The fashion world used to be a closed society, but over the years the industry has grown more diverse. And African fashion designers are being noticed. So much so, there is now Africa Fashion Week in New York City, showcasing African-American and Afro-Caribbean emerging designers. Africa Fashion Week was formed in 2010. One of the brightest lines of this category is that of Mataano, created by Somali born identical twin sisters Ayaan and Idyl Mohallim.
Mataano, which means “twins” in Somali, debuted in 2008 to much fanfare, and today it now includes a wide array of items. Raised in both war-torn Somalia and Washington, D.C., the sisters wanted to carve out a niche in fashion.
After college, the sisters moved to New York and entered the fashion world. Ayaan worked in design and production for houses like Jill Stuart. Idyl was a fashion assistant at Black Book magazine. Next came the launch of Mataano, with a line of 10 African-style inspired dresses. “Our dreams of becoming designers really developed when we moved to the States,“ explains Idyl. “We were inspired by fashion at a very young age so it became our outlet to be creative and really express our individuality. Since we are not formally trained in fashion, we interned and worked in the industry to gain as much experience as possible before we launched our own brand.“
Although the uniqueness of the line and its creators caused a stir, Idyl admits things were not always easy. But she says they found ways around the obstacles. "Certain aspects were difficult, others were not. We went after those avenues that were open to us. New York is one of the top fashion capitals in the world, so we were prepared to work hard. For us, fashion is a creative outlet and something we enjoy doing. We feel lucky to be doing it," says Idyl.
Now the pair is readying their spring 2011 line, which has taken on new elements from their first offerings.
“We put together a presentation every season during New York Fashion Week. This past September, we showed our Spring/Summer 2011 collection at the Museum of Biblical Art. It was a small and intimate preview,“ notes Idyl.
As Mataano expands, the sisters are conscious of trying to stay on fashion's fickle cutting edge. "Staying relevant and standing out in an over saturated market is tough," says Idyl. "We overcome it by staying true to our vision, goals and understanding the market while continuing to work hard." The Mohallims are also looking beyond clothing. "In the near future, we are looking to expand and become a lifestyle brand," reveals Idyl.