In an interview with Managing Editor Emmel El-Fiky, CEO and head designer of the fashion brand Hope Sews, Maya Mutalik, discusses the story of how the business came to be, with an emphasis on her Ghanaian team who help make Hope Sews as special as it is.
Even if she has lofty goals, it’s difficult to expect a young woman entering college to also start a business. Maya Mutalik, a sophomore at Babson College and the CEO and head designer of the fashion brand Hope Sews, knew this, but the opportunity presented itself in a way she couldn’t deny.
At age 18, Mutalik visited Ghana for the first time with the goal of learning more about the issues faced by women and girls in West Africa. “I have always been passionate about working in the field of economic development with marginalized groups, and specifically providing income-generation growth opportunities to women and girls who unfortunately are often left behind.”
She describes the impact of meeting the women there and becoming inspired by their creativity and ingenuity. “After meeting a passionate, talented, and hardworking seamstress named Vida Sowah and learning her story, I felt a strong drive to learn more about the barriers [women face] in the Ghanaian seamstress industry. I simultaneously fell in love with the beautiful, vibrant, and unique African wax prints that are omnipresent in the Ghanaian market. My love for fashion eventually collided with my passion for social impact, and I founded Hope Sews, with the intent of growing it as a socially conscious fashion brand.”
As a young innovator and entrepreneur, Maya Mutalik has been interviewed and featured countless times in the last few years, not least of which were short profiles in the February, March and April 2019 issues of British Vogue. She is an internationally-focused business owner with a passion for altruism, and she’s only 20 years old. However, her story has been told over and over again, and even she is beginning to tire of the one-track narrative surrounding her brand.
She knows she can’t take all of the credit for the success of Hope Sews. Mutalik is frustrated that she is getting all of the attention, because she wants to highlight the essential figures behind the scenes that are vital to the growth and success of Hope Sews. When she speaks of the brand, she uses “we,” acknowledging the fact that she isn’t going about this alone. Her business partners, Vida Sowah and fellow local Ghanaian Hermon Tettey, who work as co-designer and operations manager, respectively, also play a big part in the development of Hope Sews, and help guide its goals and direction. Mutalik wants to make sure they get the attention and recognition they deserve.
When Mutalik approached Sowah with the idea for Hope Sews, and an inquiry to potentially collaborate, Sowah thought it was a great idea, commending Mutalik’s focus on helping people right there in Ghana. “What a splendid dream. Maya is energetic and goal-oriented so the idea will come to reality. I told myself I will help her throughout. I am so… happy, especially when local seamstresses here in Anloga, Ghana are the focus, to transform their livelihood.”
“The goal is to create clothes which emphasize a synthesis of Ghanaian and Western styles that stands out in an oversaturated, copycat market.”
The upcoming collection from Hope Sews, titled The Free Woman Collection, is a collaboration in design between Mutalik and Sowah. The goal is to create clothes which emphasize a synthesis of Ghanaian and Western styles that stands out in an oversaturated, copycat market. “Much of the inspiration for The Free Woman Collection comes from the place I am in life, a stage where I, a young woman, am constantly reflecting on and recognizing the power of being bold, standing out, and taking my life into my own hands,” Mutalik says.
With each collection, Mutalik and Sowah keep their target audience in mind. “The Hope Sews Woman is fashion-forward, socially conscious, and global-minded,” Mutalik says. As a brand, Hope Sews wants to encourage a wonder and excitement for the world, and a kind of mindfulness that brings awareness to one’s place in it. As Mutalik says, “The Hope Sews Woman is what I myself aspire to be: fearless, bold, and with a vision bigger than herself.”
What outlets like British Vogue, while well-intentioned, fail to recognize is how involved in the process of creating the designs Sowah and Tettey are, as well as with the philanthropic aspect of Hope Sews. Sowah, as the head seamstress and co-designer with Mutalik, is also in charge of training other seamstresses to manufacture Hope Sews goods. “I spend time coaching, directing, and working out styles for fashion and training young women seamstresses to help them make a better life for themselves.” This really is the end goal for Hope Sews – to use fashion to empower women all over the world, at every level of production.
As Hope Sews continues to grow, Mutalik, along with Sowah and Tettey and their team, have many goals for the future. As of right now, the brand focuses on Ghanaian fabrics and textiles, but one day hopes to incorporate materials, designs, and innovations from all over the world. “We plan to scale [outwards] to be a global fashion brand targeting the many countries where the seamstress industry continues to be a primary industry that women enter to make a living, and utilizing the unique fabrics from around the world to bring them to the US market in the form of modern-fusion clothing,” Mutalik says. She has plans for this upcoming fall to travel to Asia, particularly India and China, to learn more about the textile industries in those countries and how best to incorporate these seamstresses and their craft into Hope Sews. “I am excited to grow the brand globally and empower women on a much larger scale.”
Tettey expresses even more global aspirations, this time with a more economic focus. “[My] goal for Hope Sews [is] to expand and attract international donors/NGOs’ attention to support seamstresses in Ghana, [in order to] raise their basic standards of living [and] to be self-reliant. We are excited to help seamstresses through micro-financing. This will make [them] comfortable in their living situations. Besides, it will [be] worth it: the profit a seamstress generates benefits the vulnerable in the community.” As Mutalik previously mentioned, 10% of the profits from the sale of Hope Sews goods goes back to the seamstresses in the form of microfinance loans, to aid them in the purchase of sewing machines, textiles, and other materials they can use to create profitable products. To clarify, microfinance loans, according to Kiva.org, are loans “to entrepreneurs, small businesses and individuals who lack access to traditional banking services.”
Additionally, Tettey emphasized Hope Sews’ humanitarian efforts in aiding Ghanaian seamstresses, as they will have grander implications for tackling gender inequity in the communities they are involved in. Speaking for himself, Sowah, and their team, Tettey says, “We will both support every inch of path Hope Sews takes to address gender and humanity challenges.” Tettey, who is also a gender activist, hopes to use Hope Sews as a way to empower his community and work towards gender equality. “I am optimistic that next year Hope Sews will be adjudged [to be] the best social enterprise, making real-time impact on individuals.”
For Mutalik, the most rewarding part of Hope Sews is the people she works with and is able to connect to. Beyond the creative and philanthropic teams led by Sowah and Tettey, Hope Sews also works with technical staff from all over the world, with team members operating out of not only Ghana, but the United States and Scotland, as well. However, Mutalik wants to make it clear how much she values the work Sowah and Tettey do to fortify the heart of the brand. “Hermon, our operations manager in Ghana works tirelessly to ensure that we effectively achieve our social mission of providing women with resources they need to succeed. He travels hours to markets to get the best fabrics to ensure that our clothing is the best quality. Vida, our head seamstress trainer, is deeply passionate about training other young women in her community and helping local girls obtain meaningful life skills to allow them to engage in productive activity instead of entering harmful lifestyles.” With a team like this, it is truly a wonder that they have never been included in a Hope Sews profile before.
“Hope Sews has become a testament to what vision, ingenuity, and a passion for social entrepreneurship can do, even in the most unlikely circumstances.”
Hope Sews has become a testament to what vision, ingenuity, and a passion for social entrepreneurship can do, even in the most unlikely circumstances. When Maya Mutalik started the brand two years ago, she had no idea it would take off the way it has. But, with the invaluable help of new Ghanaian friends and business partners, this college girl with a lofty goal became an international business owner, with a platform for good and the attention of the global community.
Photography by Ellie Grace. Models: Jeron Duhart, Maya Mutalik, Thanh Pham, Tele Soga.
Originally published in ROCKET Volume IX, Issue 2.