It wasnt too long ago I discovered OSEI DURO while shopping at One of A Few in Vancouver. I instantly knew there was something special about this brand from the distinct look of the dress hanging on the wall. Nor was I surprised to discover the brand was backed with integrity. The line is ethically made in collaboration with local artisans in Ghana, Africa. I followed my visit at One of a Few by researching Osei Duro’s website and then took it one step further by contacting the brand itself with my interest to feature them here.
I was pleasantly surprised, as it was not long before I received a very thoughtful response to my inquiry.
And so here we have it, I am excited to share the conversation with you,
1. I would love to learn more about the creators and designers behind Osei Duro!
Osei Duro was created by [both] Maryanne Mathias and Molly Keogh. We both attended the Vancouver Waldorf High School and shared an interest in fashion and textiles. After graduating with a Fashion Degree, Maryanne became an independent designer, in addition to receiving her MBA from The University of British Columbia. Molly created her BFA in Fashion Design in San Francisco at California College of the Arts and then moved to LA to work as a costume stylist on a wide variety of projects, from films to fine art to advertising. While our personal aesthetics are quite different, we both have a high regard for quality details, uncommon textiles and clothing that feels good.
2. How did Osei Duro begin as a brand?
A 10- year high school reunion brought us back together, initiating the start of a collaborative brand. Maryanne had just completed a trip around the world researching different textiles and designing internationally. Molly quickly agreed to an exploratory trip to Ghana, where we knew that a rich textiles history awaited us. The first trip led to a small collection and another trip and soon sales to well-respected stores such as Creatures of Comfort in Los Angeles, Two of a Few in Vancouver and pourporter.com online.
3. What ethical/ sustainable/ environmental initiatives are apart of your business practice? I am interested to learn even the smallest initiatives you integrate from your LA studio to factories in Africa.
We maintain the same integrity and initiatives that we hold in our offices and daily lives, as we do with larger productions, such as working with Anthropologie. Currently, we direct our social focus towards direct efforts, such as in supporting the specific needs of the individuals we work with. [This includes] imported tools, loans for health care, or information about schools are common issues we focus on, and we find we have a lot of impact when we listen to what individuals need. We look forward to growing the business to a point where we can invest in training facilities, scholarships and other larger scale social projects.
Environmentally, we try to be aware of each little thing we consume and do. For example, in the office we recently installed a new ceramic water filter, which will reduce our consumption of pure water sachets- a big environmental problem in Ghana.
Another recent project we began is aimed to drastically reduce our fabric wastage. We have actually developed a textile for home décor that uses the remnants of our cutting scraps. We also make a point of discussing with employees and other Ghanaians the idea that environmental, economic and cultural sustainability is all interrelated and important. Consciousness raising can happen anywhere!
4. You’re prints and textiles are so unique! Do you source/ produce your textiles and garments only in Ghana?
Osei-Duro is based in Los Angeles, CA and Accra, Ghana. We produce our textiles and garments in Ghana, applying traditional techniques such as hand dyeing and weaving.
5. Do you work with any other developing countries internationally or locally in LA?
While we work out of Ghana at this point, the idea of working in other developing countries intrigues us. We hope to boost textile and garment making industry of any country we work in, honoring traditional textiles and creating a venue to expose them to the world. We have also recently begun to explore the possibility of producing a few styles in LA, and are excited about the possibilities with Made in USA goods!
6. I am interested to know more about the development & implemented practices in place to make your brand sustainable, environmental and ethical for the workers in Ghana!
As a brand, our intention is to consider the repercussions of each decision we make, however small. Some ethical choices are more expensive, however some of them actually save us money. For instance, by working directly with each seamstress we are able to give the full pay of their work to them, as opposed to paying the overhead of a factory where we don’t really know how much the sewer gets. This keeps our costs down.
On the other hand, when we buy wax print we seek out those that are produced in West Africa, as opposed to cheap overseas knockoffs. While the local fabrics cost more, our mandate is to support and grow the local industry. [Thus] buying imported fabric would have the opposite affect.
Using silk imported to Ghana has been very successful experiment that we plan to expand on. We want to try traditional techniques on other new materials now! We also love Bogalon or Mudcloth, the mineral-dyed hand-woven clothing from the Southern Sahara. [The intention] is to use it whenever possible. We love the idea of applying traditional techniques in new ways. We also think that in order for the textile and garment industry in Ghana to thrive, there must be a variety of exciting offerings and we want to be apart of developing that if we can.
7. Can you tell me more about your process working with the fabric suppliers & manufactures in Ghana?
Using our own financial resources, we have been able to start a business that provides income to at least 20 people directly and another 50 or so indirectly. We work with a small factory in the capital that’s owned by a Ghanaian woman who inherited it from her mother. We work directly with her, as well as all the other people that work there. By working directly with them, they’ll do smaller scale productions for us, or special projects. This structure ensures that the production can help everyone economically this valuable local resource.
For example, when we do large crochet productions, Ayisha our crochet manager organizes all of the crochet and that work starts true to the style of “cottage industry”. Individual crocheters work from their homes on piecework.
On the other end of things, quality has been an issue for us for a long time. Whether it’s hand dyed fabric with dirt or wax on it, or simple sewing issues, there is always something that goes wrong and needs to be reviewed. One of our major accomplishments has been taking measures to drastically improve the quality of our garments and getting results. We set in place a system of quality control at each step of the process, an incentive based pay structure with the seamstresses, as well as detailed information on each item that is to be sewn, and even tutorials on specific construction points. We have gone from 50% reject rate to 5-10% reject rate, and [we] are very proud of the quality of the garments we produce.
8. Do you travel to Ghana often to ensure the ethics and integrity of the factory, such as fair wages, clean working environment and so forth?
Currently we spend about half the year in Ghana, with the rest of the time between Los Angeles and Vancouver. We pay our employees a living wage much higher then Ghana’s minimum wage, and teach our seamstresses and other employees transferable skills such as photography, weaving, quality control, computer skills, etc… Direct employees work out of the same space that we do, as do the factory workers, so our personal standards for work environment are the same as theirs. Contractors generally work from home and have all of those comforts available to them. Additionally, we are always happy to negotiate pay advances for things like health care and school fees.
9. Lastly, what does the future entail for Osei Duro?
We are quite pleased with our steady pace of growth, but we also have big dreams. We plan to set up training facilities in Ghana to raise industry standards and create employment. Recently, the [Ghana] government here has been putting considerable effort and resources into the garment industry. They are subsidizing factories and training sewers to international standards. While this is great and certainly brings up the general skill level, most of the production is for garments at a basic level.
We are interested in creating something small scale, highly specialized, and with a capacity to produce hand-worked & high-end goods, as the traditional techniques here are unique and beautiful. We believe this skill should be promoted as a feasible and sustainable export. We are working to set up a facility that experiments with traditional textiles, merging them with the right infrastructure and training to create something that is consistent and still distinctive and exquisite.
Ideally, we envision training people who can then branch off and work for themselves, creating their own production facilities. We are also excited to expand our culture collaborations, to create bridges between creative communities all over the world. In the future, we intend to expand into housewares, children’s clothing and more accessories!
And there you have it.
It is with this level of integrity & transparency that OSEI DURO is among the leaders transforming the fashion industry, while breaking down any stereotypes that the “do-gooders” in fashion aren’t relevant. A term, I’ve seen used now a few times in recent articles posted about some of the ethical contemporary/ luxury designers.
Like any form of change or movement in the air, you can either be a leader, observer or follower. I prefer to be among the leaders myself!
OSEI DURO, I look forward to watching you continue to flourish in the seasons to come!
All photos complements of OSEI DURO
Written in Collaboration with the Marketing DIrector of Osei Duro- Michelle Ralph-Fortón