Fashion Revolution Week is all about asking Who Made My Clothes? Born out of the tragedy of Rana Plaza, this campaign asks us to demand safer, more transparent supply chains. To kick off a week of stories about the people behind our brands we spoke to the duo behind the brilliant Osei Duro about building an ethical brand.
Tell us about the concept behind the brand?
Based in Los Angeles, CA, and Accra, Ghana, Osei-Duro uses traditional textile techniques to produce contemporary garments. The company is passionate about supporting local apparel industries and works to develop sustainable garment production in emerging market countries in including Ghana, India and Peru. Osei-Duro proudly promotes an international exchange of ideas and information.
How and when did you set the business up?
In 2009 co-founders Maryanne Mathias and Molly Keogh reunited for their 10 year high school reunion. It was there that they decided to start the business.
Why were you drawn to Ghana specifically?
Maryanne came up with the idea for Osei-Duro while traveling around the world researching traditional textiles. In Ghana she noticed a very strong cottage industry of tailoring and (wax resist) batiking. However the industry wasn't developed for export.
With Osei-Duro she wanted to help promote a design, production, and export industry in a country that was stable, underdeveloped, and English speaking with rich arts and culture. Ghana made sense as a starting point.
We've worked extensively in Ghana since then, setting up a design studio and creating relationships with good production facilities.
Tell us about the workshops your pieces are made in the people who make them?
In Ghana, most of our clothing is hand dyed. We work with two small batik houses who dye the fabric before it is cut and sewn.
Nana: In previous lives Nana was compliance officer for an anti-corruption organization (which he said was a depressing job), and also an actor in both theatre and on TV. He now batiks full-time. He has a flair for design and can capture very unique prints based on our references.
Juliana: Juliana is from Cape Coast, a beautiful coastal city three hours outside of Accra. She also does batik for Global Mommas.
Cutting and sewing
We work with several neighbourhood independent tailors, one small (4 person) factory, and one larger unionized factory. We oversee all our production and are heavily involved in the process.
How do you incorporate your values into your work?
It's hard not to. Communication is very important to us, so if we are uncomfortable with something that is going on in our work, we will address it as soon as possible.
Why is creating ethical fashion important to you?
Since our teenage years we have been heavy into textiles, sewing, and thrifting, and the cultural elements that went into fashion. It seemed a natural progression that we would end up designing and producing clothing that was made ethically using traditional textile techniques.
Can you tell us about the traditional techniques you use in your production – why is it important for you to work this way?
Batik is a resist technique used for producing designs on cloth. The technique was brought to West Africa in the mid-nineteenth century by Belanda Hitam, Malay for Black Dutchmen, who served as indentured soldiers for the Dutch in Indonesia. Batik motifs are hand-painted or stamped with hot liquid wax, which penetrates the cloth to form a resist. When the hardened wax is dipped in the cold dye bath, small cracks form, producing the fine veins that are synonymous with handcrafted batik.
All Osei-Duro batik prints are created in collaboration with artisans in Ghana.
Block printing is one of the earliest and simplest methods of printing. Blocks of firm wood such as teak or ebony are cut into intricate designs, and strategic holes are drilled to let air escape from cavities in the design. The dye is placed in a vessel and covered by a heavy blanket, forming a pad saturated with color on which the blocks are pressed for repeated stamping onto the fabric.
All Osei-Duro block prints are created in collaboration with artisans in Bagru, India.
Lost-wax brass casting was developed by the Asante people in Ghana to make objects for gold transactions, such as weights and canisters. Like their forefathers, Ghana’s brass casters begin the process of making metal articles by sculpting in beeswax. The wax form is then painted with a paste of fine charcoal and water and covered in a mold of coarse palm fibers and clay. This porous mixture permits the necessary release of hot air and gases as the mold is baked, giving the final product a smooth finish. Finally, the wax is poured out and replaced by molten brass. The finished brass piece is polished with palm nut fibers and sand over several days.
All Osei-Duro brass jewelry is created in collaboration with artisans in the Asante region of Ghana.
In the village of Daboya, located in the Gonja district of Ghana, indigo dyeing is said to be as old as the country itself. To get there, you have to take a 3 hour bus ride and ford a ferry, but the sight is spectacular. Here, the fresh leaves of the West African Wild Indigo plant known as Garra are harvested, pounded with an ashy mordant, and allowed to ferment in pits 6-7 feet deep. The vat takes several days to ferment and can last anywhere between three days and three weeks before spoiling, depending on the weather. Once ready, local dyers dip cotton yarn slated to be woven into garments worn into the natural dyestuff several times. The yarn aerates in between dips, transforming the Indigo from a rich green to a vivid blue, and then black, as it oxidizes.
Osei-Duro worked in collaboration with the dyers of Daboya to produce the indigo-dyed garments featured in our AW16 collection.
Along with its indigenous indigo flora, the town of Daboya is also known throughout Ghana for its highly skilled weavers. The cloth produced in this region is unmistakable due to its rich indigo color and unique patterns, which are imprinted on the yarn itself using a resist-dye technique before being woven. The dyed yarn is woven into strips measuring 2.5-3 inches on wooden double-heddle looms, operated by simple foot pedals. Strip-woven cloths manufactured from cotton and vegetable dyes are an ancient art form in West Africa, dating back to at least the tenth century. The Daboya weavers use the same equipment and techniques as their ancient forefathers - a testament to the beauty and uniqueness of the cloth.
Once woven, the lengths of narrow cloth are bought and sold on rolls, and subsequently hand-stitched to make bespoke garments such as the ubiquitous Northern smock or fugu - once reserved for traditional ceremony but now enjoying a renaissance among youth as everyday wear.
What was the inspiration behind your beautiful SS16 Collection?
SS16 continues to showcase the unique hand batiked Ghanaian fabrics Osei-Duro is known for, while integrating breezy block printed rayon and yarn dyed cotton stripes from India. The print-heavy collection tends towards easy mix and match separates and sweet loungey dresses that can smoothly transition from the farmers market to a wedding reception. Slouchy linen totes and pouches and simple hand cast brass jewelry from Ghana round out the collection.
What lies ahead for Osei Duro?
We’re excited to continue expanding production into other textile rich countries while continuing to develop processes and systems in Ghana.