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CONVERSATIONS WITH HOUSE OF AAMA DESIGNER: AKUA SHABAKA

Akua Shabaka by Myles Loftin

Introduce yourself. Who are you and what do you do? 

I am Akua Shabaka.  I am a designer, creative and model but most importantly I consider myself a storyteller. I am a cultural enthusiast who studies archival work and culture, history and traditions of the African diaspora to inform my work and creative pursuits. I am co-owner of the brand House of Aama with my mother, Rebeccalouise.

 

Talk about your journey as an artist,  how did you arrive at fashion design? 

I grew up in a family of creative people.  My dad is a musician and my mom is an attorney with creative interests, including sewing and quilting.  In junior high, I began experimenting with making my own clothes. I did not think about what I was doing as fashion design at the time but those early years led to my interest in designing clothes. In high school, I really desired to wear clothes that expressed my culture. I couldn’t find the clothes that I wanted in the marketplace, so I began (again) making my own.  Friends saw my clothes and asked if I could make clothes for them. House of Aama was born.

I founded House of Aama with my mother and we handle all of the business tasks ourselves. Since then, I have developed interest in exploring other areas such as creative writing, multimedia, photography, styling and creative direction.

 

I know that your brand [House of Aama] has a lot of meaning to you, and a lot of research behind it. Could you tell me a little bit about your brand and the ethos behind it?

My mother and I created the brand from our collective interest in African people and those in the diaspora.  We have sought to give a voice to black people through the vehicle of our clothing collections, encouraging them to learn about their history, culture, spirituality and other unique cultural traits. We really consider ourselves to be folklorists and our designs are driven by the stories we decide to tell.

 

What is your role within the brand? 

I am co-owner of House of Aama and the project manager. I also oversee the creative direction of House of Aama and its partnerships. In addition, I handle our social media, marketing and public relations platforms.  My mom is more involved with product development, production and manufacturing. However, we both are involved in the creative process and participate in the design of our products.

 

The narrative of House of Aama is very closely tied to the African Diaspora and the black experience, and when white models (like Zara Larsson in her Paper Magazine editorial) or customers wear your garments I would imagine part of that narrative gets lost. How do you respond to that? 

We do have a very distinct voice and vision at House of Aama in regards to the stories that we tell.  You know that when you tell a story, your audience is open to all who choose to listen. I don’t feel the narrative gets lost when a non-black person listens to our story and decides to participate by wearing the clothes.  I think it makes me think harder about our story and how far it can travel because if the non black person is asked about the clothing, the narrative will always return to the source, which is a narrative of black people.

 

So, you’re currently a rising senior at Parsons School of Design. A lot of people wonder if art school is actually worth it. Have you found your experience at Parsons helpful to your practice as an artist? And how do you maintain a work/school balance? 

Yes.  I am a rising senior. Parsons has been helpful to me because I came to art school with a brand and a mission.  The classes I have taken and the exposure I have received as a Parsons student has been invaluable to the growth of House of Aama and myself as a creative; so for me, Parsons has been worth it.  It has been a struggle to maintain the balance between work and school but definitely no regrets. House of Aama has given the practical application of the subjects that I study at school.  A test case, so to speak.

 

As a black woman and an artist, how do you find that these intersecting parts of your identity manifest in your work and in the way that you navigate the creative industry? 

Well,  because I am black and a woman, I give a voice to this perspective in my work.  Especially, in our last collection Bloodroot, where we gave a voice to the female characters of a roots worker and parlor ladies.  As a woman and black woman, it is hard sometimes to be taken seriously in this industry with the voice that I am amplifying, but I am not deterred.  I feel that I have a perspective to contribute and I will forge ahead.

 

2018 has been a huge year for black creatives in the fashion industry. Between Tyler Mitchell’s new September Vogue cover with Beyonce, and Pyer Moss being nominated for the CFDA Award. Does this provide momentum for you as a black creative, and do you think it’s just a trend? 

The increased visibility of the black creatives in the fashion industry has been amazing to witness as we continue to develop and expand House of Aama.  I personally, don’t think it is a trend. It may be a trend to others but it is our reality. Black culture is such a driving force worldwide that it does feel incredible to craft stories and create product in this era as there is a receptive audience for our vision and voice.

 

What does the future look like for you, and House of Aama? 

Our aim now is to continue to tell our stories, expand the audience for our stories and expand our brand into additional life-style items and art installations not just clothes.  Our customers tell us that our brand is different from other brands because of the stories we are telling behind our clothes. We are not just making clothes. Clothes are a vehicle for our stories and this apparently has resonated with our customer base.

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