A few weeks ago, WYV was invited back to one of the places where this magazine got it’s start from, right at the corner of Broadway and 17th, at Urban Stitch Boutique, for an exclusive showing of an amazing local designer’s collection. Urban Stitch, much like all of us here at WYV is all about empowering women, community, and all things chic. So it was no surprise that they found Oakland designer Haja Dumbuya and had to tell her story the only way we in the fashion world know how to: a proper fashion show.
This showing was one of the first of many to come I’m sure from this young designer whose family roots stretch all the way back to Sierra Leone, where her family values and cultural influence stem from. I got the chance to sit down with her for a few moments before the show as lights were being set up and models were getting done up to ask her a few questions before the big night began.
She was a nervous wreck but cute as all get out as I asked questions about her influences and her family back home. I learned that she actually doesn’t work with any of the fabrics herself really. “I have one cousin [in Sierra Leone] who goes to these big warehouses and takes pictures of all the different fabrics for me and sends them to me and that’s how I get a lot of my inspiration.” After Haja picks out the textiles she likes, she creates a design template which she sends all the way back to West Africa, where her cousin and the skilled craftsmen (and women) of Sabanoh, which is not only the name of her line, but as I learned is a pan African designers collective that is made up of a network of designers and seamstresses across the continent that all work under a united front for fashion. “Right now I’m the only one in the U.S.”, technically making Sabanoh an international brand.
“I really wanted to use a lot of the traditional patterns and shapes and give them a more modern look [like with the] corsets”, apparently a very popular silhouette in Temne culture back from when Sierra Leone was colonized by multiple European countries. When I asked about “her customer/woman” she said she wanted a way for girls to “wear [their] culture and still fit in.” From the colors and patterns, to the fits and types of garments themselves, she’s definitely managed to achieve this. Fun cuffed shorts that could still be perfect for a day in the office, to buttoned corset tops with brilliantly vibrant patterns. “I want women to feel comfortable in their own skin [because] it’s something I struggled with at first [but] sometimes I don’t think you necessarily need to fit into the ideal of beauty to realize your own beauty. You can be yourself and be dope.”
She says she’s been working desperately on sizing to truly embody this idea of embracing your own natural beauty and says that she strives to make everything she makes affordable and accessible. She has yet to launch an online store, but her designs are being sold exclusively in-store at Runway (Now Urban Stitch) for now, but she says she’s “trying to get into the online thing and social media.”
Only time will tell what’s in store for this fresh faced African princess, but I can tell she truly loves what she’s doing and said she “adore[s] Oakland” and “can’t imagine living anywhere else”, so hopefully we’ll all get to go on this journey with her and see what the future holds for her and Sabanoh.
For more info and to see what she’s up to, follow her on instagram @sabanoh_
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