Let's Talk: CLOTH

Welcome to a whole new month of interviews here on Out and About Africa! I am so excited to share the brand spanking new lifestyle brand CLOTH with you today. Co-founders Candance Patel and Oona Mitchell's collection stands out for some many reasons I am not even sure where to begin. Ok, I do! First is foremost are their products. Beautiful scarves and bangles inspired to trips to various countries around the world including those in West Africa as you can see in the Rebel scarf. The fact that I am a scarf addict (I can't remember the last time I left home without one) just made this all the better. Second, let's talk about how they work. Patel and Mitchell collaborate with refugees from around the world as well as displaced Americans (i.e. those left homeless due to domestic violence, etc) giving them a 50% role in the company. Yes folks, 5-0 percent of their bottom line goes right back to these groups to provide employment, loans, and other support. How major is that?!?! As someone who came to the U.S. because of a civil war in Liberia, issues related to refugees and displaced have always been very important to me so this aspect of their business is extremely impressive. For their debut collection, Patel and Mitchell worked with refugees from Somalia, Togo and Afghanistan. Today, co-founder Candance Patel talks with us about their business, her experiences in Africa and her inspirations and passions.

How did you and Oona come up with the idea for this company?

We started brainstorming different non-profits, films, etc. that we could work on to bring attention to displaced people in America. None of the ideas were sticking. A friend and mentor suggested we sell something and Oona and I instantly we knew we had to make scarves.Wherever Oona and I are in the world we always buy fabric to make scarves, since our first trip to Mexico together when we were 17. I went to an art school but studied public relations and was working as a fashion publicist and Oona is currently attending Portland State University in cultural and psychology studies, we're not designers but we're naturally creative people.

Your collection includes inspiration from very different places including West Africa, Asia and the midwest of the US. How were you able to combine such different inspirations into a cohesive collection?

It came naturally. For us the accessories represent much more than clothes they represent cultures, people, places and history. The fact that we were able to have such a wide range of inspiration and fit it into a beautiful collection goes to show that if we use our differences to unite us rather than divide us we could really create something beautiful.

I think the idea of collaborating with refugee and displaced individuals in the US is brilliant! What lead you and your partner to go in this direction?

In my childhood I was considered an internally displaced American because my mother and I were uprooted for eight years because of domestic violence, so my passion for the displaced is personal. Oona lives in Portland where she'd been working in the large Somali community there. We knew we needed to bring attention to refugee/displaced people in America and CLOTH was our answer.

What are the first five words that come to mind when you think about Africa?
Love. Magic. Beauty. Hope. Inspiration.

What is one of your favorite memories from time spent in Africa or around other Africans abroad?

I was at a birthday party in Ghana for a woman who was turning 90. There were hundreds of people, her entire family, the music was roaring and even she was dancing. When Africans celebrate, they REALLY celebrate and you'll never experience anything like it.

If you could go to one place on the continent right now, where would it be and why?

Such a touch question, but I'd say Rwanda. I really respect President Paul Kagame and I'd like to see how the country has changed and developed since the genocide.

When you are not preparing for the launch of CLOTH, what do you like to do?

If I'm not working you'll find me roaming around (whatever city I'm in) taking pictures,shooting video or sitting in coffee shop reading a good book.

Where is your favorite hang out spot?

Millennium Park in Chicago. Give me a good book and an ipod and I could sit there for days.

What is your personal soundtrack of the moment?

Aloe Blacc, U-N-I, K'naan and One Republic.

Who or what has been your greatest inspiration?

There are over 100 million displaced people in the world and most are in refugee camps with poor living conditions. If there comes a day when I just don't want to get out of bed, I think of them.

What has been your proudest achievement so far?

Taking this from an idea to a real tangible company has been amazing, I'm unbelievably proud of both Oona and I. We've hit so many bumps that could have stopped us but we kept going, much like the women and communities we work with.

What is the best lesson you've learned so far?

Don't let the status-quo dictate what you do.

What dream do you still want to fulfill?

I have a few coffee table books I want to publish and a documentary I'd like to produce. Those are next on the checklist.

What book and/or magazine are your reading right now?

I just finished reading "If You Have to Cry Go Outside" by Kelly Cutrone it's a must read for any young women (or man) who just wants to follow their dreams. I love the glossies, I always have ARISE around for inspiration.

How inspiring was that?!?! CLOTH hits the internet waves TODAY with the launch of their website where you can shop for their products so definitely check them out!

:: Thanks Candance for joining us today ::

{Photos: CLOTH}

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