Interview: MONAA – Sandals inspired by the King of the Ashanti

APiF: Please introduce your brand.
Nana Dabanka: MONAA is the footwear label which my sister Afua and I created in 2013 in homage to our Ashanti heritage. Our sandals are handmade by artisans in Ghana. We use leathers which we source globally and refine the sandals with African-inspired embellishments.
We put our heads together at the end of 2012 and started discussing concepts, designs, branding and most importantly logistics, because the one thing we were very clear about from the onset was that Ghana or, for that matter, an African country, would be our place of production.

APiF: What is special compared to other shoe labels?
Nana: Traditional elements and inspirations are integral part of our designs. For example our slipper “Ahenema” is a modern version of the Ashanti royal slipper. We streamlined the very characteristic sole of the slipper and used modern colors for the uppers, such as electric blue, fuchsia and a cheetah print. Our sandal, “Quick Lady” is embellished with gold beads. These beads are made of bonduc seeds which in Ghana are used to play the traditional board game, Oware.

APiF: What is your professional background. How did you get into fashion / shoe design?
Nana: I am an interpreter by profession and work in the legal field. I studied footwear and design at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Design. Afua is a banker turned shoe designer and it was for the love of shoes she actually first created MO SAIQUE a ladies footwear brand before setting up MONAA with me.

APiF: How does your heritage inspire/influence your designs?
Nana: MONAA is all about our heritage. Our SS15 collection is called “The King’s Palace” and is inspired by our childhood fascination with the interior of the palace of the Asantehene, the King of the Ashanti tribe. The metallic leathers and gold ornaments on the sandals symbolize the decadent jewels spilling from the King’s treasure chests. The look and feel of the collection is also influenced by other luxe details found in the Asantehene’s residence such as animal skins, luxurious rugs that cover the palatial floors and the pom-poms which adorn the royal umbrellas used to shield him from the sun.

APiF: Sisters and Business Partners – a blessing or a curse?
Nana: It’s an absolute ble‎ssing because we believe in the same work ethic, are both driven by being punctual, neat and precise in everything we do (that’s the German in us). Since we know each other so well, we can be brutally honest about our ideas and vision without offending the other person. Also, Afua is really good with numbers and I am better with words, so we really compliment each other.

Besides, we can talk business all the time and do not have to respect another person’s personal time as much. Since we live in different time zones, Afua lives in London and I live in New York, we can literally call each other 24/7 and no-one will be mad. We sometimes have hour-long conference calls at 6am EST while I am still in bed!

APiF: How can readers purchase your products?

Nana: Our collection will be available in select stores and online shopping portals early in Spring 2015. We are also planning pop-up stores and trunk shows, so watch this space for more!

APiF: Any tips for new start-ups in the Fashion Industry?
Nana: It is absolutely crucial to know your customer and remain true to your brand. But you must also have means to fund your business and as a friend of mine once said to me “Always be prepared for success!”

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