[dropcap size=big]M[/dropcap]aasai. The name evokes romantic visions of silhouettes draped in red: majestic warriors and stunningly beautiful women covered in beads. True, those images exist – but the reality is far more complex. The Maasai’s way of life, their culture and their land are under threat. Cultural, economic and environmental risks abound in our modern world. Yet this modern world can play a role in saving this valuable heritage.
My name is Tereneh Mosley. I’m an American with African, Native American and Irish ancestry and I’ve always been interested in indigenous design and global cultures. I spent the latter part of 2013 living in a small hut with no running water and no electricity in Olorgesailie, South Rift Valley, Kenya. I did this so that I could co-design an eco-fashion collection with some amazing Maasai women. I had the great fortune of traveling to Kenya several years ago as a Rotary Ambassadorial scholar and it was during a trip to a Maasai village that I saw the timeless elegance that I wanted to incorporate in my own designs. My friends and I witnessed a traditional ceremony, spent time with young Maasai warriors (morans) and even hiked up to a special cave were we camped for the evening. Well what can I say, I was hooked.
In late 2013 I returned to Kenya to work with the Olorgesailie Maasai Women Artisans of Kenya (OMWA) to design an eco-fashion collection inspired by Maasai adornment coupled with contemporary silhouettes. In addition to creative empowerment, this project can provide an economic lifeline for a community in dire need of help.
Actually, our first design meeting began with giggling. I placed colored pencils and pieces of paper on the tables. The only woman in the group of thirty-six who spoke English was Elizabeth Kilakoi. She laughed with the other women, then explained: “Most of them have never gone to school or held a pencil.” But by the end of our designs sessions we had so many ideas that we literally ran out of paper.
We developed the designs for The Tomon Collection (‘tomon’ means 10 in the Maa language). This 10-piece sustainable apparel collection for women and men was inspired, designed and developed in full collaboration with the Maasai women. We call it Creative Force not ‘Labor Force’ since it’s a true collaboration. In order to provide local and sustainable materials, beading and support the creation of the samples to present to the fashion industry to secure a market for the women’s work, we launched an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign.
The Maasai live with the impact of environmental devastation every day. Losing grazing land, neighboring wildlife’s aggressive search for food and fluctuating rainy seasons all make the Maasai very committed to environmentalism. In fact, OMWA was established by SORALO, a Maasai-led group committed to cultural and environmental conservation in Kenya.
On our last day I asked the women what they would do with a steady income. Their answers included the following:
– have easier access to water
– money to pay for their children to go to school
– have better housing (most live in wood and mud huts)
– being able to have food on a daily basis
To support this unique collaboration that will generate an amazing sustainable collection, please visit the campaign’s official IndieGogo page. You can contribute anywhere from $10 to $2500 and get some pretty cool perks in return for enabling eco and sustainable design.
Photos & Guest Blog by Tereneh Mosley, visit her website at idiadega.com/