Interview: Malaika Cotton – the Unique Swedish-Kenyan Fairtrade Textile Brand

“Hopefully in the future we will be able to read our history in our patterns”

At first glance at Malaika Cotton’s fabrics and designs I was struck by alluring beauty and radiating colors, which left me in awe. Designs with tribal patterns, outlines of abstract coffee beans and flowers in different colors are my personal interpretations of their Kenyan inspired products, but that is just my abstract take on it. The Swedish inspired tie dyed and striped cotton fabrics blends, somehow, in perfectly together with the rest of the collection. The combination of their Scandinavian design heritage and the proud Kenyan crafting traditions, make up something rare.

The brand was founded in 2013 by Ida Trygg Andersson and Mikaela Thimming Bonde. They both come from creative backgrounds. Ida, who worked with music videos, commercial and feature films in the United States and Sweden for six years, decided to change course to Kenya, where she and her husband opened up the hotel Kimondo Kwetu. On the other side of the spectrum Mikaela, who with her profound background within design, were studying at Parsons in New York, an experience which opened up her eyes to graphics, interior design and textiles.  With Ida based in Kenya and Mikaela in Stockholm, they both touch base in the countries that are rooted in their brand

What does the name mean? 

Malaika means Darling, Angel, and Honey… So in general our fabrics are your Malaika Cottons, your Darling cotton pieces!

Malaika Cotton

How did you come up with the idea behind Malaika Cotton? 

Malaika Cotton is a conscious design brand with a mutual passion for style, design, ethics and craftsmanship. Our collections consist of a mixture of sourced fabrics and own designs, but upcoming plans will consist of expanding our own design and patterns but also in collaboration with local craftsmen and women in Kenya.

What kind of materials do you use in your textiles?

Mainly cotton, it is such a great material and can be weaved into so many variations.

Would you consider Malaika to be ‘fairtrade’, considering it’s a conscience brand, and is it difficult to maintain environmental standards in a country such as Kenya? 

To practice fair trade and to be concsious is a very big focus for us. We have our own small sewing factory in Kenya where we make all our cushions, bags, jackets and labeling. Our handmade textiles are made in upcountry Kenya by smaller weaving companies. We also work with the traditional Kikoy which are made in bigger factories also upcountry and we choose our colors and stripes. It’s both easier and harder, here everything is up to you, there is nowhere to recycle bottles, paper or waste so if you want to do so, you do it yourself. So for example from where we work we send all our plastic bottles to a project that builds houses with old bottles.

During what circumstances do the manufacturers work? 

This will be our challenge for the future, to make sure it works! Working with small partners in rural areas will always be more difficult when it comes to delivery dates and keeping the high standard.

Malaika CottonExplain a little about how and why you decided to base in Kenya? 

Life took us there! And it turned out to be a great common ground for us: life and design wise. We wanted to create a design brand with a conscience where we could join our mutual passion for style and ethics, design and craftsmanship.

How did you two find each other in pursuit to create this textile brand?

We are old friends who become very close after a year together in NYC where we worked with film and design on separate projects but always shared ideas.

What’s in the pipeline for Malaika Cotton, and how has the process been from then to now?

We opened our web shop in February 2014 so we are very new but things are happening fast and we love it! We are now slowly starting to get press and attention which is great. What is in production right now and will come to our shop this fall is a lot of hand-woven IKAT patterns and we are also about to do a bed set in the finest cotton with wonderful stripes for children!