Ayaan and Idly Mahallim, identical twin sisters born in Somalia, escaped the civil war at age nine for a new life in the United States. The sisters grew up in Washington DC prior to going to college, one in Boston and the other in Michigan. After graduation they headed for New York City and set up fashion label Mataano-Somali word for twins.
The twins were determined to brighten up the city with a splash of African color. Ayaan told CNN, “We came into this industry and realized that with a lot of the clothes that we saw, everything was black. You know in Africa, with everything you wear it’s almost like the peacock theory-people want to be noticed, they want to stand out.”
“Africa is not a homogenous place-It has different cultures. So now there’s a medium for it and there’s more designers that are traveling abroad and bring that aesthetic to this market.”
Ayan and Idly have been in business for less than two years but they are taking inspiration from the entire continent of Africa, drawing on the traditional dress of specific regions and subcultures.
For their 2010 Spring Collection they have used Somali references and inspirations. Through this collection, the twins want to evoke the strength of the Somali woman.
“There was one silhouette that’s worn by every woman in Somalia, called a ‘dirac.’ We didn’t want to recreate it too much, we just wanted to introduce that and say it’s relevant and you can wear it in a western culture”, said Idyl.
“We got a lot of feedback from Somalis everywhere,” said Idly. “A lot of our consumers and fans are writing us and saying ‘you guys are making beautiful clothes but some of them are not modest enough, especially not for the Somali culture and Somali woman.’
The sisters were receptive and created something for everyone while staying true to the collection.
The twin’s new collection will debut on runways in South Africa this summer during Africa Fashion Week. As they grow beyond boutiques in Brooklyn and Manhattan, some day the twins hope to go global.