Salisbury's March Pick For Women's History Month: Rita Bunatal

Malaika Apparel has been worn by co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, “Moonlight” actor Jharrel Jerome, and recording artist Ava Knew. The brand was featured on Buzzfeed’s list of 40 Magnificent Products That Scream "I'm Black And I'm Proud". Recently I had the opportunity to ask the Founder and Creative Director, Rita Bunatal some questions about her outstanding brand.

 

HC: What is Malaika Apparel and what motivated/influenced you to start this

 brand?

RB:  Malaika Apparel at its core aims to embody a distinguishable form of revolution. This brand is a practice that defies contemporary norms and aims to celebrate all people of color.  The inspiration of Malaika Apparel is a challenge to the social conditions where Black representation is limited to its appropriation. Malaika Apparel is thus a call for agency and the empowerment of the Black/African Diaspora. My experiences both here in the US & in Ghana shaped my experiences to help bring this brand to life.

 

HC: Being that you are Ghanaian and Kenyan, how would you say your culture has influenced you and your brand?

RB: My background has influenced me in more ways than one. Being a diasporan, I have always felt the urge to reconnect with my roots -- and this took form in many things - including creating this brand. Because I lived in Ghana & The US for significant periods of time, I have been able to construct my own ideas and experiences from living in those places. But, coming from a house nurtured by a Ghanaian mother & Kenyan father - I was able to connect to my roots - even though we were (geographically) so far away from them. I incorporate various influences, for example, language - “Malaika” is Angel is Swahili, and the name of our first launch was called “Akwaaba” - which means Welcome in Twi.  Representation also something that was and is very important to me, which was why I helped create the “Africa is Not a Country” Campaign spelling out the stereotypes of Africa while I worked with the African Students Association my sophomore year of college.

 

HC: March is Women’s month, so what does being a woman mean to you?

RB: Being a black woman to me means that regardless of all the ‘Black Girl Magic” I exude, there is a set-up of systems that is and was never designed for me to “succeed”. Being a black woman means being fearless & fearful of what the next day offers. I am proud to be a black woman because through all the shit we have been through, we are still here and magnificent -- pushing through and breaking down barriers that many before us have failed to do.

HC: Is there a specific woman that inspires you and why?

RB: Easy -- my mother. She is my biggest cheerleader. She always calls me up to tell me how proud she is of me and is always giving me ideas and history of our family & our ethnic group - the Asante/Ashanti people. She raised each one of her daughters to be independent & while it wasn’t flawless - she was still able to push through her own struggles to help provide a roof over our head and food on our plates, by any means necessary. My mother is actually a womanist icon in her own right - whether she knows it or not. My mother’s womanism/feminism isn't bound to the confines of Western standards. Her existence inspires and is always ready to help others. I only wish to inspire others the way she has.

 

HC: Have you faced any hardships with being a woman in charge of her own brand?

RB: When answering these questions, I can never separate my gender & racial identity - because usually when I hear “woman” I know it doesn’t include me. As a black woman, I have found it difficult to operate a business because there is a very anti-black sentiment around black owned businesses that needs to be unpacked both by the black community & non-black communities. I won’t delve too deep into it now, but since starting the business I have noticed many folks are weary of purchasing from black owned businesses while in fact, these same customers have no problem shopping from white owned & run businesses. But despite this annoying downfall, black women are owning, operating and running businesses that continue to break barriers - and I am very glad to be a part of that community.

 

HC: What has been your biggest accomplishment and what did you learn from it?

RB: My biggest accomplishment is (re) launching. Many can attest that STARTING the business is incredibly difficult to do, and it was difficult for me to make the jump. But I am so grateful that I did it. It is also very hard to maintain running a business, and many people often realize the immense amount of work that is put into running a business - especially an apparel/lifestyle business.

HC: What can we expect from Malaika Apparel this year and in the future?

RB: A lot of amazing things. We will be coming out with MORE items, which include many dope items & designs - but also a slow transition into a lifestyle brand. We have realized that this brand is more than clothing -- it is a community; it is family. And we are working & restructuring for just that. Be on the lookout for more amazing products as well as pop up events in the near future!

 

 

To keep updated with Rita and purchase merchandise from Malaika Apparel links are listed down below.

Malaika Apparel can be purchased at malaikaapparel.com

Malaika Apparel Instagram:  @Malaikaapparel

Twitter: twitter.com/malaika_apparel

Rita’s Instagram:  @ritabunatal