STUDIO DOA: PROFILE
What inspired the creation of the brand?
The overwhelming sensory experience of Kenya. The saturated colours, the culture, the creative attitude- it’s all out in the open. There is a vastness there that contrasts the feeling I can sometimes get being London-centric. Through Doa I want to create a brand that is fulfilling and positive in both its creative output and the behind the scenes- that was a big drive for the creation of Doa.
What is the brand’s connection to the continent?
I have spent half of my life in Kenya, my mother grew up there and all my maternal family still live in rural Nakuru. Because of my experiences and personal connections since a young age, when the inception of Doa began it felt intrinsic to me that I work with artisans and suppliers based in communities I knew had the
craftsmanship to co-create with me.
Describe the design aesthetic of your brand; what inspires it and how would you describe it to
someone who has never seen it?
Doa is an exploration of handcrafted form, a way of playing with character and mood through metals. Our pieces are designed to become an extension of character expression. Our recent collection ‘Twilight Cave’ took its name from the translation of ‘Enkapune ya muto’; a cave in the rift valley of Kenya where some of the earliest signs of stone age jewellery making can be found, dating back 40,000 years ago. I really like to look at the primordial elements of body ornaments, and explore story telling through our pieces. I also love looking at weird shapes and symbols used in surrealist art and translating them into more sculptural, juicy objects to be worn. A metamorphosis with all of their abstractions and
Tell us about the materials used in production and why they were selected?
For our jewellery we are using materials such as recycled brass, Rift Valley Obsidian, gold and silver. We source both the recycled brass and Rift Valley obsidian locally and are currently working to find a source of local silver too, this is a work in progress. For our gold we have been working with the ASGM programme for the past two years to train up groups in Western Kenya to safely mine gold in a safe, mercury free environment. This provides us and other Kenyan designers with local, traceable gold. I want to continue this journey, in addition to growing training programmes with our artisans.
Recycled brass is a widely used jewellery metal with Kenyan artisans. This is because it is very easy to source - you can make a ring from a melted down brass lock or anything else that is unused and available. Aside from the ease of its sourcing, the familiarity and ties with Kenya, I love the aesthetic of brass and the way it catches the light. It is the best affordable imitation gold; it is an incredibly beautiful metal.
With our use of Obsidian, this has been a really amazing journey that I am super proud of. I grew up in a very volcanic part of rural Kenya and there are pieces of Obsidian all over the ground wherever you go. Across the Rift Valley huge ‘Obsidian quarries’ with knaps of Obsidian that were used for spear heads as far back as the Stone Age can be found. I was thinking about which stone or material is readily available in Kenya but not already used by Kenyan designers and Obsidian came to mind. I quickly found out why jewellers find it so hard to work with!... Obsidian is a very soft but brittle stone which breaks very easily when the trapped gas in the rock is heated. After a long journey of experimenting with sawing, drilling, annealing, melting I finally found a way of getting some control over the shape of this rock.
For Doa clothing we use silks produced by Eri and Mulberry silk worms. I searched everywhere for locally grown materials on my sourcing journey and eventually came across a small sample of silk down in Machakos, Makueni County at a female-run textile weaving studio. This beautiful material is a combination of their locally grown Eri Silk, which is traditionally used in homeware as it has more of a sturdy linen feel, and the Mulberry Silk grown in the more northern regions of Kenya which is the widely used and most recognised silk in womenswear. The combination weave of the two silks together offer the strength of the Eri and the beauty of the Mulberry. The result is really special in the way of the aesthetic and hand feel but also from the journey we took to create this pairing. The other silks I have sourced previously have been vintage silk headscarves found in the Mitumba Market which we have made into one-off tops and use for our jewellery bags.
What is the design process like when creating a product?
I love working directly onto the body with both my clothing and jewellery designs. I am definitely a 3D designer and always struggled with traditional pattern cutting. I love having the metal or wax in my hands to let the designs come into their own form. When I don’t have those materials I either draw straight onto my hands, or use paper models to get a feel for a shape. I find the works of Barragan, Kandinsky and more recently, Miro have perfectly imperfect forms that I like to envision as architecture on the body.
By using the ancient method of Lost Wax Carving (where the pieces are cast in gold or silver from a hand-carved wax mould) we can add a really textural bubble-like or drip element to the pieces. I work with two amazing silversmiths who are the only people working with lost wax in Kenya. They are two brothers who sit side by side cross legged at their workshops desks smoking beedis in hot muggy Mombasa. Going to visit them is like going back in time or into another world!
How would you describe your customer?
Earthy, bold, balanced.
They are drawn to peculiar, expressive pieces and appreciate that they can wear Doa in their own way. Like the designs themselves, the Doa customer breaks out of conventional moulds and appreciates how jewellery can be more than an accessory, but a statement of expression. Our considered process speaks to their own consciousness too; they wish to associate with brands who are making beautiful pieces that support
more than just aesthetic.
What are the main challenges you’ve faced as a business and as creatives since launching?
Trying to create a conscious brand can mean trying to reach multiple goals all at once, learning to pace myself and keep noting what I’ve achieved so far. It is a balancing act to sustain and grow simultaneously and the pressure of wanting to do everything to the best of my ability whilst also being in constant development makes demands on both personal and professional areas of life.
The Coronavirus impact was pretty extreme as Kenya had strict rules in place on movement which made life hard for them and production impossible for the brand. But from this challenge it gave way to a growth of research of how to improve and change the brand when things opened up. I was able to set clear goals and partake in online workshops about ASGM (Artisanal Small Scale Gold Mining) in Kenya and other exciting ventures which I may not have had the time to research otherwise. Being the centre of many different smallholder/suppliers means that you have to be more than just a creative, you have to pull together a number of disparate connections and often this can be challenging to coordinate. Handling the colder more “business-y” aspects of the business can feel like it detracts from the
How do you maintain ethical and sustainable practices in your business?
Doa aims to build long-term growth opportunities by working with artisans, manufacturers and community-based initiatives to develop high-end pieces. Our mission is to produce eco-friendly clothing and jewellery using ethical practices in a way that is beneficial to the environment, empowering to the community, preserving of traditional skills and offering long-term sustainable incomes for people in low-employment communities. We ensure that we are continually providing fair wages and the artisans we are working with are happy in our partnership.
As mentioned previously, I love to work with recycled brass for many different reasons but the fact that it is endlessly recyclable has huge appeal and feels as though it can be played with forever. It is robust and can be
cleaned and polished by the customer, which we hope results in them appreciating and admiring their
selected pieces for many years to come. Whilst the Obsidian may be in abundance in Rift Valley we always respect the quantities of natural materials we have access to and are using. Each piece is still fiercely independent and no two stones are the same. Its asperous nature is what I love to embrace with my approach to Doa; beauty in the individuality and imperfections of the handmade.
In terms of the silk worms that produce our beautiful fabrics, we use the pupae that don’t turn into Bombyx Mori (their beautiful moth form!). The pupae is solar dried and used as protein in chicken feed and is being looked into as an option for human consumption too. We are doing our best with prioritising locally grown
materials with minimal carbon footprint and supporting local female communities and Kenyan trade.
It is an ongoing challenge to ensure that all aspects of the business from start to finish are run in tune with our conscious ethos. We are constantly striving to maintain the connections, processes and results we are pleased with and to develop solutions where we feel improvements can be made. It is difficult to find ethical sources, but I feel better buying something that’s beautiful but of no damage to the people doing it.
What have been the most significant achievements of the brand thus far?
The whole experience of being a grass roots self-funded, slow-growing brand. Moving through the pandemic and seeing challenges as positive opportunities for growth was not easy but I think it has strengthened Doa and my own development. The silk sourcing project is something I continue to feel very proud about and I am so pleased with what we have been able to design and achieve through this.
Seeing Doa worn around the world in so many unique ways is very special. We have recently launched in Harvey Nichols online under the ‘Seekd’ collective, who are one of our amazing stockists. It is significant to be chosen by such an established department store and I look forward to seeing how a new audience
responds to our designs.
What's next for your brand? Where do you hope to see or think the brand will be in 5 years?
The aim is to really explore the realm of possibilities within what we can source and how we can design. In terms of the intricacies and the materials used, our pieces are becoming progressively more elevated. This is how I envision Doa jewellery developing and has been happening fairly naturally the more I learn and play. I would love to have a studio-come-store space where we have a set of in-house makers with a storefront where people can get a feel for part of the process.