An Interview with Maryanne Mathias of Osei-duro

Tell us about yourself – familial/personal story, education, and prior work.

My name is Maryanne Mathias. My business partner Molly Keogh and I cofounded Osei-Duro in 2009.

Molly and Maryann, co-founders of Osei-Duro

Molly and Maryann, co-founders of Osei-Duro

I was born on a small Island on an “intentional community” off the coast of British Columbia, and moved to Vancouver when I was five. I attended the Vancouver Waldorf School from kindergarten to grade 12. There was a strong emphasis on working with the hands, and I developed a love for making things from an early age.

I studied Fashion Design and Technology from Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Vancouver, and after graduating promptly moved to Montreal to start a small fashion company. I made all the pieces myself, and hand dyed them all myself.

After growing frustrated with the fashion industry in general, I decided to take a research trip around the world, and designed textile based capsule collections in Ghana, Morocco, Egypt, and India. This was the genesis for Osei-Duro.

What is the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion to you?

At Osei-Duro we believe that business should be intrinsically  ethical, and should exist to support society both by creating helpful goods and services, and creating gainful employment. Unfortunately that is not the case, so we try to do the best we can with our business.

Maryann Osei-Duro

What is Osei-duro – source of its title, and its mission, productions, and vision?

Osei-Duro loosely means “noble medicine” or “powerful magic”. We aim to support local handicrafts in emerging market countries, with our main focus on Ghana.

What makes the company unique?

We were the first to bring rayon and silk for batiking in Ghana. Since then over four companies have begun to do the same. We try to champion new techniques and ideas from traditional methods, to expand and support the apparel industry in Ghana.

Where do you see the company heading into the future?

We look forward to expanding our facilities in Ghana, while looking to other countries for production and inspiration.

What is the importance of respecting the rights and aesthetics of local workers?

Batikers for Osei-Duro

Batikers for Osei-Duro

We work in countries that are not our own, so it’s particularly important that we understand the culture and norms of those places. We try very hard to consider these when making decisions.

How does respecting rights and aesthetics of local workers improve the products?

This is an interesting question. At Osei-Duro we strive to preserve the traditional techniques from a country or region, but we reinterpret the traditional aesthetic. For instance, with our batiks, we use the traditional method of cutting stamps from wood or foam and dipping them in wax to form a resist before dying the cloth. But we develop new prints that would not necessarily be considered traditional or even beautiful in Ghana. But I think our batikers are encouraged by making something new from the old. And find inspiration in that. Even though sometimes it can be challenging.

Brass maker Banoor wearing a traditional king's bracelet.

Brass maker Banoor wearing a traditional king’s bracelet.

What other work are you involved in at this point in time?

I became a fashion designer because I loved making things. And as the business grows I find myself more and more aught up in the business development side of Osei-Duro. So I’ve decided to make things for pleasure on my time off. At the moment I’m making concrete and copper plant stands and pots, and cotton canvas painted wall hangings. I’ve also taken up a small balcony garden.

What meaning or personal fulfillment does this work bring for you?

Whenever I get overwhelmed from the stress and consider quitting Osei-Duro I think of our first employee Kwaku. He is very hard working and loyal, and we’ve really seen him grow as we grow. If the business stopped he’d be out of a job, as would a bunch of our other employees and artisans. So I’d say it’s the work and relationships and knowing that in some small way we are making an impact.

SS13 Men's shirts Osei Duro

SS13 Men’s shirts Osei-Duro

With regard to ethical and sustainable fashion companies, what’s the importance of them now?

Ethical and sustainable fashion is where fashion as a whole, is heading.

Thank you for your time, Maryanne.

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About the Author

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping and gardening, and runs In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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