At 14, Shantel MamMaw got her first sewing machine and began making outfits for her friends to wear at Carnival. Shantel’s brand, MAM-MAW, now offers a range of stylish and unique designs with a strong African theme – including Ankara, Kente and other traditional fabrics.
Everything she sells is envisioned by a team of 4 talented designers in London and made in Ghana – something she is very proud of. We caught up with Shantel as she began working on her next collection.
“Africa is an amazing continent, with so much untapped talent”, Shantel told us.
“The clothing is dynamic, diverse and suitable for all ages, races and sizes. That’s something I really love about it”.
Her dedication to all things African is clear from her site and I recently touched base with Shantel for an interview, following our first meeting at an event called ‘Hair Fashion passion’ where I got to experience the brand up close.
Why is fashion important to you?
First off thank you so much for inviting me for an interview – I admire you alot.
Fashion is important to me on so many levels, when I was a child it helped me through difficult times in my childhood, designing and making clothes was part of my therapy growing up. It helped me to focus, gave me self-belief and confidence, that I could achieve anything I put my mind to.
I was always amazed that I created something of value from nothing. I also love the magical effect fashion has when I wear a gorgeous dress or outfit it can change my mood instantly to happy and I love seeing my customers faces when they too get that magical feeling, I love it!
Who does your brand cater to and why?
MamMaw is for the modern woman who doesn’t necessarily follow trends, a women that loves fashion as a way to express herself but who also wants practicality at the same time. She is a woman on the go, at the office, at that business meeting, running her weekly errands about town, socialising with friends & family, at cocktails parties, weddings, and if she’s lucky date night!
The collection is for that woman that understands Africa’s beauty and wants to represent that.
What makes your styles different?
When I design for Mam-Maw I don’t follow trends I follow what the Mam-Maw women wants and needs, I source my fabrics across West Africa and Europe creating unique but practical pieces that fit seamlessly into the modern woman’s wardrobe.
If you could work with any two designers who would they be?
I would love to have work with Ann Lowe & Zelda Wynn Valdes both designers styles were very different Ann’s styles very elegant & modest and Zelda sexy & figure hugging maybe I could of been the third designer in between their styles not too elegant or sexy and bringing some African flavour, that would have been amazing especially back then in the 1940’s & 50’s, can you imagine.
When did you first become interested in fashion?
Whoa! To answer that question I have to go way back to when I was young when my mum would take me to my grandma’s house, she is an amazing woman, she would get up 5am every morning and sew clothes. I remember hearing the Singer sewing machine revving up. It was so loud, and I was always amazed at how fast she would sew, my grandma worked for many designers, one being Jeff Banks. When I was about eight my mum bought me an arts & crafts cuddly toy sewing kit, all the fur panels were pre-cut.
The kit came with stuffing, plastic eyes, needle & thread so all I needed to do was figure out
which panels to stitch together it had a colour photo of how it was supposed to look and I remember sewing the panels together to make a cuddly toy. It was like a puzzle. I remember loving the fact that I actually made something that I could use and that looked good. I was amazed and so proud of myself.
Then, when I was around 14, my aunty bought me a domestic sewing machine and I taught myself how to sew. I progressed into making outfits for me and my friends for the Notting Hill carnival.
I would plan a year in advance brainstorming design ideas with my close friend Denise Brown who is now a celebrity fashion stylist. We would come up with fashion concepts of what we thought ‘our crew’ should wear. One year we all wore African print I designed and made rara skirts & halter tops. Another year we made shorts, trousers, skirts, dresses and jumpsuits, covered all over in satin frills. We definitely got a lot of attention each year at the carnival and that was the point!
I went on to fashion school and had a successful career as a garment technologist working for various corporate fashion companies in England & America before starting MamMaw.
What is your favourite part of being a fashion designer?
I am a very social person, so I absolutely love meeting my customers at the various shows I take part in, such as Africa Utopia and Afro Hair & Beauty Live. This is where I get to see my designs on many different women and hear what they like about MamMaw and what they want to see more of, it’s one of my favourite parts of the job.
What is your favourite garment you’ve designed?
I am really proud of The Monifa Dress it’s a best seller because of the classic fit & flare silhouette, this dress compliments all body shapes because it accentuates the female form in all the right places.
Where would you like to be in five years with regards to your fashion business?
I would like Mam-Maw to be known worldwide as THE go to brand for women seeking African inspired fashion.
And when students from around the world are looking for internship programs, I want MamMaw to be at the top of their list.
Which famous person would you like to work with and why?
Jamelia and Elisha Dixon I don’t believe I have seen either of them wearing African print clothing so would love to dress them.
What is the biggest event you have done so far?
Africa Utopia, South Bank Centre
If you couldn’t do fashion – what would be your other ‘Dream Job’?
Clothes – Casual or couture?
Sorry can’t pick just one I adore music, I have a top 5 artist list
- Janelle Monae
- Native Sun
- BJ the Chicago kid
- Robert Glasper [coming to London in November!! : )]
Growing up – who was your inspiration?
Where in the world would you like to travel?
Papua New Guinea
Who would you most like to meet?
If you could live anywhere – where?
Anywhere I’m loved
Positive message to young African talent?
- Overcome your fears
- Excel in something you love doing and make that your 9 to 5
- After paying your bills Save a percentage of your income each month for fun education & financial investments
- Be of service to your community volunteer
Remember YOU are in control of your destiny no one else, you’re the captain of your ship