The interior of Walrus Design Inc on Cambie Street is cozy, warm, and flush with excitement over the Obakki Foundations’ Story of Us pop-up event and the attendance of its founder, Treana Peake. The philanthropist spends the majority of her time hands-on in Africa with the foundation. For the attendees, being able to connect with this dynamic personality is rare and a not to be missed opportunity.
Treana’s philanthropic journey began at only 8-years-old when an anonymous envelope of money was slipped under the door of her childhood home during a difficult time for her family. This gesture was the catalyst that eventually impacted over two-million lives for the better. To honour the generous stranger, who changed the tides for her family, Treana formed the Obakki Foundation in 2009. With it, she has built authentic and genuine connections within the communities she works with.
The Obakki Foundation’s mission is to empower women and families in the most vulnerable areas in Africa. Their newest lifestyle collection, Story of Us, is meant to directly improve the livelihood of female refugees in Bidi Bidi, Uganda.
Bidi Bidi is the world’s largest resettlement area, where thousands of women have been displaced due to the brutal civil in South Sudan. These women have faced unmentionable atrocities, lost their homes and families, and now are starting from nothing, bravely powering on and remaining hopeful despite all odds.
On her first visit, Treana was met by a group of such women when visiting Bidi Bidi, and together they created the art which would form the base for the collection and reflected their indomitable spirit.
Not only does each piece of this collection tell the unique story of each woman, it directly gives back to them. The collection includes homeware and lifestyle articles, and 100% of the net profits from their purchase go toward the Obakki Foundation projects.
The Story of Us wall hanging is a profoundly symbolic representation of the women of Bidi Bidi. Three strips of fabric, representing their past, present within the camp, and their hope for the future were woven together. The woven hanging is as intricate and different as each woman’s story, each as worthy of being seen and heard as the next.
Guests were invited to write a message of hope on long strips of rough cloth. These, in turn, will be incorporated into the Story of Us wall hanging. Each city that the pop-up tours will add more messages, and so on.
The foundation opened its first tailor shop and textile training facility in the refugee settlement area to encourage and teach skills that will give women the independence they need.
The Indigo Collection of authentic indigo-dyed homewares, textiles, and scarves paid homage to the colourful heritage of West Africa and were all hand-dyed by Treana herself. The Obakki Foundation Indigo Collection provides the women of Bidi Bidi with the ability to provide for themselves through sewing and natural dyeing.
“I have been spending time studying natural dyeing techniques and making indigo for our new homeware collection, and it’s definitely made me appreciate the skill that is involved. It was important for me to both understand and respect the process that goes into the making of these pieces. After learning what it takes to create this beautiful blue colour – from growing the indigo and pounding the leaves, to spinning and weaving the cotton – I personally have so much more respect for slow design & for those who create beautiful pieces every day,” says Treana.
In addition to the indigo, there is a selection of mudcloth textile, created with an ancient method known as bògòlanfini or bogolan. This method is traditional to the region and originated in Mali, which has mineral-rich mud collected from riverbeds by young men, packed onto woven cloth, and baked in the sun. Once the process is complete, the final product will have unique and distinct patterns and designs, much like the stories of each woman involved.
On launching this new initiative, Treana shares: “Our new homewares collection is aimed at respecting the hands that made it – through recognizing the cultural traditions that influenced the design, by appreciating the ‘maker’ behind it, and by sharing the story of what steps were required to get this product from their talented hands to yours. Authentic indigo dyeing is the perfect example of this – there is an immense amount of time, love, effort and tradition that goes into the process.”
The Bidi Bidi pop-up with its collection of homewares, scarves, bandannas, and kids’ t-shirts has moved onto New York, to be followed by Toronto and other North American cities over the next months.
Are you inspired to help? Visit the Obakki Foundation website and learn more about donating to their projects.
- Mona Butler is a Vancouver-based freelance writer.
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