Somali-American Twins Taking African Fashion To A New Level

Ayaan and Idyl Mohallim were born in Alabama to Somali parents. They moved to Somalia at an early age, where they would spend their first nine years. When the civil war broke out there in the early 1990s, they returned to the United States.

Settling in northern Virginia, just outside Washington D.C., the sisters developed an interest in fashion after their mother would buy them fashion magazines. Their family put an emphasis on education, envisioning the girls’ studying at top schools in preparation for professional careers. Upon graduation from college, the twins moved to New York City to pursue their goal of becoming fashion designers. Idyl quickly secured an internship with Betsey Johnson, where she acquired skills in design technique and color. Ayaan also landed a production job at Jill Stuart. There, she in turn learned how to infuse classic forms and vintage fabrics with a contemporary flair.

Fashion line

Mataano founders Ayaan and Idyl Mohallim at an event for Iman’s cosmetic line (2013)

In September 2008, Ayaan and Idyl founded Mataano (“Twins” in the Somali language), a fashion line specializing in contemporary read-to-wear pieces for women. It was initially primarily centered on dress production, with an accent on comfort. Plans were also in the works to branch out into other areas.

To establish a foothold in the fashion market, Ayaan and Idyl focused on ensuring their wear was ready for distribution. They then retained the services of a PR firm to help them advertise their brand, in the process sending out press releases and look books, as well as establishing a website. Their marketing efforts eventually earned the designers an invitation to the Oprah Winfrey Show to Skype with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. The Mohallim sisters have also been invited to showcase in Sweden, South Africa, Jamaica and at New York Fashion Week.

On their Photo-shoot in Lagos, this was what they had to say:

“While in Lagos to participate in the second annual Arise Fashion Week, we figured what better way to capture the color and vibrancy of our Spring 2013 collection then a photo-shoot in downtown lagos, while using some of the beautiful Nigerian models from our show. After the fashion show, we approached a few of the models, hair and make-up teams, and a photographer who could help bring our vision to life. We drove around town looking for the perfect location, getting off the car and shooting when we saw a place we liked. The pictures turned out better than we imagined!”

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