there must be a variety of exciting offerings, and we want to be part of developing that if we can.

HFA: Okay, time to learn more about the label! So, tell us about your most recent collection and the aesthetic behind it? What did your mood board look like?

OSEI DURO: AW2011 is a step towards sophistication for Osei-Duro. The silk makes everything a bit more grown up, while the hand crochet detailing keeps it organic.  This collection is earthy and sensual, yet still playful. We were inspired this time around by bold looks such as 90’s fly girls, Emirates flight attendants, and abstract painting.

HFA: How did you come up with the name ‘Osei – Duro’ and what does it mean?

OSEI DURO: We chose it because we liked the sound and look, and it has served us well! It’s a Twi name. Osei is quite common, it means noble or honourable, and Duro comes from Oduro, a name that means medicine, or magic. So I guess it means honourable medicine, which we like.

HFA: Who is an ‘Osei Duro’ woman?

OSEI DURO: An Osei – Duro woman is a balanced woman. She enjoys life to the fullest and also considers her actions. She loves beauty, but she also loves information.

HFA: What does future look like for Osei Duro? What heights do you see the label reaching in a few years from now?

OSEI DURO: We are quite pleased with our pace of growth, but we also have big dreams. We plan to set up training facilities in Ghana to raise industry standards and create employment. We are also excited to expand our cultural collaborations. Right now we are exploring other media including music, photography and academic research. We want to create bridges between creative communities all over the world so we can see the exciting results!

HFA: Where are your fabulous pieces available for purchase?

OSEI DURO: We sell online at oseiduro.com, and at stores in the US, Canada, England and Singapore. We would love to have accounts in Africa, so please ask us!

Here’s more from the Spring/Summer 2011 Collection

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