Fresh AMMO: Mikuti | Erika Freund | Clothing Brand
Erika Freund in Rwanda

Fresh AMMO: Mikuti | Erika Freund | Clothing Brand

 Erika Freund in Rwanda
Photos taken by Erika Freund in Rwanda
Interview by Priscilla Ward

What’s your AMMO?
Daily meditation. It’s imperative for me.
[Also] My 3-year-old nephew inspires me all the time. I love watching his curiosity, development, and the way he loves in an unedited fashion. It is a constant reminder for me to stay expressive, inquisitive, and to just put your love out there.

What does Mikuti mean?
Mikuti means “dried leaf” in Kiswahili. Traditionally it’s spelled “Makuti”, but I changed the spelling when I was designing my logo because I thought it looked better with 2 i’s.

What inspired you to start Mikuti?
Looking back I’m not sure there was something specific, it was more of an innate feeling I had, though, truthfully I was never sure how I was actually going to do it. Also, I always knew that I wanted adventure infused in my life and I felt like the only way I could bring a consistent presence of that was if I created it myself.

What is one of the most important aspects of your artistic process?
Being patient and allowing the designs to come together on their own terms. I try to really observe and respect this process. It can be magical to watch and those are the really special moments, when things become alive. Like when I’m sitting with the woman who does my bead work and we’ve laid out various color patterns. She starts to bead and all the sudden this beautiful piece of jewelry exists that didn’t 20 minutes ago. It’s amazing!

What prompted you to travel to Africa?
I told myself by the time I turned 30 I would visit every continent but Antarctica and Africa was the last one. I also wanted to work there and try to develop a better understanding of the world, as it was, who I was in it. I wanted to experience myself in front a vastly different canvas and put myself as far away from my comfort zone as I could.

What have you learned about yourself from starting your line?
That I’m a risk take. How to comfortably exist outside of my comfort zone. And how deeply I commit myself to things.

 Erika Freund in Rwanda
How is Mikuti helping to create sustainable development?
I think Mikuti is creating sustainable development in 2 ways. The first being the obvious, we use a lot of recycled materials, which come at a very low cost to my suppliers/artisans. But the second is one that isn’t really talked about much. Sustainable development within a global market also means creating products/businesses/systems that can work together long-term. Sustainability can’t be specific to one area, such as materials; it has to be all encompassing. I can’t just create designs and jobs in Africa. The designs have to fit the market I sell to, because if they don’t, I can’t sustain the employment. Everything is inter-connected. We can’t solely rely on a story, or a cause, or a geographical region we feel empathy towards. The fashion market is competitive; we have to excel across the spectrum in terms of designs, quality and constantly seek out new materials and talent.

What have been some of the greatest obstacles you have had to overcome?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced since starting my company has been learning how to manage and communicate from a different time zone. There’s a 7 hour difference, so its common that I get up at 3 am and work or sometimes I’ll stay up till 2 am so I can communicate with my partners on their time zone.

How have you over risen above these obstacles?
I take afternoon naps.

What’s next for you? Do you have any plans to expand?
I’m in the process of signing with my first showroom, so I’m looking forward to expanding my stocklists and really getting my brand out there. There are more places I want to work on the continent; Mali, Ghana, Morocco, and Ethiopia. …and somewhere in the near future I’d like to do a line of handbags…all in good time.

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