Any introduction I can offer to Tereneh Mosley, fashion designer, creative entrepreneur and founder of Idia'Dega pales in comparison to her own story. Proud to call her a dear friend and also crazy happy for all of the successes and growth she's seen along her own path, this enterprising woman inspires so many around the world.
Enjoy getting to know fashion designer, Tereneh Mosley of Idia'Dega.
I am honored to share her story with you today.
Give us a little background, who you are, how you got into this game.
Like a lot of people in fashion, I fell in love as a young girl. As a child watching movies on TV, I loved seeing Dorothy Dandridge, Ingrid Bergman and Katherine Hepburn’s unique style, glamour and intelligence: words and wardrobes. As I got a little older, I began devouring fashion magazines. Mirabella, Taxi, Essence, Baazar and Vogue were favorites and I would memorize the names of the designers, but also the stylist, photographers and stores where the clothes were for sale.
When the time came to choose a major for my undergraduate degree I decided on business. At that time, I felt that fashion was not important enough of a career, mainly because I had no idea what the fashion industry was all about. These options were not presented to me at that time.
Fast forward a decade and after working in advertising and non-profit marketing I realized I was not living the joyous life I envisioned for myself.
To uncover my passions, I decided to take an inventory of the books I owned.
I had many books on design, fashion and art – far fewer on business, marketing and accounting. So there it was, I wanted to study fashion design. I also wanted to study overseas and needed someone to help pay for my Master's degree. In 2004, I was awarded a Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholarship. Because I was interested in Indigenous design I selected Australia, New Zealand and Kenya as countries I would like to study in, the foundation sent me to Kenya.
After graduate school I started teaching, first at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh and then at Parsons. I still had the desire to launch a fashion line and tried my hand launching Idia’Dega early on. This decision took me to Los Angeles between 2008-09 when the economy crashed. My career path returned to teaching and I landed a position teaching in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia! I had never been to this part of the world, and it was so exciting as a designer for Indigenous inspiration, and a community to connect with and explore a global eco-design collaboration.
The two years in Asia was a great opportunity but the teaching schedule was four full terms a year with very short breaks. During my last term I was talking to another teacher about my ideas and he said, “Why don’t you just do it instead of talking about it.” That was the kick in the rear that I needed. I returned to Kenya and began a collaboration with OMWA: Olorgesailie Maasai Women Artisans of Kenya.
Why do you do it? Run your own design shop and business?
I love it and I am in love with it. I also was not too excited to join the big Fashion Industry. I was committed to becoming a fashion designer creating a sustainable line. I also wanted to work with Indigenous artisans.
I knew I had to build the business I wanted to work in for myself.
I have a larger goal to connect Indigenous artisans on a global level through creative, design, economics, environment and culture.
Because I love fashion, fashion is the vehicle I choose.
Idia’Dega is sustainable in fair trade - the artisans I work with get paid first.
We have three practices:
- Creative Force not Labor Force – the Indigenous partners are creative partners.
- Sustain + ability: to sustain not only nature but humanity’s beauty and to celebrate the Ability of Indigenous artisans, showing the importance of their talents in the 21st century and
- Globalization for Good: to redefine something that can engage and benefit the world.
What would you do if you weren’t running this business?
I have no plan B. I cannot think of anything I would rather be doing. If someone gave me a check for a billion dollars, I would still do this. The only thing I would add is that I would actually take a vacation and learn how to surf. But I would go right back to doing this.
What other forms or art inspire you?
All of them! I don’t think you can be a fashion designer without loving all art forms. But in direct terms of design I find that when I am really focusing on design, I turn to cinema, music, literature, visual arts and architecture as inspiration. But I also love seeing sports, I think anyone doing something with passion and with full commitment is a great inspiration to me. I grew up in an artist’s household so the visual arts has always been important. When I travel the first thing I do is go to museums.
I cannot tell you how many times I have cried in a museum, I just love it. The human capacity to create is overwhelming.
What’s one thing you can’t live without?
Love in all it’s forms and the search for beauty in everything.
What do you wish you knew when you started your business, that you know now?
I heard tell that being a fashion designer you spend only about 10% designing. So true! It is a business and you have so much to do that does not directly relate to the designing aspects. What I knew at first but the lesson is only getting stronger, is how important it is to invest in the business. I would love to be able to take that vacation, or get a new tattoo, but right now everything goes back into the business.
What’s been your biggest success to date, in your mind?
The biggest success was gaining the trust of the Maasai people of Olorgesailie. They took in a stranger and allowed me to become their creative partner. The lessons I am learning from them and the process of building a global design community with Indigenous people is a foundation of what I do. It also has given me the confidence to reach out to other artisans. So the next collection, Spring 2017 will be a collaboration with Native American and Maasai artisans. I also am expanding what Idia’Dega can mean beyond fashion but in keeping with our sustainability principles.
One issue in Olorgesailie, Kenya is infrastructure - no electricity, no running water. The women spend literally hours a day doing things we take for granted. So I am teaming up with LAGI: Land Art Generators Initiative to work on renewal energy. I am co-designing a solar project, I actually will probably be in Olorgesailie when this story is published!
What is the legacy you hope to leave?
I hope to build an Indigenous Global Network, a creative community that reaches as many people as possible giving them the creative voice, economic power and sustainable tools to impact the world in the 21st century. Why can’t the garments and adornments we put on our bodies help build creative structures of our communities?
Visit the shop online at Idia'Dega. You will find both original Maasai work as well as our OMWA + Idia’Dega collaborative collection. The Spring 2016 Eni (Hers) is filled with modern, feminine designs – all hand-made with sustainable or local materials.