Rahma the Label is a new brand aiming to promote a modern reflection of Ethiopian culture. The founder and designer works with artisans to develop traditional fabrics that are then adapted into simple, contemporary silhouettes. We spoke to Rahma about her influences, design process and the differences in lifestyle between Melbourne and Addis Ababa...
Tell us about your background and why you started Rahma?
Rahma: I started a Bachelor of Applied Science (Fashion Textiles and Merchandising) at RMIT. The day after I finished I flew out to London to live. I moved thinking I would do some fashion internships and try to get a job in the industry. Instead I found myself working full time in retail trying to survive.
I lasted about six months until my parents convinced me to visit them in Ethiopia while they were on holiday. While there I realised I wanted to start my own thing. London really gave me a push to try and figure out what I wanted.
I started the label when I realised that a lot of the fashion that comes from or is influenced by African culture was quite narrow-minded and very tokenistic and tribal. I felt that there weren't really any other labels that reflected more of a modern Africa.
Ethiopia is such a rich country in terms of resources and culture, however the only real fashion that comes out of there is based on traditional elements. There is nothing wrong with that but people today just don't wear those traditional garments.
How important are ethical and sustainable considerations in your process?
Very important. We have an ethical approach from the beginning to end.
The fabrics we create are made through manufactures with similar ethics too. The weavers are artisans after all, not just anyone can do what they do.
We also make sure to have an understanding with how they receive the cotton. Cotton is brought from farmers so it affects their livelihood.
After the fabrics are made, they are brought to my studio where I work closely with a couple of seamstresses to create the pieces. It is very important for me to establish how the products we make will be made every step of the way.
How do you feel about the fashion trend cycle? Does it influence your work?
With the method we use to develop fabrics, it doesn't make sense to try and compete or follow the fashion trend cycle most brands use.
Part of the appeal of a more conscious brand is the beauty of taking your time to consider what you are actually creating. All the pieces are hand made.
We don't work with defining the seasons either. When you are working on a global scale where half the world is hot while the other is cold, it doesn't work. We try to design collections with a mix.
Is your brand a reflection of your personal style and lifestyle?
Growing up in a city like Melbourne taught me a lot about style, different cultures and lifestyles that people could have. Living in London taught me a lot about where that appeal for a 'work hard, play hard' lifestyle comes from.
Then all of a sudden I moved to Ethiopia to start this label and everything I knew was questioned. Everything slowed down.
The western world values this hard worth ethic, a culture of being busy. However after living in a country with a more leisure-based lifestyle, one ruled more by family and not by structure, my lifestyle is now an adaptation of both.
The brand has both elements. A good way to explain the difference in lifestyle would be through coffee. In Melbourne, I could name you heaps of cafes that all sell great take away coffee. In Ethiopia, that concept doesn't exist. Instead it's a ceremony and a process from when you roast the beans to when you pour the first cup that you share with friends, family and neighbours. I am trying to find the balance between the two, that would be perfect.
What is your design process? Where do you find inspiration?
I collect a lot of images on my computer and my phone. Because of the Internet, I'm constantly surrounded by inspiration and information. Art, music and films are good sources, as well as taking the time to be outside.
I look back at a lot of things I've seen, remember conversations I've had with friends and then collate these references into one massive mood board. Then I step away from it and give it time to manifest. Later I annotate and see if there are any recurring themes or stand out ideas.
Colour is a really good way to set the tone and then I dream up silhouettes but nothing is concrete, just a rough idea, until go to my fabric manufacturer. Then I can truly see what we can do - that's when things get interesting and more experimental.
What has been the biggest challenges you have faced so far in running your own label? What have been the biggest rewards?
Travelling between Melbourne and Addis Ababa has been interesting. It's been a challenge trying to manage from both cities, just because of how different business is conducted in each place. But it's also very lovely!
I think the biggest reward is getting to work with like-minded people; people that want to work together to create jobs and sustain an ethical practice for it grow.
What is the most important thing you would like people to know about your collection?
The collection was made to be quite simple so that the textiles were the main focus. I wanted people to look at the pieces and envision them in their own wardrobes. I also want people to see what we can do with woven textiles that's stepping away from print. Expanding horizons.