Sustainable fashion in Accra goes global thanks to design duo Maryanne Mathias and Molly Keogh
In Twi, Osei-Duro means noble medicine. It’s an apt name for a label dedicated to promoting ethical fashion and preserving traditional handcrafted textiles. Maryanne Mathias and Molly Keogh first launched their line in 2009 and now divide their time between their HQ in Los Angeles and production hub in Accra, where they employ female artisans to create fabrics using weaving, crochet, batik, tie-dye and dip dying techniques. Their passion for supporting Ghana’s local apparel industry has earned them worldwide stockists and some serious fashion kudos. Vogue recently named them among the ‘cool new wave of sustainable chic designers’ while their fans include musician Jojo Abot, artist Toyin Odutola and the one and only FLOTUS.
For their AW16 collection, entitled Parts of the Whole, Osei-Duro maintain their focus on effortless silhouettes that act as canvases for artful prints. The season also sees them expanding their horizons to Peru where they have sourced alpaca knits, and to northern Ghana for specially commissioned ikat cottons. The range of boxy tops, shirt dresses, loose jumpers, turtleneck tunics and wide-legged trousers comes in muted shades of cream, indigo, black and red and make up the sort of comfy, easy outfits you’ll never want to take off. Here Keogh spills the beans…
How did you two become friends?
Maryanne and I met in high school as two young fashion fanatics. We would skip classes to go to historical lectures about crinolines together. We both went on into separate areas of the field - Maryanne as an independent designer in Montreal and me as a wardrobe stylist in Los Angeles.
What originally drew you to Ghana?
Maryanne came to Ghana in 2007 to visit a friend, and ended up producing a capsule collection here. After returning she approached me about an experimental textile research trip. I said yes, we came for three months, and its been expanding ever since. It’s grown from a wild idea and a curiosity into something that totally consumes us.
How have you gone about developing Osei-Duro?
Our first trip to Ghana together in 2009 was framed as an experiment: let’s see what will happen when our aesthetics meet Ghanaian aesthetics. That spirit of experimentation and dialogue still remains strong for us, and we are also deeply committed to transparency in our processes. Traveling and interacting with artisan makers all over the world never gets old. And having awesome people wear our clothes is also a dream come true.
Who is the Osei-Duro woman?
She has a sense of humour and empathy for her fellow human. She enjoys life to the fullest and also considers her actions. She loves beauty and knowledge.
AW16 is really about new directions for us. Bringing in Peruvian knits and the Northern indigo and handwovens feels really exciting. These textiles are so stunning that we keep the shapes minimal with those pieces. For the batiks, process is often the inspiration. As usual we gathered references and then drew with the dyers. We also talked a lot about scale of print on the body, so oversized prints like Internet Baby and Broken Barcode came out of those conversations.
Why expand production to Peru?
We have long talked about broadening the collection to include more neutral knits, which are a great textural compliment to the bold printed wovens. When we were offered a spot on a sourcing trip to Peru, we jumped. Maryanne got to go, and she met an amazing mother daughter team who make all of our knit pieces in Cayma.
How is the fashion scene in Ghana progressing?
I think the street style in Ghana is and always has been world class. People have a great natural sense of style and take dressing seriously. On the flip side, a lot of designers tend to play it safe, probably out of an understandable concern for sales. I would love to see more experimentation in stores and on the runway in Accra, and it does seem like there is some movement in this direction thanks to fashion education programs at Radford and Joyce Ababio now.
What does the future hold for ethical luxury in Africa?
We aren’t big fans of the word luxury. For us it’s important to design clothes that are not only beautiful and ethical, but also accessible. Most people buy cheap clothes because they can’t afford to do otherwise, and designing $3,500 handbags doesn’t solve that problem.