For this Maker We Love, we explore Tereneh Idia, Designer and founder of Idia’Dega. Read more to see how Tereneh created a global eco-design collaboration making elegant ethical apparel.
Tereneh Idia, Designer and founder of Idia’Dega
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BRAND AND WHY IT’S THE BEST
Idia’Dega a global eco-design collaboration making elegant ethical apparel in collaboration with Maasai, Oneida and African-American women artisans using design and building creative community for self-empowerment of women around the world. Our belief statements include Creative Force, not just Labor Force: artisans as creative and financial partners. Sustain + Ability: celebrating human creativity and innovation as well as nature’s. Globalization for good: do work that engages and benefits the world.
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND AND THE STORY BEHIND WHY YOU STARTED IDIA'DEGA?
Idia is the name of specific Queen mother of Benin, it is said that in addition to supporting her son King Oba Esigie, she was a general in the army. The saying goes “No women go into battle, except Idia.” I think that says a lot about determination and a fighting spirit, that I have, in 2019 I am working on balancing it with more love and compassion.
Dega is short for Diondega - the Seneca Haudenosaunee name for Pittsburgh. Before I began working with Oneida Haudenosaunee artisans, The Beading Wolves, I had selected Idia’Dega as the name for the company. When I met the Beading Wolves in New York, I learned the importance of the Pittsburgh region to the Haudenosaunee nations. The Seneca were the Keepers of the Western Door of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Nations.
Many people who have met me since I returned to Pittsburgh in 2014 know me as a designer, it is funny because in terms of career this is still new, my undergrad degree is in Business and I worked in marketing for several years. In late 2013, after having finished my grad degree in fashion and spending many years teaching fashion - New York City, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - I took my last teaching paycheck and went to Kenya. I had emailed for an introduction to a Maasai community in the hopes they would work with me on this design idea - incorporating Indigenous and traditional textile arts into contemporary sustainable apparel.
Nothing was guaranteed but I went to Kenya. Nairobi the capital is huge, about 4 million people very modern and cosmopolitan. Olorgesailie Kenya is about 2 hours south Nairobi, is not. It is a scattered village of 500 Maasai, most living in traditional houses built by the women of the community. To make a long story short, I went to the village stayed in a banda (hut) for several weeks and sat with the women as they gathered to bead and attempt to sell their work to the tourists who visit the National Museum of Kenya Olorgesailie which the village surrounds.
After many many visits, the “Chairlady” Esther Mpuyuk asked me “What do you want?” I had to wait to be asked. I told them the idea of Idia’Dega and they agreed. I was almost out of money and only had another week before I had to return to the US. I was so excited that they wanted to work with me. So I whipped out loads of paper and a box full of colored pencils and placed them on their studio tables. At which point all the ladies started cracking up laughing.
I was confused and asked Elizabeth Kilakoi what was so funny. She said, “Most of the women have never held a pencil.”
Never held a pencil.
I froze. Elizabeth explained out of the 35 women in the group only two had attended any formal schooling.
This is where my teaching experience came in, I had to improvise. I asked the ladies to put a mark on the paper with a pencil, where they would put a bead. At first, the entire group of women tried to work on one drawing but that like 35 cooks making one soup and soon everyone was spread out drawing it was incredible. I am a big cry baby and I started crying, which the OMWA: Olorgeailie Maasai Women Artisan of Kenya members always find odd. “Oh this is so beautiful...boo hoo, tears tears....” And the ladies are like “If you’re happy why are you crying weird American!” That was Dec 2013.
Through an IndieGogo campaign, I raised money for our first collection, which we created and showed in Paris at LaMaiZon Gallery in July 2014. We make two collections a year and in 2016 did our first collection in collaboration with Idia’Dega + OMWA + The Beading Wolves. Connecting African-American, Maasai, and Oneida adornment ideas into a new design language.
WHAT ONE PRODUCT DO WE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT AND WHY?
The Maasai Rain Tassel Earring - it is one of the best pieces we have created because it really shows collaboration of the design. The base of the earring is a simple rectangle beaded piece that is part of the traditional Maasai earring worn by both men and women. Then we extend the colors and design down into these cascading tassel of colorful glass beads that create such an elegant and dramatic look. Rain is considered a blessing in Olorgesailie. Due to climate change, the already arid climate is getting drier. So when it rains it is a celebration. So far every time I have been in Olorgesailie it rains at least once, even if it is not a rainy season, so it feels like our work is being “blessed”.
Also what I love about them is that you can wear them with a white t-shirt and jeans or an evening gown. Each one is handmade. It is a true co-design between myself and the artisans of OMWA.
IN THREE WORDS, WHY DO YOU LOVE PITTSBURGH?
Uncovering Haudenosaunee heritage
HOW CAN PEOPLE FIND OUT MORE ABOUT IDIA'DEGA?
IdiaDega.com IG: IdiaDegaFasion Twitter: IdiaDega