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The Oula Company turns Ankara wax fabric into contemporary fashion – WWD

Erika Dalya Massaquoi went from curating and teaching fashion, as a former associate dean of FIT New York’s School of Art and Design, to living it as the founder of The Oula Company .

Using her appreciation of Ankara’s waxed fabric history and drawing inspiration from the Black Is Beautiful movement of the 60s and 70s, she builds a contemporary brand based on high-quality cotton, easy-to-wear tops and shorts and midday. dresses in joyful, graphic and Mod-dish prints.

Last week, she completed a series of personal appearances at Nordstrom stores, which saw her travel to New York, Houston and Los Angeles to host lunches with friends, influencers and staff, in order to inform them about his line, which is next to Farm Rio, Staud and others. Prices are $225 to $375.

For events, she designed tablecloths and napkins, as well as gifted earrings, showing where she wants to take her growing lifestyle brand, founded in 2015 and named after her great-grandmother. great-grandmother Lula.

“I discovered African wax fabric through the dashiki, which when I was young you could buy at Sears and Bloomingdale’s,” she said, remembering her mother wearing them in the 70s. was to see Cecily Tyson and Aretha Franklin in their beautiful caftans with their hair up, and to see those pages in Ebony magazine.”

Dutch by birth, what is now a symbol of African fashion was first produced in the 1800s in factories in Helmond, the Netherlands, with the aim of industrializing Indonesian batiks for sale in Asian markets, details Massaquoi in his explanation of the company. Although it was not successful in Asia, the Dutch found a strong market for the fabric in Ghana, and it spread along the West African coast, turning into its own creation with patterns and African colors. African women wore and traded the fabrics, giving them their own meaning and names, beyond colonial heritage.

“My family, they didn’t wear Ankara every day like I wanted; [they wore it] just for special events, birthday parties and weddings,” said Massaquoi, who grew up in Miami. “I wanted to create a brand where I could wear it every day and share the electricity, vibrancy and joy with everyone.”

The collection also includes pieces to match.

“There are a lot of lines celebrating our cultural heritage through textiles, but I wanted to do it in a way that was simple and reserved and not too busy. I sent a dress to Constance White, and I wore this at the bodega in Brooklyn,” the designer said.

The Oula company
Courtesy

As a New Yorker for 20 years, Massaquoi curated art and culture exhibits at the Whitney Museum of Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and taught at FIT, earning her a doctorate. in the cinema in the fashion debate.

She moved to Seattle in 2008, continuing to curate the Seattle Art Museum, Frye Museum and many others. Then, during the pandemic, she and her family moved to Denver, where she began to get noticed for her printed face masks.

Nordstrom came calling. In February 2021, it started selling in two stores, then expanded to five and then 10 stores. In one year, Oula has more than doubled its volume of seasonal orders.

“When I started, I used the money I had from curating and created a collection every summer. And it was fun…I worked at my own pace. But now I regularly deliver a collection every season, and our commercial activity has legitimately begun.

The Oula Company Spinning Ankara Wax

The Oula company

She sources her fabrics from ethical partners in India, honoring her history in Afro-European-Asian cultural exchange, and manufactures the collection in Los Angeles.

Pieces are lightweight yet substantial and won’t wrinkle.

“There’s a point where you have to kind of educate the customer because the fabric is so thick and people are used to wearing polyester and other lighter fabrics. It’s just a different experience for people “, she said. “But once you get the dress from a customer, it’s sold.”

In May, Massaquoi was invited to join McKinsey and Company’s Accelerator Program for Black Founders.

“I’m organizing all my collections so I can photograph them properly…and then I’ll start fundraising for Series A. Our next collection will be a resort, and they want to increase the number for that,” he said. she declared. “I am so grateful for the collaboration with Nordstrom where they pushed me to evolve, but without me sacrificing the quality of the product in any way.”

Maisonette has reached out to collaborate on mommy-and-me pieces, and she’s working with her Los Angeles factory on jersey printing, bringing her aesthetic to sportier pieces. Massaquoi also wants to bring more storytelling to his brand, through social media and videos, and dreams of one day writing a book about how Ankara has moved from African diaspora into popular culture over the decades.

But then she aims to get more big accounts with the help of a few contacts and mentors from the fashion world, including designers Jeffrey Banks and Mimi Plange.

“I imagine each collection as an artistic installation. And the goal is for the prints to collide,” she said, noting that part of the fun of going to the stores was seeing how people style the pieces. “In Houston, it was a young mother who wore the dress with her cute little Valentino sneakers, and then there were older Ladies Who Lunch who bought the longer dresses. In New York, the mother bought the caftan and the preteen girl bought the minidress.It really crosses age groups and ethnicities.

“I’m really glad I didn’t waste any time in the beginning trying to figure out who my client was,” she continued. “As people are more and more exposed to it and falling in love with it, intuitively I kind of know what to do.”

The Oula Company Spinning Ankara Wax

The Oula company
Courtesy/Victoria Kovios Mosely

Hazel J. Edmonds

The author Hazel J. Edmonds