Rock | Mamayashi

Irie Magazine #02-03 | Roots | Mamayashi

Image Credit: © Sabriya Simon


African Roots

The Mamayashi Collection’s soft Jersey dresses with their funky and afro-centric appliqués, randomly placed zippers, and perfectly coordinated colored fabrics have gained notoriety as the choice clothing for the hip, roots-conscious, urban fashionista. Created by a Jamaican-born, New York-bred daughter of a tailor and determined mother, this collection is essentially an extension of Mamayashi herself.

She has progressed from a child making doll’s clothes in her father’s tailor shop, and a teenager redesigning store-bought clothes and experimenting with daring facial adornments, to a bonafide celeb designer with original creations rooted in Africa and sporting timeless sensuality. Known for their geometric cuts and patterns, her designs are a result of applying math skills like logic, critical thinking, geometry, calculus to her work: “I was taught to create clothes by mathematicians and scientists,” shares Mamayashi about the method behind the magic.

Mamayashi’s line is always in motion. Right now, her pieces are predominantly tube dresses, halter dresses and skirts, with some off shoulder tops. Mamayashi does not have a favorite color. She loves them all with the same enduring passion. So a combination of turquoise, mustard and pumpkin; or lilac, white and baby pink; or even neon greens and pinks are in fact a pleasant surprise to some, and a feature her loyal customers have come to expect. In fact the red, green and gold combination which is popular in the Rastafarian culture is not a dominant theme in her collection. Not to worry, her colorful pieces, as well as her bangle clutches, dubbed after the appliqués attached to them such as ‘Rasta Baby’, ‘Rastafari’, ‘Ethiopia’, ‘Her Majesty’, ‘Che Gueverra’, ‘Marcus Garvey’, ‘Ethiopian Millineum’, ‘Empress Menen’ and ‘weed leaf’; are surely outward reflections of her Rastafarian faith and her passion for Africana studies (which she started at Brown University).

Mamayashi first displayed and sold her designs on the internet. She was home with her newborn and spent much of her time designing and sewing. The response was very encouraging. After developing a strong online following, she returned home to Jamaica with her young son, to introduce him to his culture and establish her brand on the local scene. Since 2006, Mamayashi Collection has been featured in shows in her hometown of Christina, Manchester including Couture Style in 2006 and most recently Claat Daze in 2010. Mamayashi Collection debuted at Style Week, one of the Region’s premier fashion weeks, in 2008. Mamayashi secured an exclusive deal with the uber-exclusive Stanley and Empress Boutique and made further inroads on the Jamaican fashion scene by getting well-known artists such as Queen Ifrica, Alaine, and Etana to wear her outfits in videos, stage shows and appearances. Singer/songwriter Janine ‘Jah9’ Cunningham is the spokesmodel for the line. For the last three years, she has shown her pieces on local live television talent show Magnum Kings and Queens of Dancehall. The Mamayashi Collection has also been featured on television Jamaica’s morning talk show, Smile Jamaica.

Now relocated to New York, Mamayashi has been heavily marketing her collection through the collaborative efforts with Tuff Like Iron and Hariet’s. She has not strayed from her online presence which kicked off her success. Her loyal Facebook following has enabled the line to be introduced to many around the world. This year Mamayashi Collection has been featured at fashion shows in Martinique with shows in France on the card. The number of celebrities sporting a Mamayashi piece continues to grow: Queen Ifrica, Una Morgan, Cherine Anderson, Nelly Stharre, marie-claire, Barbara Hannah-Blake, Denise “Isis” Miller, Empress Mullings, Elise Kelly, Sophia Squire, Melissa Fearon, Vania Colours and Ayeola George are some Caribbean entertainers who are proud to wear their Mamayashi original pieces. The men (Tony Rebel, Konshens, Tarrus Riley, Majah Bless, Erup and Michael Franti) have shown their support as well, further validation of the appeal and reach
of the Mamayashi signature style.

Mamayashi says she is “looking forward to impacting culture worldwide.”

The Interview

IRIE. Take us back to your childhood when you would make doll clothes in your father’s tailor shop?

Mamayashi: My father, Michael Williams, was an amazing tailor. Very neat and meticulous. Everybody still talks about him. How neat he was. How he could make things perfect.

I would watch him work. I knew my style was different because I had a little rebel in me. I knew I couldn’t just make those kind of clothes but I did appreciate the quality and time he spent; the effort that he put into it. He never watched time. He would say, ‘this is art… it’s not about time’. I hear his voice all the time. “No man, do it over. No man, not going to make it.” He is still a big influence to me.

My father passed away two years ago. It was kind of sudden. Anybody will tell you this. After someone passes away, they’re in your life more than before. You think about them more. You feel them more. You hear their voice more than when they were alive. He is such a big part of my life. I really feel him more than ever.”

IRIE. When did you decide to become a fashion designer?

Mamayashi: I’ve always been changing my clothes, making new clothes. I like it when I have a sewing machine around. I really do. In high school I didn’t have a sewing machine. So I would use anything I could to make new clothes. I would tape my clothes, glue my clothes, staple my clothes. I would do anything to change my clothes or to make new clothes. It was part of me. If I don’t like it, I have to change it. I couldn’t really get to deal with it properly until I got a sewing machine. I went to college in Providence and that’s when I bought a vintage sewing machine at a yard sale. I got it for $10. It was an amazing Singer sewing machine. I started to make clothes to go to parties. I would make costumes for cultural groups. Caribbean fashion for carnival.

I didn’t start to sell my things until after my first son was born. This is when online was going strong. I was in this online group, a natural hair online group. I had locks then. I was making bags and shirts and the group was buying it and supporting it. Just this group alone. I couldn’t believe it. After awhile, I was thinking. “I think i want to do this for a living.” I remember posting about it. I have to give credit to that site. I wouldn’t have thought about it if it wasn’t for that support. I kept hearing these women saying “that’s nice” and “i would buy that”. Even if they didn’t buy it, just the fact that they liked it, was giving me a boost. I never thought it was possible. My whole life, I thought I was going to be a doctor. I never thought I would make clothes one day. I was in the math and science program. I never thought, “I’m going to make clothes.” That’s ridiculous. There’s no money in it. I’m going to be a big thing… a doctor, a lawyer. This life never occurred to me at all. But here I am!

IRIE. What is your fascination with incorporating zippers in your design?

Mamayashi: I’ve always liked shiny, metal things. I think it’s the metal in the zipper. I like the ones with the metal clasp. I like the gold ones and the silver ones. I like that touch of metal on the clothing. I like that the zipper can open both ways.

IRIE. As a graphic designer who loves to explore typography, I enjoy your designs that mesh text and images. They evoke a positive message. Are these designs meant to make a positive statement or to start a conversation?

Mamayashi: They are meant to do everything but start a conversation. I don’t really think about that part. I do think about the color and the message. The added layer on the fabric. It’s more about the piece itself and not about how it will make someone feel. It’s completely about me and the design.

Irie Magazine | Roots | Mamayashi
Rock | Mamayashi 1

IRIE. How do you know when one of your designs are complete?

Mamayashi: It’s a feeling. It’s just a feeling you get. I’ve learned to get that feeling faster over time since I have to make a certain amount of things. You don’t over do.

It’s easier over time especially when you are building in your own ideas. You know what works and you just do it. It use to be harder for me. I use to take hours to make one piece. Now, it’s much faster.

IRIE. Your designs are an extension of yourself. Can you explain?

Mamayashi: Each design is created out of my truth. Every piece has been lovingly created and developed to a point where I would rock ANY of my styles and feel good about it.

It’s really an honor that so many people share this sense and support the vibes.

IRIE. You’ve worked with artists such as Jah 9, Tuff Like Iron, Hempress Sativa, Queen Ifrica and Protoje to name a few. What’s the feeling like to see your designs displayed proudly on these amazing reggae artists?

Mamayashi: It’s amazing! Queen Ifrica and Jah9 were the first entertainers to give me support in that way. It’s very empowering. They encourage me because they know that what I do it’s not about money. They constantly tell me “keep on doing what you’re doing.” They show a lot of love and support. The fact that they want to wear my designs on stage, it’s humbling. To be honest with you, I don’t really spend that much time thinking about that kind of stuff. I do appreciate it!

IRIE. What’s your favorite part about being a fashion designer?

Mamayashi: I think it’s the release that I get from creating my designs. I get to create everyday and share it with the world. And people are wearing my designs. It’s on stages, it’s on tv. That’s the best part of what I do… to be able to create my designs and share it with everyone.

IRIE. What are your plans for the future?

Mamayashi: Right now I plan on traveling for the summer and doing festivals abroad. Down the road, I do see my collection getting bigger.

I would like to build a domestic violence shelter system in Jamaica funded by Mamayashi!

IRIE. Much Love and Respect, Mamayashi! Irie Magazine Logo

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Irie Magazine | Mamayashi Collection - Black Star Blue Moon
Rock | Mamayashi 1