Sunday, 20 January 2019

Interview with Lousie Sommerlatte of Ethical Brand Hamaji The Nomad

Hamaji, meaning Nomad in Swahili, is an ethical and sustainable brand, sourcing locally and therefore supporting local artisans who produce the brand's richly coloured and ornately embroidered clothes and accessories. Buying from Hamaji would not only be a purchase of an heirloom but a piece of Kenyan heritage infused with traditional textiles techniques. Louise Sommerlatte created Hamaji, in part, to keep these practices alive. I spoke to Louise to find out more about what inspires her and  how her clothes are made.

 1. Who makes the clothes for Hamaji?

I work with various artisans throughout Kenya.  My main tailor is a man from the farm who I've trained up. He used to be a shoe maker in the local town and now he oversees all the dress, coat and jacket production. The Kaftans I get made up by two ladies I work with from Nyeri. The rest is made by another small group of artisans in Nanyuki town.  

2. What inspired you to launch Hamaji? 

Hamaji was actually my graduate project at fashion design college in Cape Town. After I graduated I thought why not pursue it and make it into a brand. I come from a family full of entrepreneurs. The Hamaji ethos: working with local artisans in Africa and supporting ancient textiles traditions and nomadic craft, which has always been a big passion of mine.

3. Where does your inspiration for your designs come from? 

I am totally inspired by textiles, the different weaves, textiles manipulation, colour ways and traditional craft like embroidery and hand beading, so I suppose a lot of my inspiration comes from the textile itself and then afterwards I think about what design would fit well with that particular fabric. Nomadic tribes throughout Africa, and the world also inspire- especially their ways of adornment and traditional craft. I am also inspired by the harsh dry desert country in northern Kenya, the flora and the hues of landscapes.

  4. The detail of embroidery on the clothes at Hamaji is stunning! Roughly how long does it take to embroider one piece of clothing?

The embroidery on one dress can take between 1-2 days. Prior to that I sketch out the designs on the garments to then be sent down to Nairobi where the artisans commence with the embroidery. The embroidery is actually done on an old machine that is driven by the hand, so its a mixture between machine and hand made embroidery; thats why it doesn’t take too long. The whole process from sending off the garment to receiving it back again takes about a week. 

5. Why is it important to preserve textiles traditions and support artisans and what ancient textiles traditions do the artisans at Hamaji use?

Textile traditions and craftmanship is part of our heritage and history as humans; I believe its important to try and preserve these ways of creating otherwise everything will be taken over by machine and new age technology which isn’t quite the same. I appreciate something that is hand made, and hand crafted and something that takes time to create, something that has a story. There is far to much fast fashion in this world already, I don't want to add to that. It is important to support local artisans for social and economic reasons. Keep things local, and support the people in your community instead of sending off garments for production in far away countries only to be run by big corporations and in poor working environments that you have no control over. My Hamaji artisans use embroidery, hand beading and patchwork techniques in my designs. 

6. What is a typical working day like for you?

It depends, but on a regular basis I spend a lot of time in my studio on the foot hills of Mt. Kenya. I go through various designs, depending on the time of year I may be designing a new collection which means pattern drafting and making of samples. I oversee garment production and then also focus some time on social media and marketing. It is a one lady + my tailors show at the moment so there is always a lot of work to be done. 

7. Do you have a particular piece of clothing that you treasure and why? 

I have many - haha! I'm a real sucker for treasures as I like to call it. All my favourite garments are vintage pieces collected in Afghanistan or India, or parts of Africa that are at least 50 years old, the threads are a bit tattered but the beauty is like nothing else. 

8. What is your hope/aspiration for your brand and for the textiles industry?

I hope that the textile industry develops into a more sustainable and ethical one, supporting small scale farmers and local artisans. I hope that more people start appreciating organic, ethical sourced and hand made products. I also hope that the fast fashion industry subsides as it is one of the biggest world pollutants at the moment. My aspirations for Hamaji is to keep doing my best, stay true to my brand and admirers, my team and my ethics - no matter the growth or demand. 

Thank you to Louise for answering my questions! You can find Hamaji's beautifully handcrafted clothes and accessories here.

                                                                          Beccy x

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