Vibrant, modern and chic fashion line PISO Collection is making a bold splash with its recent relaunch of sustainable (fabrics derived from eco-friendly resources), ready-to-wear African print clothing. Based and manufactured in Liberia, and named for the country’s largest lake, Lake Piso, the brand was founded in 2011 by sister duo Chara and Phyllis, who sought to promote traditional textile and design and provide beautiful clothing for the modern woman. The company sources traditional Liberian Vai “country cloth” (a striped cotton weave) and other printed fabric to use in the design of its contemporary clothing.
Production was halted during the Ebola crisis and while Phyllis pursued an entrepreneurial initiative in early childhood education and Chara returned to work in the field of human rights. The brand is back this 2016 with several new styles showcased in a stunning fashion shoot and trunk show. In this interview, we talk with co-founder & CEO of PISO Collection Chara Itoka.
FUFU & SOUP MAG: Why do you think it’s important to promote country cloth as a sustainable textile in Liberia?
Chara Itoka: In order for Liberian country cloth to be a sustainable textile in Liberia, the thread would need to be made and dyed locally using local plants instead the imported, chemically dyed thread predominantly from Asia. All of the country cloth used by PISO Collection is woven by hand, which also contributes to a lower environmental impact than machine woven textiles. Our goal remains to contribute to Liberia’s economic growth by creating jobs and developing the textile industry, especially the local production of country cloth. This was a valuable learning experience in understanding how to source materials in the local market and the need for Liberian leadership in the production of our textiles and the importance of creating jobs with dignified, fair wages for workers.
FUFU & SOUP MAG: Who is the classic PISO Collection woman?
Chara Itoka: We were originally inspired by women we’ve met in the cultural village of Tieni, the market of Bo Waterside or near the beach in Robertsport. For this type of woman, the village, market, even a dusty road is her catwalk. There is a grace and resilience about her that is radiant. In general, the contemporary PISO woman dresses for herself first but can’t help but garner the attention of others through the sophistication of her clothing. She isn’t moved by trends but maintains an organic approach to dressing. Never looking like she is trying too hard, the clothing really speaks for itself.
FUFU & SOUP MAG: How do you plan to connect PISO Collection with other indigenous collections worldwide?
Chara Itoka: I’m in the process of developing a small line called the Indigenous Collective, which will highlight intersections between Liberia’s country cloth and textiles in other indigenous communities. The Collective will also highlight other traditional hand dyeing and weaving techniques. The first project of the Collective will be a “mashup” between Guatemalan Quiche woven textile and Liberian Vai country cloth. I fell in love with Quiche textile on recent work trips to Guatemala and immediately recognized the possibilities of mixing the two similar but distinct fabrics into beautiful designs.
After discussions with people in Quiche communities on the history of textile development and through further research, I began developing samples styles, which intertwine the two fabrics into some novel pieces. A debut of the capsule collection will entail 8 luxe but wearable pieces sourced and produced in Liberia, Guatemala and the U.S. Pieces in the line will be showcased in Summer 2016. Expect to see distinctly vibrant designs of interwoven fabric of beautiful lines and angular shapes with accompanying compelling indigenous stories on communicating culture and history through textiles.
FUFU & SOUP MAG: What’s your best advice for dressing well?
Chara Itoka: Confidence is everything! You must also feel comfortable in your clothing choices. Aligning your clothing to the specific context and ensuring that your clothes suit your body frame is also essential. Ultimately, you should always be fully committed to whatever you wear. Cultivate your own style. This will evolve and I find that over time certain style “staples” become wardrobe essentials. My philosophy is stick with what works. My wardrobe essentials are bright prints, pencil dresses, military inspired pieces, and designs with clean lines and contrasting textures.
FUFU & SOUP MAG: As a woman in business, what advice you can offer to other female entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs?
Chara Itoka: I’ve spent most of my career in the non-profit and public sectors but I appreciate the dynamics of business and particularly entrepreneurship. Although women are still overall underrepresented in business leadership, we are witnessing the rise of women owned businesses globally. This poses a great opportunity to develop, innovate and create great economic gain for the entrepreneur, economy to impact communities. I have benefited greatly from hearing the lessons women have learned in their respective fields. I would advise other female entrepreneurs to not get accustomed to simply discussing successes but delve into the many lessons learned regarding setbacks and how our failures are catalysts for advancement. Tap into local women business networks to connect with potential mentors and carve out time to mentor someone at an earlier stage in their career. Try to learn from women in your field as well as women outside of your field of work and comfort zone.
Women In Business is a new series to FUFU & SOUP MAG, highlighting established female entrepreneurs and the brands they proudly own and operate.