Image courtesy Osei Duro
Interview

Molly Keogh & Maryanne Mathias

04.06.15

Molly Keogh and Maryanne Mathias met and became friends in high school. Their serendipitous reuniting at a reunion years later found both of them in risk-taking places in their lives. This is often how outrageous-sounding ideas like heading to Africa to start a fashion line, come together. We’re the lucky ones: Osei Duro was born after the women visited Ghana and fell in love with the artisan-led crafts made in this country. Osei Duro is based in Accra, Ghana and Los Angeles and Molly and Maryanne have essentially relocated and live their lives alongside the craftspeople who produce their sustainable fashion line.

Interview

How did you and Maryanne meet?

We met in high school – we were both already interested in textiles and fashion then. 

What’s the division of labor between the two of you?

We do everything 50/50. Our skills and temperaments are pretty different, so it feels like we can cover alot of bases between the two of us. That said, we’ve now reached a size where we need to delegate more, so we are figuring that out.

Can you describe the conversation that took place when you decided to launch Osei Duro?

It was very suggestive, exploratory. The initial trip was framed as an experiment, a chance to ask alot of questions. Which we are still doing!

Did the brand come out of visiting Ghana or did you go there with the intent to look for artisans? 

We came here to see what we would find, and to expand on some work Maryanne had done on an earlier trip. There was definitely an idea before the first trip, but the brand has really grown out of what we encountered.

What can you tell us about the artisans who produce your collections? 

They are the best! We are fortunate to have found really talented, ambitious and dedicated people. Many are self taught, or learned their trades from family members. We learn a lot in conversations with Bawah the tailor, or Juliana the batiker.

Are you employing the same people season after season? Have many of the artisans simply become your friends? 

It’s ideal for us to work with people long term. We can develop the ideas together, and really refine systems that work for us all. Sometimes life happens, and the artisans will move on, but our goal is to be together for the long run. And we have definitely become close friends in many cases. For instance I’m thrilled that I’ll get to be here for the birth of our seamstress Fati’s first baby, and I may have gone a bit nuts buying baby things before I flew over…

What’s living in Ghana like? 

It’s intense. Accra is a chaotic and vibrant place, with rich smells and sounds everywhere. There’s also a great creative scene blowing up in Accra, so there is a strong nightlife and great festivals. While we love it, we also find that it’s important for peace of mind to get out of the city for hikes, beaches, and river swims as much as possible for rejuvenation. 

How would you describe the fashion scene within their culture?

Ghanaians are powerful and fearless dressers. So much color and print everywhere. That includes all ages, all economic brackets. I would say that the hip young people are embracing a real return to traditional fabrics and local culture right now. It feels really positive and exciting to see that glass beads, handwoven textiles and natural hair are totally in style. 

What are the commonalities among the shops that carry Osei Duro?

Our stockists tend to be stores with vision – stores that see that style and good design are just as important as transparency and sustainability. 

Who is your average customer? How did she discover your brand?

Our average customer thinks for herself. She is into fashion, and also wants to know where her clothes come from. She’s generally a creative directional woman herself, with her own personal taste. It’s always affirming for us to see the many ways our customers wear our clothes – whether its in the studio, at meetings, at the park with the kids, or out on the town.

Obviously producing a collection in different places around the world can result in many difficulties – how do you and Maryanne troubleshoot? Who is better under pressure? 

The logistical headaches in our lives are endless. We’ve both reached a point where we are pretty good at laughing about it rather than cracking from the pressure, but there are definitely times when we each need the other to remind us that it will all work out in the end. We also both try to meditate and do yoga as much as possible – we find it makes a big difference.

What’s coming up for Osei Duro? Where do you see the brand in 5 years?

We always have more projects on deck than we know what to do with. Housewares has just had a soft launch on the website (check out the Market section), and R&D in India with hand printing for SS16 is really coming together right now. We are also remodeling our new studio in Accra, which will have room for our long discussed artist residency program!