Jane Odartey is the creative brains behind Mawusi, a New York based label that creates wearable art for those that love to stand out. We got a chance to speak with Jane to find out a little more about her design processes, her personal style and influences.
What does ‘Mawusi’ mean and what relevance does the name have to your brand?
Mawusi is an Ewe name which means in God’s hands. I chose it because it is my mother’s name, short for Mawusinam. There is no one I care about more than my mother, so when I decided to make a genuine commitment to my brand, I wanted a name that would both inspire me, and somehow sum up my aspirations. Secondly, I had just gotten back to my faith in God, and since naming my brand “In God’s hands,” is such a Ghanaian-cliché thing to do, I thought it very fitting.
How did you first get into knitted fashion and accessories?
With the help of some amazing tutorials on YouTube I finally taught myself to knit and started my first knitting project at the beginning of this year. Though I am slower at knitting than I am at crocheting, I enjoy it and will have a few knitted pieces in my fall/winter 2014 collection.
I have, however, been crocheting since I was about 9 years old. Growing up in Ghana, the girls used to do it during break-time at one of the primary schools I attended. I asked one of them, Jemima, to teach me, but we were unsuccessful together, so in my favorite tree, I hid and practiced until I got it. I forgot all about it until I came to New York and desired a skinny scarf. When I could not find any, I bought a crocheting needle and a ball of yarn and made my own.
Being that I am always broke, I tend to make presents more often than buy them. As my boy friend’s (now an ex) birthday approached, I dug into my stuck of craft material and tried to make him a gift. The first Happy Koryo Bracelet was born, and with that the realization that yarn is a sort of awesome clay that I can mold into accessories as well.
Most of your pieces have multiple functions, for example the ‘Dipoyo Pillbox Hat’ can also be worn as a brooch. Is there a reason why you chose to make some of your pieces multifunctional?
My closet is tiny, and my budget is choking. When I buy something, I make sure I can use it in several other ways. When I design things I keep in mind people like myself. Every time I buy something that is multifunctional, I feel like I have scored. I wanted to give that feeling to my buyers. So when you buy a Dipoyo for your hair then decide to shave your head, you can wear it as a brooch, or attach it to a headband and still wear it around your awesome head. I love pieces that are accommodating.
A lot of the items are very unique and can be seen as statement pieces. Is there a particular clientele that you are hoping to market your pieces to? How would you describe a typical Mawusi customer?
Thank you for saying that! Yes, I aim to create well made pieces that stands out because I am a big fan of the one-of-a-kind item. The ideal Mawusi customer is comfortable in her/his skin. (S)he can go out in a sack and still walk like (s)he is wearing a million dollar piece. (S)he’s a trendsetter, not a follower. (S)he hunts for the unique and timeless piece, not the seasonal. Above all (s)he has a sense of humor, is playful, and not at all afraid to standout. Hence a statement piece suits her/him well because (s)he can rock it beautifully.
Most of your creations are modeled by yourself. Would you say that the designs are reflection of your own fashion style/aesthetic?
Definitely yes. I design mostly with myself in mind, but my designs are often so flexible that my customers easily make them their own. For instance I almost never wear the Dipoyo as a brooch. I love them in my hair, but several of my customers wear them as a brooch. Also a lot of my customers wear the Happy Koryo Multifunctional Necklace as a headband whereas I almost always wear it as a belt or necklace.
You grew up partly in Ghana and the USA. How important is it for you to amalgamate your Ghanaian and American background into you designs? Would you say any of these places have any influence in your work?
I am who I am mostly because of my Ghanaian roots, but America has had a lot of influence on how I think these days. The first eighteen years of my life were spent in Ghana. Though I have been living in NYC for almost ten years now, I mostly eat Ghanaian food, speak Krobo at home, and to an extent, my accent often gives me away. I am an American in the narrow sense of a New Yorker: I am open minded and unafraid of differences. I am exposed to different cultures, and I appreciate them. I know I can walk down the streets in the strangest outfit and no one would think that much of it, in fact someone is likely to stop me somewhere and say, “I love your style!” The relevance of a manifestation of my Ghanaian American influences in my work would lie within my need to stay true to myself. Hence an evidence of these influences would symbolize my ease with my current identity.
Do you have a background in fashion and/or design?
No. I am a self taught designer and maker. I taught myself to crochet, then I taught myself to knit, I am now teaching myself to sew. I like the lack of classroom influences. It means that I can do my own thing, and hopefully in so doing, I am able to create something unique.
What would you say is your favorite item in the store? and why?
I love everything I have in my store. I am a terrible sales person and I can’t sell anything I don’t love. But if I have to pick a favorite item, it will have to be the Happy Koryo Multifunctional Necklace because I enjoy it so much as a belt and as a necklace; or the Happy Koryo bracelets because I feel naked if I am not wearing them; or the Pamplobi earrings that always put me in such a great mood; or the Esi brooch which makes me feel like I am wearing spring in my clothing; or the Mateko Cocktail Hat which lends so much sophistication to my outfits—I feel royal, even when I am wearing my converse with it many holes; or the Dipoyo Pillbox Hat which makes me feel like a harajuku girl; or the Kumasiano dress because I still can’t believe I made every single stitch of that masterpiece; or the Tsapitsapi infinity scarf with its light weight and exciting texture; or the Makola scarf: oh how I love that Makola scarf! I wore it a lot last winter and I felt like the coolest person on the planet. It felt so warm, and made one of the coldest winters I have ever known, feel like a wonderful fashion experience. Like I said, it’s hard to pick a single favorite.
Do you do custom orders and if so how long does one order typically take?
My work is made to order. This means that I usually make an item only after it’s been ordered and paid for. The length of time is dependent on how laborious the item is. For instance a Koleki cardigan takes about 10 – 15 days to make, whereas a Kaneshi brooch can be completed in a day. In the case where the customer wants something different than what I already have, that can take about 10 -20 days because I will have to order in new materials. I try my best to work as fast as I can. I hate to have my customers waiting any longer than necessary.
How has Mawusi evolved since it began and where can we expect to see the company in the next 5 years?
Mawusi is about two years now and I am amazed at how much it has grown. I am coming to it with zero experience, and very little money and I have had to, and still do everything myself: from buying materials to designing, making, shooting, modeling, editing, curating, marketing, selling, responding to and emailing my awesome customers, etc. It’s amazing how many hats I have learned to wear. In five years, I hope to have Mawusi in a couple of awesome boutiques around the world, establish a stronger clientele of people who appreciate my work, a few run-way events will be cool (I am a dreamer). Also I hope to make enough to get some help so I don’t die from exhaustion, and of course, delight my loyal and wonderful customers with more exciting designs.
How can readers and fans learn more about Mawusi?.
My home on the internet is www.mawusi.us from there you can have access to my other social media platforms and blog. You can also write to me via firstname.lastname@example.org. I am never too busy to read an email or respond to one—as long as it is not a spam—I love meeting new minds and it always wet my eyes, and warm my heart, when someone writes to say they love my work, or that I have inspired them in someway, or just wishes to say hello.
I would love to thank Jane for a wonderful interview. Please note that the new Mawusi Fall/Winter 2014 Collection will be launching on Monday September 1, 2014. Visit the Mawusi Facebook page to stay updated.