Sisterpreneur: Mami Afrika
Sisterpreneur Wawi Amasha is the woman behind ‘Mami Afrika’ designs. Born in the Mwea rice district and raised by her maternal grandmother in a small village called Rwika in Embu-Kenya, she later on moved to America to join her mother just before her 18th birthday.
“Growing up in the village was the best gift by my mother and grandmother. It has provided me with deep roots of knowledge and wisdom that I am sure I wouldn’t have if I grew up in America. I deeply love Africa and Kenya will always be my home. I currently reside in the beach city of Santa Monica California.” She says.
Tell us all about MamiAfrika?
Mami Afrika is a brand of products, (clothes, jewelry and wearable art), that reflect my love for African cultures. Every item is handcrafted with love and is totally unique and never exactly duplicated. The designs/paintings are all about the celebration of life with the use of vibrant colors inspired by Africa and that warm the heart at a glance. Most of the fabrics used hail from different parts of Africa, but the majority are the Khanga/Lesso from E. Africa. I am very passionate when it comes to Africa. I know I have a role to play to preserve our cultures, so everything I do is dedicated to Africa and its role in the international community.
What motivated you to start MamiAfrika?
Back in April of 2006, I was at the Maasai Market in Nairobi shopping for gifts and just browsing the market when I discovered all the beautiful fabrics displayed everywhere. Without any hesitation, I started buying the fabrics not knowing what I was going to do with them. I was especially drawn to the khanga fabrics choosing carefully which Swahili proverbs they carried.
When I got back to Santa Monica, I was working on a painting of three women dancing at dawn, and the dresses I painted on them were so pretty that I wished I had one like it. In the same week, I had a wedding to attend, so I decided to use the sewing skills I had been taught in school and by my grandmother to make myself a dress. Since Khanga’s are very unique, I knew it had to be something simple so it would display the beauty of the fabric without interfering much with the design. The dress was gorgeous and was a hit at the wedding. A week later, I made one for my best friend and soon after, several friends and random women on the streets that saw the dresses started to inquire about them. By this time, I had started designing different styles including skirts and tops. I saw this as a clear sign of a calling to transform the beauty of African wear in this modern world. And so I started on a new venture as a clothing designer.
Mami Afrika is a unique name, how did you settle on it and what was the inspiration behind it?
It took about a week to come up with the name. I was taking a bath one evening listening to one of my favorite African musicians Miriam Makeba, also known as Mama Africa. I really liked the song Mama Africa, and it occurred to me that my name Mami (mother) is also my name Wawi upside down. I have always preferred to spell Africa with a K, and in that moment I was certain “MamiAfrika” would be the name for my creations.
Is Mami Afrika your full time or part time job?
I wouldn’t call it a job, designing is something I enjoy doing. I am a very creative person and I can’t just stick to doing one thing all the time. My creative nature is in such abundance that I just effortlessly move from one project to the other depending on what I feel at the moment. I am in the process of publishing a book of my paintings based on African proverbs that are loaded with wisdom. But I must say, I spend a lot more time painting on canvas and ceramics telling stories of African cultures that are slowly disappearing in the hope to keep them alive and as a reminder of their importance in this fast paced world.
One thing I know that makes Africa unique in the world is its simplicity in the way of life. That too has been decreasing as the illusion of possessing wealth has blinded the majority due to corruption and greed. In observing people’s way of life here in America and around the world, I see a people obsessed with work they don’t even enjoy in pursue for worldly possessions, and in this struggle, people lose sight of what’s most important; our relationships to each other as a people rooted in love and compassion. I would say my full time job (as should be for every human being) is to live by example and remind people of the beauty that we are as a human race and how we are all the same regardless of our backgrounds, race, creed etc.
I love and practice these simple but powerful truths by Mahatma Gandhi “Live simply so others may simply live” and “We must be the change we wish to see in the world”.
Did your business require you to study design or is designing your in born talent?
I have always loved fashion and I would always manipulate the clothes I bought to make them more fun. As a young girl, I would watch my grandmother sew clothes for us on the singer machine and I remember practicing a lot especially when I started taking home science classes in primary school. Later in high school, I learnt a little bit more about sewing and cutting patterns, but for the most part I am self-taught and it’s definitely a passion.
What are some challenges you have encountered since you started your business?
Two areas come in mind, pricing and mass-producing of my creations. My main goal for everything I do is love and to share and promote the beauty of Africa. If I didn’t have rent and bills to pay, making a profit would be the least of my desires, but in reality, I have to make a living. Finding seamstresses that are fare can be a challenge, their fees are not low and therefore I have to mark up the final price to make it possible to keep it going.
But my goal is to have all of designs made in Africa. On my next trip to Kenya, I plan on recruiting people from my village and other parts of Kenya to sew for me. Kenya has so many talented people who don’t have the means to share their creativity, and it is my wish to uplift them by opening up the opportunities and offering them fare trade.
Can you share lessons you’ve learned from starting your own business?
With intention, you can make anything happen. I have learnt that it’s important to listen to your hearts desires and do what feels right and true, not what others want of you and always do it with love and compassion.
What advice would you give to any sistapreneurs venturing into your type of business?
We are all here as a gift from God and a gift to each other and we all have a part to play in this life. It is crucial to listen to your heart and understand your purpose in life because once you understand it; everything else will fall in place. Never make money your priority in life, it will cripple you; rather seek truth in everything you do, trusting that God will reward you in abundance. All you have to do is your best, mastering your craft, for it is your service to God and to the world. Always do everything with LOVE!
Mami Afrika products range from $10-$200. You can check out more of Mami Afrika products here