The world is full of young minds making major moves. The Malyka crew is no different. Their mission: engage the young and the restless in community issues while advocating cultural tolerance. With that in mind, they are taking Toronto by storm.
Malyka Clothing is a multi-cultural concept created by three young visionaries. Malyka may seem like a clothing label on the surface, but they are a concept, a concept that brings people together to share in a cross-cultural ideal for change and positivity. The three young men, Lavado Stubbs of the Bahamas, 23, Momar Taal of the Gambia, 21, and Fahad Awadh of Tanzania, 22, all met in Canada while attending school. By sharing stories, histories and cultures, their friendship grew, and Malyka was born.
Five years later as the Malyka crew has grown from boys to men, so has the brand. Denizen Magazine now takes this oppotunity, from one TCK group to another, to chat to the three wise men as we go behind the scenes of Malyka, and the orgins of the creators and the concept.
Although they share different backgrounds and cultures, Lavado, Fahad, and Momar all met in Canada. Lavado had moved from the Bahamas for his pre-university year at Columbia International College (CIC) in Hamilton, where he and Momar met in 2003. Looking back on his first experiences in the West, Lavado recalls looking at CIC as quite the experience as he was, “learning from different cultures because it was an international school with people from all over the world,” which enabled him to learn more about the world and different cultures.
Momar’s story is one of a typical diplomat’s. Born in Gambia, Momar spent the next years in England and Kenya, and then returned to Gambia for the last years of secondary school. “My dad was always into us traveling to different countries to learn different cultures so I would be open to the world. One thing I didn’t have though, was my own culture,” Momar said. After meeting Lavado at CIC and making an instant connection, they both moved to York University and lived in same residence where Fahad was also living.
Fahad was born in Tanzania, but was raised in Bahrain until he moved to Canada at age 10. Through vacations, his eyes were opened to the world’s different cultures and customs, learning something from everywhere and everyone he met along his journeys.
“It was good learning about people from different places and the way people live, while still having that connection to Tanzania which was strong,” he said. “Since I was always back there I knew the language, so whenever I went back it was home.”
1. About your art, what does it mean to you?
Momar: We started this clothing line to represent our cultures but it grew into more than that, we started representing other peoples cultures… for example: we have the Uhuru Brand which represents Freedom. Anyone who’s been to Kenya knows about the Mau Mau’s and Jomo Kenyatta and the Uhuru Freedom Party, so we use that struggle and allow people from other places in the world to connect to it through their own struggles.
Lavado: Adding onto the Uhuru factor, the word Uhuru was still a familiar word for me, coming from the Caribbean, because there was a group called Black Uhuru with Junior Reid. …Our clothing is international, it’s worldwide and identified by people and cultures all around the world. So that’s one the aspects of our clothing line, we say we’re a global brand because, it’s more than clothes, it’s an experience. Whether people are from Africa, Asia, Europe, or wherever, the message can be identified anywhere
Momar: Even the name Malyka is a strong testament to it. Yes, it’s Arabic for Angel; it’s also Swahili for Angel, because Swahili has a lot of words that are Arabic inspired. The word itself, Angel, in every culture, no matter what religion you are, the idea of an Angel in any culture is the representation everything positive, everything good and everything pure.
Fahad: Another thing I wanted to bring up was that, like [Momar] said, it’s more than just clothes ya know? We think of Malyka as… it’s an idea, it’s a dream. A dream that, we as founders are all from different backgrounds, we are all from different places and share different experiences, we’ve come together and work together towards something positive. Malyka is that, it’s that positive future that people can work together towards, regardless of where you’re from, regardless of what experiences you have, together we share something common, we share a common future. So that’s what I think Malyka is, it’s really an idea more than clothes, and the garments are an expression of that.
2. How do you think Malyka as a brand expresses your unique TCK lifestyles and perspectives?
Lavado: We sit in a room and piece together each of our own ideas, grabbing from our own background and cultures. …It’s a beautiful process… [it] shows our connection in creating these pieces is amazing in the way we use our cultures to create them.
Momar: As we grow as individuals, we plan to design clothes that represent our place in society… it would represent who we are, where we are at that point. … For example, the first t-shirts we did, they were more urban style t-shirts, bigger fitted t-shirts, representing what we used to wear at that time. Now we’re more into form fitting t-shirts, so we branched out to that sort of market to represent what we wear, because we can design to represent what we are.
3. Living the expat life how did your external surroundings shape your mindset?
Momar: My dad was in the UN, so he made it a point for me to be exposed to world issues he was working on and I took an early interest in development and in Africa, as well as development in poverty and struggle. … I decided when we started Malyka thing that we could use it for so much good, it could be so powerful to express these messages… We sit down and have discussions about serious things that are happening in the world and how we as a brand or as individuals give influence in a positive way and that’s a message we really want to send out: ‘How can you as an individual, whether wearing the shirt or not, affect your world in a positive way.’
Lavado: Yeah like Mo was saying, for me growing up in the Bahamas globalization played a major role on me ya know. With the Bahamas and America being so close, the heavy influence of American culture and other variables influenced the fashion my fashion sense. In terms of the latest urban clothing brands that were represented when I was growing up, I kind of looked at like them like, yeah they’re amazing brands but these brands don’t have a message, they were just clothing. So in that aspect, that’s one of the reasons that with the creation of Malyka, it’s a brand where we speak through the fabric ya know? It’s more than just a brand, and once people have an understanding that people can purchase something that means more than just the clothing it gives them a better sense and understanding of the brand itself.
Fahad: That’s what Malyka is, and that’s what we bring to it; is that perspective, you know? Seeing from different parts of the world, brining our own experiences to the table when we’re designing the pieces. Being from different parts of the world and living life in so many different places is what really separates us from other brands, it’s our paradigm.
4. What were the difficulties you faced when starting up Malyka?
Momar: There’s always going to be challenges in any business that you do. Our main challenge was how to build your brand w/o losing the message, it’s very easy to make a t-shirt or a clothing line or make a statement, but how do you make it resonate with the consumer? How do you make somebody connect with not just the t-shirt they’re buying but also the whole renaissance movement and the whole plot? How do you get the individual active without just buying our shirt? I mean we love people buying our shirts, KEEP BUYING ORU SHIRTS, but how do you get that individual to take form that message and actually live it you know? That’s been a challenge in terms of having people do it without telling anybody to do it. However we found that as we continue grow as a brand and more people understand what we’re trying to do, it came naturally to a lot of people. We felt that a lot of people been thinking a lot of the same things we thought, and we wanted to put it through clothing, they just needed a platform to express it. If you go on our Facebook group or our individual profiles we have discussions up about different topics, I have this one about Pan-Africanism for example and the response was crazy… we had many people commenting and giving their different views, what they planned to do to help that cause, or people disagreed with that cause, which is the dialogue that we want.
Momar: We got in contact with a local artist in Tanzania who does wax paintings for tourists who come to Tanzania. He would get enough money to survive but he wouldn’t get enough money, so how do we make the incredible artist get the global exposure and pay him more than let’s say a supplier or a tourist. We bought these pieces from him where he customized the Malyka name and we paid him in Canadian dollars so he would be getting two or three times more than he would selling it in Tanzania. Now that action alone may seem insignificant, however you’re creating a whole new income stream for this person, you’re also exposing his art to a whole new market and at the same time he’s helping us build our brand. Now we not only do the clothing, we also do the art even though it’s not a focal point of ours, it’s art to support a certain artist. That to me is greater and more powerful than giving to a charitable organization, you as an individual can be your own charitable organization by helping somebody, not by giving it to aid or whatever. You need their skills to better them, and at the same time he’s bettering us, and that’s an very important lesson that we learnt when we found out that we actually changed somebody’s circumstance you know what I’m saying? And we’re just three two-something year old guys with not a lot of money, not a lot of influence, but we had the ability to do these things with the means that we had, and I feel everybody can do that. So that’s just an example of what we’re talking about.
5. What are the successes that you’ve seen along the road thus far?
Lavado: When we hear about people in wearing Malyka in Australia or these stories about people wearing our stuff around the world and we’re not even in stores you know… so when you hear stories it shows that we have something and motivates us to continue.
Fahad: I think one of the biggest successes, personally, that brings the most satisfaction is just people’s reactions. Sometimes we lose sight of the impact our clothes has on people, and how they resonate towards that message that we’re trying to put out there. I think that in itself, just wearing the stuff out and someone coming up to you and saying, “Oh I really like that shirt, where did you get it? Where can I get it from?” I think that is the most satisfying aside form everything else. We’re still young, and Malyka is still a baby, we always say that. We’re in a growing process; we’ll have many challenges ahead of us. It’s the small things that really satisfy us the most, cowing that our message is getting out there and people are reacting to it, and people like it, enjoy it and can appreciate it.
Lavado: And when they hear our ages they never believe it. Because we started at such a young age, like Momar was saying too, it was a growing process for all of us, we learned about each other as we grew up and watched each other mature and watched the brand mature also. That’s the amazing thing about it…
Momar: Yeah I feel like we’re wise beyond our ages now, people at my age are twenty-one, Fahad and Lavado are both twenty-two, Vado you’re twenty-two right?
Lavado: Twenty-three actually, May 1st, haha.
6. What advice would you give to others who come from similar international backgrounds and are striving for a similar dream?
Momar: I would say, honestly, believe in yourself, believe in what you’re doing first of all. If you believe in it and your confident and determined that nothing can stop you from doing it, then you’re going make it. Because as long as it makes sense to you, then it should make sense to everyone else, and it makes sense to everyone else there’s no reason it can’t be successful, that’s what I believe. … Especially international students, for example out here in Canada, there’s not a lot of opportunities for you, it’s very hard. So you have to be your own sponsor, your own manager, everything. You have to work twice as hard as everyone else.
Lavado: Yeah so true. And to add to that, the aspect of never giving up, you will see walls and failure is a part of it you know what I mean. People give up very easily so take the world impossible out your vocabulary. There are so many stories like Jordan who was cut from his high school team, Walt Disney was told he didn’t have a creative mind, and Thomas Edison who was told he was stupid. All these people succeeded over these setbacks and they became so successful.
Momar: Yeah exactly, and another thing that’s very important that a lot of people need to keep in mind is originality. Be original, never ever try to do something that someone else is already doing unless you know how to do it different and better, just do what you’re good at and do it with originality and creativity.
Lavado: There’s one quote, by Margaret Meade, that we go by, “Never doubt that small group of committed individuals can make a change in the world, indeed it is only the thing that ever has”. So that’s just touching on the perspective that anybody in the world who wants to start a company, start a movement, start a group that’s what we live by.