Maria Caley: Founder and Creative Director of Amakeya Design – ADJOAA
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Spotlight on Namibian Designer, Maria Caley making waves Internationally

Maria A.N. Caley is the founder and creative director of Amakeya Design. Maria Caley grew up in Rundu (Rundu Rural Kaisosi). She is a fashion designer and lecturer at the University of Namibia in Textiles and Fashion design. She holds a Master of Arts in Visual Arts (UNAM).

Her artistic practice explores and reflects the Namibian cultural heritage with a key interest in traditional clothing, Africa fashion and its formations. Caley has participated in over 35 exhibitions and fashion shows, locally and internationally.

Her work has been showcased in Australia, Angola, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, South Africa and the United States of America.

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Her creative and academic work strives toward changing the narrative and creating textiles and fashion that reflects the Namibian culture in the hope of creating a Namibian identity. 

We sat with her to know more about her brand and inspiration to start her label.

Tell us about your latest collection and the inspiration behind it.

I have been exploring the removed cultural objects in archives both private and public that are inaccessible to the people of where these cultural objects came from.

What inspired you to go into fashion design?

It was by chance, I had planned to become a psychologist. When I registered at the university I had art subjects as additional, but they soon won me over.

I had actually hoped to work as a textile designer or interior decorator. There were not any opportunities for me to explore interior design, whereas there was always someone who wanted me to make an outfit for them….

What is the story behind your brand name or brand?

The name Amakeya comes from a zigzag fabric introduced by Holland missionaries to the indigenous people of the Sambyu in the northern east Namibia.

It is said that the red zig-zag pattern on the fabric reminded the Sambyu people of the story of Amakeya told in the Afrikaans folk tales. Amakeya was a woman who worked on a farm in the formerly colonised South Africa.

When the farm was attacked, she managed to escape with a baby to the river that was flowing with blood. The Sambyu people related the red zig-zag patterns on the trade cloth to the story of Amakeya and then named the cloth Amakeya.

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The brand Amakeya strives to deliver fashions that are inspired by Kavango cultural heritage in pursuit of preserving a culture.

Vakwangali fashion collection © Vakwangali fashion collection

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Every piece that I had designed and worn by someone on the catwalk or to a function or to anywhere is a highlight for me. It is exciting to see my work come ‘alive’’. 

How different do you think the fashion industry in Namibia is today from when you first started? 

The fashion scene today is fragmented, and that has further brought on challenges within the creative market. When I started as a young designer in the sector, there were fewer opportunities than today.

However, there was a collective effort and determination to improve the sector
through unique good quality production and design. 

What business wisdom do you have to share, especially for people looking to go into fashion in Namibia?

When you have the capital to start a business, employ a finance and marketing person or agent for your business. Think big, get your product onto the global market.

Which other fashion brand is your favourite?

Too many to mention, I love African brands on the continent and diaspora, Christie Brown, Black Coffee and Mantsho and European brands like Dior.

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In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges you face as a fashion designer both in Namibia and generally?

There are a lot of challenges that will continue to constrain the fashion sector from growing. Namibia has a limited and saturated market due to its small population. In addition, there is an overflow of South African clothing franchises which do not offer any opportunities to Namibian Fashion Designers.

Namibian’s fashion designers need to work harder to produce uniquely
Namibian products that can break into the international market, especially now that we are in the era of ‘Afropolitan’. The world market is ready and looking for unique African designs to consume.

If you had to describe your brand in three words, what would it be?

I will give you two, Namibian chic.

Courtesy of the designer© Courtesy of the designer

How do you make sure to incorporate sustainable practices into your production

I often reflect and incorporate indigenous practice from traditional crafters. I make use of Natural dyes from Namibian plants, trees and sand or stone.

What’s your one go-to style tip you can share with our community?

All black is for a creative mind; Black is always professional and mysterious…when all fails, when you don’t have time, step out in all black.

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