As part of my goal to share more content on my blog in 2016, I decided towards the end of last year to create a section dedicated to interviews of up and coming artists, photographers, designers and authors a lot of whom have a strong connection to Ghana in one shape or the other. My reason for this is simple; I have always thought, certainly more so in the last 10 years, that there is an increasingly sophisticated and striking amount of creativity coming out of the West African country, but for one reason or the other, not a lot appears to be written about this pool of talent. Not even regionally.
Amy Weston-Yamak, the first of my interviewees, is a British designer and founder of Makayma Chic, a clothing brand that focuses almost exclusively on the use of African materials. Inspired in part by her time spent in Ghana during her teenage years, Amy’s line showcases the versatility of Ghanaian fabric in contemporary designs. Amy took the time to discuss juggling parenthood with her work, reveal her true muse and explain what it’s like to start out in the fashion industry.
Hi Amy, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Let’s start with my first one.
Tell us about yourself:
Well, I am half English and half Ghanaian and grew up in Bristol. My family and I moved to Ghana for a few years in the 90’s. My mum and her family loved to wear the traditional kaba and slit, and used to get so excited about Vlisco fabric. I could never quite understand her obsession, to be honest, and had a pet peeve with those awful 80’s style puff sleeves that you could see on every single outfit, but I always loved fashion in general. I now live with my husband and three children not far from London. I spent a few years recently in Ghana with my husband and our children and it was during this time that I saw more varied uses of the African fabrics and they were now available in much more modern colours and exciting designs than before. Now it is my daughter who turns her nose up at the some of the fabrics I love to hoard… I guess I’ve actually turned into my mother! My daughter is actually what motivates me. I want to be someone she can look up to and admire, and I want her to be proud of me and see me really achieve something, to show her how much hard work and determination can pay off.
When and why did you decide to become a fashion designer?
I actually studied medical biochemistry at uni. I completed the course and gained my degree but it never really grabbed me. When I was in Ghana with my husband and kids I wasn’t working and was thinking of what I could do that would keep me close to the home and the children. My mum had taught me how to make curtains that were finished by hand previously and so I thought I would try my hand at that. I didn’t do too badly but very quickly realised that it wasn’t enough for me and I just wanted to concentrate on fashion. I could sew seams and knew about fabric properties but that was it – I didn’t know the first thing about making clothes. Then a friend of mine found me a school that taught fashion design, pattern drafting and clothing construction by Joyce Ababio, in Ghana. I was so excited! We were warned that it was a very intensive course and we should warn our families that we would not be “available” for the next year. Unfortunately, I was only about five weeks into the course when I fell very ill and was unable to continue with the course as they were too far ahead when I recovered. I wasn’t deterred though. I continued to buy textbooks for pattern drafting and YouTube was an absolute goldmine at the time for tutorials. The main reason I really got into fashion design and dressmaking is because I found it difficult to find clothes that would fit me well, so this was a big factor in pushing myself to learn as much as I could and practice, practice, practice.
Talk to us a bit about your brand.
My brand is still very young, in its second year, but I love outfits that flatter and show off our womanly shape and curves. The girlier the better! Last year I concentrated more on using solely African prints for my items. As I mentioned earlier, there are now so many beautiful fabrics out there to suit all tastes, so I have enjoyed making clothing that fits well and is a modern style. My ethos is that the garment should be as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside, and I make a real effort to use the garment to showcase the beauty of the fabric. I love to match the patterns at the seams which can take forever on some of the more complicated patterns but that’s what makes a nice dress or top a beautiful one that cannot be found anywhere else.
What inspires you as you create a collection?
It is usually one dress or top in a runway show, or magazine or even seen on a lady in the street that will start something. I will find an element in it that I love and then a design will start to take shape in my mind, what I would add to it, take away, tweak. Then that dress will inspire another and so on.
What fabrics do you prefer working with?
I work with African wax printed cottons mostly but I love jerseys and anything stretchy. They’re so versatile and cover all the lumps and bumps of our post-baby bodies. I love chiffon and velvet but they are like sewing butter – very tricky!
Describe the type of person who wears your clothing in three words.
Stylish, confident, modern.
If you could design a garment for anyone in the world, whom would it be and what type of outfit would you design for them?
Fleur East (X-Factor fame) certainly tops my list! She’s is such an inspiration. Her being half English and half Ghanaian like me doesn’t hurt. But seriously, she has such grit and determination to make it where she is today and proves that everyone can succeed and live their dream. You just have to work and believe. So yes, she’s one person I would love to make an outfit for. It would have to be something fierce, bold and seductive at the same time to match her personality.
Walk us through your typical workday.
I drop the kids at school and I’m home by 9.30 after walking the dog. So that leaves about five hours left to work, if you count lunch. I have my workshop in the garage, so I start working on whatever orders I have on. I usually don’t schedule a specific time for designing because inspiration can hit me anytime of the day or night – literally! I collect the kids around 3.30 and then sort out dinner, laundry and whatever cleaning I have on for that day. Once the kids are in bed, I try to squeeze in another 2-3 hours in the workshop if I’m not too tired. My husband travels a lot, but if he’s home then we’ll hang out and watch The Blacklist.
How would you describe your personal style?
My personal style is very feminine and stylish. On a day to day basis, I love to be comfortable but still try to add some flair. This year my daughter says I should wear more lipstick so that’s one of my New Year’s resolutions!
What can we expect to see in the next collection?
My next collection will be feminine as usual, and I’d like to incorporate lots of floaty chiffon and add more dresses as well. Some of my designs will also be a bit more daring.
You can find more of Amy’s designs on Etsy.