FOR old friends and travelistas Dana Alikhani and Tatiana Santo Domingo, this week sees the launch of a labour of love. Born out of a shared passion for travel, Muzungu Sisters is a new fashion and lifestyle brand that brings together the best of the girls’ ethically sourced, globe-trotting finds.
No stranger themselves to brave new worlds, Dana and Tatiana have both been, they say, “privileged to travel from a young age.” Both boast multi-cultural upbringings, with Colombian-Brazilian Tatiana born in the United States, and Iranian Dana raised in Cyprus. Both also went to university in London, and lived in New York for two years, before returning to London, where they are now based.
Muzungu Sisters came about as a “natural result of these travels.” ‘Muzungu,’ a Swahili word, is largely used to mean ‘foreigner’ or ‘traveller’. The word consequently captured some of the spirit Tatiana and Dana wanted their brand to reflect.
Although Dana and Tatiana take an interest in fashion, their desire to experience new cultures has been the driving force behind the project. “Our travels were never about fashion but about the desire to discover the world,” they say. “We appreciate timeless, unique items with a story behind them rather than trends of the moment,” they explain. They have had creative input on some items (offering advice on colours, for example). In most cases, however, they are dealing with artisans using tried and tested, traditional methods, and have therefore largely deferred to the creativity of local craftsmen.
Originally, Dana and Tatiana were working on their own ideas for online projects. Tatiana wanted to travel the world, sourcing items to sell online. Dana, meanwhile, was finishing a degree in human rights and considered starting an online portal to promote fair labour practices, supporting artisans in different communities around the world. Muzungu Sisters presented itself as a natural way of merging these two projects. The combined goal became to promote the crafts of local artisans and to make them available to the global market with a collection that is ethically sourced and carefully curated.
The ethics of their brand have become paramount, and great care is taken to ensure that items are ethically sourced. This, they explain, involves extensive desk-based research before travelling, on local crafts. “Once we are on the ground,” they add, “we seek out the help of local experts, the wisdom of local artisans or community leaders and then see where they lead us.” Often, they explain, this involves a long chain of contacts. Occasionally though (and in the case of the Sicilian coffa baskets), they have been lucky enough to almost stumble across local artisans, creating exciting, traditional crafts. Sourcing Muzungu Sister products in a socially responsible way, Dana and Tatiana explain, is important both to them personally, and economically to the craftsmen involved. “By maintaining close relationships with all the artisans producing our garments,” they explain, “we are able to ensure our items are produced under ethical working conditions, and that the artisans are able to sustain their livelihoods through opening up their crafts to new markets.”
Spanning a broad range of ethnicities from around the world, the current Muzungu Sisters collection includes lace shawls from India and embroidered boots from Morocco. The items are handmade, using in many cases, age-old techniques. These products offer a taste of far-flung lands and a unique alternative to the High Street’s off-the-peg options. Prices do, however, reflect this. Dana and Tatiana’s own favourites from the collection include bolero jackets from Peru and Mochilas (bags) from Colombia. It is clear as I talk to them, that they live their brand, not least from Dana’s jacket, a luxurious looking Moroccan velvet item from the collection.
In collaboration with Momo restaurant, Muzungu Sisters will hold a Christmas pop-up shop at the Mo Café. Launching on 31 October, the day before the online store, and running up until the end of the year, it is something of lengthy launch party for Muzungu Sisters. The pop-up offers a physical space to show off items from the first collection, and an unusually pleasurable alternative to Christmas shopping.
Like Muzungu Sisters, Momo offers an up-market showcase of the exotic, and so it is a well-placed match. Dana and Tatiana have themselves been guests at Momo for a long time, and felt that along with the shared influence of travel, there were plenty of similar ideas and similarities in spirit, which made Momo a fitting place for their first pop-up. One such similarity is Momo owner Mourad Mazouz’s own attitude to sourcing items for the restaurant’s interior. Mourad travels to Morocco up to five times a year “to hand pick every item,” he says. He also shares Tatiana and Dana’s interest in ethical sourcing. “The girls have done the same exact thing,” and so, Mourad explains, “their collection fits in flawlessly.”
Muzungu Sisters Christmas Pop-Up Shop opens on 31 October. Held in the Mo Café at Momo, the pop-up will run until the end of December.
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