Maya Amoah stood radiating confidence in a Patcha Patcha hoodie, tastefully named after its patch-work design. Each patch is a unique off-cut from recycled African Ankara print fabrics. There’s no other jacket quite like it.
We had just finished our interview with Amoah, the creative mind behind Batik Boutik, which is a clothing line ethically made in Ghana that meets contemporary designs with traditional African flair.
She passionately picked at her outfit, telling us the stories behind each piece and pattern. She held out a glass beaded necklace with a Mother Africa motif engraved as she described the Ghanaian market she found it in.
Throughout our interview, the 22-year-old designer reminisced about her two-month stay at her grandmother’s home in Ghana last spring. It was while walking through local markets and meeting artisans that she fell in love with the bold and vibrant designs unique to her culture all over again.
Amoah, who was born and raised in Hamilton, knew she wanted to bring back the beauty of Africa back home. She wanted to find a way to express her cultural pride and shed light on artisans from Ghana.
She has a special liking for Ankara print, also known as Dutch wax and African wax print, which is a cotton fabric with vibrant patterns. Amoah delved into the history of the fabric, explaining its origins as an imitation of Indonesian batik fabric that was mass-produced by the Dutch.
The Dutch originally meant to sell the fabric to the Indonesians, but the West Africans were much more enthusiastic about it than the Indonesians. Soon enough the fabric became a symbol of traditional fashion, and now inspires Batik Boutik.
Amoah showed her designs to skillful seamstresses and tailors and began working with them to make a few pieces while still in Ghana. She posted photos on Facebook to see if people would be interested in them and a surge of orders started to come in.
She spent the last two weeks of her vacation scrambling to put everything together. Amoah found a way to unapologetically express her culture, individuality and pride while ethically sharing it with the rest of her community.
Batik Boutik officially launched last June when Amoah returned to Canada.
Creating a sustainable and ethical practice was also a priority for Amoah. First, she wanted to promote the idea of trade instead of aid by investing in and working with communities, rather than solely focusing on charity. The fashion industry is infamous for exploiting workers, and Amoah wanted to create a system that instead celebrates and showcases artisans.
“Why not bring such a big industry like fashion or business to countries like Ghana where you know there’s already such a great work ethic and so much enthusiasm to work… [and] tools that we can learn from,” explained Amoah.
“I found that by creating a clothing line it was a perfect kind of vehicle to address those issues and put them into practice.”
Amoah’s designs appreciate African culture. The patterns and motifs on a typical Sunday dress in Ghana have served as the inspiration behind contemporary crop tops and wide legged pants in Batik Boutik’s collection.
Amoah hopes to explore new designs and cuts for her new collection, particularly bell sleeves and other styles inspired by the 1970s. She often looks towards this decade because it was a time where a lot of Black women chose to express themselves by wearing their hair naturally.
Erykah Badu, an R&B singer, activist and actor, also serves as inspiration for Amoah’s vibrant sense of style. She admires the way Badu incorporates Afrocentrism in her style while keeping it funky.
Once Amoah has an idea for a design, she sends her work over to Sarah, a seamstress and designer in Ghana, who then visits markets and sends back pictures of different fabrics for Amoah to choose from. Communication is key to sustaining their cross-continental business relationship.
All of Batik Boutik’s clothing, backpacks and accessories are made in Ghana, and Amoah runs the business out of Hamilton by herself. She has no formal education in fashion or business, but relies on passion and determination to learn new skills on her own to help her face challenges.
“I put my full focus on this. I just work with that momentum and I’m learning new things every day,” explained Amoah.
She spends a lot of time trying new things, sometimes failing and finding the confidence to pick herself back up and try again. Lots of Googling, a few online courses on Lynda, mentoring classes and the support of the community have kept her motivated.
The hard work is paying off as Batik Boutik has been making a flurry of appearances around Hamilton and Toronto. In the past month alone Batik Boutik has set up shop at the Coalition of Black and Racialized Artists (COBRA Hamilton) launch event, Valentine’s Day Market at Redchurch Café and Gallery, the Can I Kick It? Yes, You Can exhibition at HAVN and Ebony Expressions’ Black History Month event.
In the future, she hopes to take Batik Boutik into new spaces, host her own rooftop pop-up and appear at an Afropunk Festival.
Amoah placed her Mother Africa necklace back on and swiftly packed her things into a patch-worked backpack before hurrying off to her next event. She left with determination and big plans to reveal in the coming months. Maya Amoah is a force to be reckoned with.
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Many months of preparation lie behind the curtain in a performance that soulfully plunges within the heart of African culture. On March 19, the McMaster African Students Association hosted their annual Afrofest theatrical production at the McIntyre Performing Arts Centre at Mohawk College.
This year’s production “Afrofest 2016: The Reckoning” serves as the third independent segment of a trilogy of shows. MacAfricans previously staged The Revolution in 2014 and Resilience in 2015. The story centres around the lives of two brothers from conflicting tribes, yet raised by a single father. With war presiding between the oppressive Brata people and the rebel Tsuli people, a muddled dilemma emanates.
"We want to be a club that gives back to the community and the people who make us who we really are.”
Oluseye Oduyale, Vice-President of MacAfricans and Biochemistry student at McMaster, shares the inspiration behind the performance held on Saturday. “The concept of The Reckoning was to show that there is a balance in the world — chaos and order, good and evil, just two different perspectives on life. Neither of them are necessarily wrong, but they need to co-exist in an [equilibrium].”
The premise of the Reckoning parallels the Rwandan genocide and the xenophobic attacks in South Africa. The themes extrapolated from the performance bring forth commentary on the consequences of terrorism and xenophobia.
In past years, Afrofest has also addressed topics ranging from social injustice, to corruption, to human trafficking. “We really tried to bring up current affairs and get people thinking about issues specifically pertaining to continental Africa and to raise awareness as a whole,” Oduyale added.
Afrofest also aimed to showcase the richness of African culture, done by the exhibition of dancing, singing and poetry weaved into the performance.
The proceeds from the Afrofest show goes into a $25,000 scholarship fund for African students at McMaster University. “We wanted to support African students who are coming into McMaster, and it gives Africans an incentive to come to university,” said MacAfricans club President Akinjisola Akinkugbe. The fund will be used to carry forth an annual $5,000 scholarship.
Primarily executed through the annual Afrofest shows, the McMaster African Students Association reaches out to educate, engage and entertain the McMaster student community in affairs and topics relevant to Africa and Africans in the diaspora.
“[MacAfricans’] number one priority is to educate people about Africa and to break the stereotypes that people have about Africa,” noted Akinkugke. Additionally, there is the concern of the underhand stigmas surrounding international students here at McMaster, for instance the assumption that “African students are unable to speak English.”
Another assumption made by many is the matter of club exclusivity, “People always think that you have to be African in order to be part of the club. That is not true. You just have to be one that appreciates culture and diversity and breaking these barriers,” expressed Oduyale.
“Over the years, we want to be a club that is an empowerment club. We want to be a club that gives back to the community and the people who make us who we really are.”
Photo Credit: Nelson Nwogu
This year’s Black History Month became a special one for Michael Abraham when the twenty year-old McMaster undergraduate became the first recipient of the inaugural Nelson Mandela Award at the recent John C. Holland Awards ceremony on Feb. 1.
The first-year Social Science student was thrilled to receive the new award commemorating the late black icon, but humbly acknowledged he wasn’t expecting to win anything.
“I thought all the awards for youth achievement had been handed out, so I thought, ‘Oh well, I guess I didn’t win anything this year, it’s cool’.”
Abraham said his dejection quickly turned to elation when he heard his name called in connection with an award that is meant to go to a young member of Hamilton’s black community who “rises above challenge and difficulty to make a difference” and “uses the spirit of kindness and helpfulness to build a better and more inclusive community.”
Having lived in Cape Town, South Africa for a decade, Abraham is well versed in the anti-apartheid leader’s accomplishments and said the award was “a lot to live up to”.
Abraham is heavily involved in social work as a director of programming for the Youth Action Council of the NGen Youth Centre, a Summer Literacy Camp counselor for the Focus on Youth Program and a volunteer in the learning resource office at Hess Street Elementary School.
To keep up with his studies, Abraham said he’s had to make sacrifices like stepping down from his previously mentioned position within the Youth Action Council so that he could devote more time to studying and Steel Express, a breakdancing group he teaches.
He’s been asked to take on a more senior role within Steel Express as the two founders look to bolster funds for a retreat called “Breaking Barriers” in March, but he relishes the added responsibility.
Abraham is aware of the privilege he’s been afforded in coming to Canada and takes any opportunity he can to pay his dues, noting that he is indebted to multiple mentors who have helped develop him into who he is today.
“I always felt that I needed to do something to pay back the fact that I’m here when I felt unworthy of that.”
He was also quick to point out that the old adage, “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” rings true in his case.
“I just really enjoy working with others and learn so much from each experience. As I’m helping them, they’re helping me just as much”
Abraham would look to emulate the modesty and drive that Mandela exemplified in the future.