by AYAN ABDI DIRIYE
A fashion designer is not a term you are likely to associate with a country like Somalia recovering from decades of turmoil. However, Muna Khalif had her fashion road map charted long before she could read a map. Khalif, who was born in Somalia, found her way to America to escape the chaotic situation in Somalia. She settled in her new country and eventually set- up a successful clothing line with outlets in America and Dubai. She is now keen to set up a production line in Somalia.
This journey for Khalif has not been easy. Imagine journeying across the border to your neighbouring country and before the dust can wash off, you are tossed and bounced across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States of America.
In sum, culture shock. For most of us, under such circumstances, we are more than happy to jump right into the dominant culture wagon, go with the flow and fit in. But this was not the case with Khalif. She was not going to take into other people’sculture lying down especially where her grooming was concerned.
But again, perhaps Khalif was not taking up arms against her newfound home’s culture of dressing. Rather she was perpetuating a stand that she has always taken since she can remember herself. A Muslim by religion and Somali by ethnicity, there is a way that she was brought up and there are values that she believed should be preserved and projected through the way she grooms herself. Her quest to espouse her religion and culture dates back to her childhood as she was growing up both in her motherland, Somalia and later in Kenya. “I could hardly be satisfied with most of the clothes that were available in malls,” she points out.
Upon landing in America, the land of opportunities as most have it, she could not get a reprieve despite the fact that there are numerous designers as well as clothes outlets.
As though mother nature was conspiring to shape her future, she noted that she was not alone in her dissatisfaction in the way clothes were fashioned without taking into consideration of the various and differing needs of those in need of them. “There were many Somali girls who couldn’t find clothes that were both modest and religiously acceptable. Sadly though, they had to contend with the western styles, they were suffering in silence with no recourse in sight.” But wait, was relocation, modernity, religion, culture and demand a cocktail conspiring to shape and grow the designer in Khalif? Yes it was.
“Designing clothes was something living inside me. Anytime I bought clothes they failed to fit my taste. Every time I buy a cloth I have to take it to the tailor to be restyled.” Her passion to become a designer would not fall into place without a fight from conventional beliefs, “I was enrolled in a nursing course. Common practice has it that designing falls nowhere near careers like teaching, medicine or nursing for that matter.”
But the designing bug had already struck and she was not going to let common belief sway her away from her passion. Alongside her nursing classes, she enrolled for designing. Lady luck smiled her way when she secured a position in a tailoring shop,
“I was tasked with designing cloths for this shop. I would wear some of the new outfits for Friday prayers,” and guess what, she sure did turn heads among her friends and other worshipers. Word of mouth soon caught around like summer wild fires as well as creating an online frenzy.
“You’ve indeed liberated me from the chains of western-oriented attires. Thanks to you I can now dress comfortably and carry on my prayers and other activities without being in conflict with my religious beliefs,” says one of her customers. Soon scads of orders were flooding in. After three years of swinging between her passion and a society imposed career of nursing she finally decided serving two masters was not in her interest and she walked away from the nursing college.
Business kept flowing in until Mother Nature pulled the plug on her as though to mock her decision to leave college and shake her resolve in her passion for designing. Things easily tumbled to worse and before she could get a grip they escalated to worst for the mother of one. Surviving in the U.S under such circumstances was excruciating to say the least. But when she thought she couldn’t take it any more her mother came to her rescue.
Her mother loaned her $15000 and without thinking twice she sunk the amount into starting a own designing business, more than determined to swing back and roar to heights only she could put a cap to. She flew to China to buy clothing materials. As they say, chance favours the prepared, “I ended up identifying a factory that could actualize my designs.” Needless to say, Muna was back in business.
A MunaKay design was born. The entire first batch sold within one month,
“I did not have a shop from were to sell my designs. I started literary from the ground, actually below ground since I used a basement belonging to the building where I rent my apartment. The network that I had established earlier on in my employment really helped to move the first batch fast,” she recalls with a glow to her face. Since then she has put up a shop in the States and Dubai as well as establishing a new baby’s collection called Baby Norah. The line’s name draws from her daughter’s name who has also been bitten by the designing bug.
Due to her online presence her clientele extends to England and has in several occasions shipped her clothes there. Just as Muna answered to the call of her passion, heeded to the needs of the long neglected needs of the Somali womenfolk in the States, she is now turning her ears to the cries of the woman folk of her motherland as well as Kenya. This time she is going it th big way by setting up a factory in her motherland that will supply her chain of shops within the region.
“Before setting up the factory I will open up shops in Nairobi malls to act as a launch pad for the factory.” However Muna is going over and above that by answering even a higher call. She is venturing into philanthropy. After visiting Hadgeisa, Somalia, she decided to form a foundation, Muna Kay Foundation. She intends to train and mentor women and girls in her craft. This way she can give back to her society as well as hand fishing rods to this lot. “I want to let women from my motherland have something to identify with and be an example that all is possible. If I made it, they too can be.”