Buying or selling an African dress or necklace may not be the answer to the socio-economic and political woes of the African continent, but it’s a start.
At Kulture Klothes by Isis boutique in Miami Gardens, African style is a drumbeat through the spicy-colored, boldly patterned clothing and accessories that adorn its racks and walls. The hand-beaded, painted and carved pieces are a feast for the eyes of the eclectic fashion hunter – a powerful way of updating one’s wardrobe.
But for owner Maisie McNaught, these items make more than a sartorial statement.
“By wearing African clothing you’re letting the world know: ‘This is who I am, and this is what I want to wear,” she said. “But just as importantly, you are helping an African family prosper.”
For more than a decade, the Jamaican-born McNaught has imported merchandise from countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal, including authentic mud cloth from Mali and Congolese Kuba cloth. She said the tie-dyes and weave-effect of textures of items like bubas, djellabas, kangas, and batiks captivate customers from a diversity of cultural backgrounds.
“These items transcend time and style; they have a unique sense of regality to them,” says McNaught. “Our traditional African attire stands out in any situation.”
To further reconnect with her roots, McNaught has also created Step in Time, a non-profit organization that brings women together on spiritual and cultural programs. Since 1998, McNaught’s “Rites-of-Passage” training involves women moving from puberty into adulthood. The group gathers weekly and holds re-naming ceremonies, learns practical skills such as sewing and cooking, and shares life experiences.
On a mission to what she calls “going beyond just embracing heritage” the 60-year-old entrepreneur now wants to expand her venture by providing loans to help small clothing businesses in Africa get off the ground. Her recent idea has already caused a stir – with friends and family promptly donating money and time to help promote the idea within the community.
McNaught is also contemplating a partnership with Kiva, an organization that matches individual lenders with impoverished entrepreneurs in the developing world. Through its website, Kiva provides worldwide profiles of individuals and groups in need. The company also offers complete management of loans for an administration fee covered by the interest charged to the borrowers. Lenders lose interest in the money they lend, but earn an emotional return.
For McNaught the venture will culminate a love affair with fashion and her Motherland. Helping Africa have more moments in the fashion sun offers Africans a way to reinvest in their culture and the development of a strong local fashion industry can create jobs to service global markets.
“This is an effort to help Africa move towards wealth and prosperity,” said McNaught. “It does take a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to raise a business.”
Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. Maisie McNaught poses with some of her shop’s African attire.