Within urban fashion, itâ€™s rare for a female line to pop-up, unless itâ€™s a brand extension of an already dominant male line. One of the premier female based lines in streetwear today, Mama has been putting it down, independent of a male owned conglomerate, for three years now. Owned by Gabriella Davi-Khorasanee, a lawyer that gave up the courtroom for the closet, Mama has focused primarily on tees thus far, but has recently expanded to include accessories and cut and sew products. Format took a moment to discuss the clothing line, and Gabriellaâ€™s push for recognition in a male dominated industry.
“Part of my mission is creating a new definition of whatâ€™s sexy, itâ€™s more about keeping your clothes on, and more about cleverness and wit, or just leaving something to the imagination.”
Format: The Mama website doesnâ€™t contain info on the line, or a personal bio. What did you do before you started Mama?
Gabriella: I actually wasnâ€™t trained in design or fashion; itâ€™s kind of like a childhood interest of mine. My grandmother was a sample sewer for Oscar De La Renta, Bob Mackie and Bill Blass so she taught me how to sew, and I kind of grew up around it. I actually went to law school and practiced law for a few years and hated it and then just decided to follow my dream, which was fashion. So back in 2000, I started a girl t-shirt line Cybelle, and I did that line for about three years with a partner and that stuff kind of fell through. We were kind of wanting to take the line in different directions, so we stopped doing Cybelle and then I wanted to just start fresh, so I started Mama, and that was back in 2004.
Format: What was the turning point for you from going to law school to starting that first line?
Gabriella: It happened back in 1999 after I gradated law school, I went down to Philly to work for a judge, it was like a one year thing. While I was down there, I met the person who ended up becoming my partner in the first line, and she was a graphic designer, and I had always had an interested in fashion, so I was like hey, letâ€™s just get together and do this. And it was kind of funny because my plan for Philadelphia, my original intent, was to become a law professor, so while I was down there in my free time I wanted to like write legal articles for publications, because basically the whole story with becoming a professor is publish or peril, so my goal was to just write in all my free time and get published. Instead I met my partner, and all my free time ended up going into the line, so itâ€™s kind of like a fork in the road, and thatâ€™s when I really started getting into the clothing aspect. It was always kind of like a side thing for me, because I was working fulltime and then it just came to point where I was getting really into it, the business was growing, and I wasnâ€™t happy with what I was doing, and Iâ€™m happy doing the clothing line and Iâ€™m just going to put all my energy there.
“I wanted something where women could come together, share ideas, network, promote themselves, kind of like a little club for us to help each other out, get our names out there, show the world what we could do.”
Format: When you did start Mama, how did you come-up with the name?
Gabriella: It was kind of just like a fluke, like my husband, it was one of his little nicknames for me, like, â€œHey Mama,â€ and I wanted something that was easy to remember, that was cute, fun, sassy, just kind of universal for women, so I thought that it was very fitting.
Format: Whatâ€™s your relationship like with your own mother? Is she supportive of your career choice?
Gabriella: Sheâ€™s awesome, I have a great relationship with her. My life was pretty much set, I was making a nice living, and she kind of thought I was a little bit crazy for giving that all up to start from scratch in an area where I didnâ€™t really have any training or foundation, but sheâ€™s totally supportive, and she loves seeing all the new stuff. She always wants me to start making stuff in her size, so sheâ€™s definitely supportive and loves what I do.
Format: On your blog, The Glamorous Life, you feature a number of women in honor of Womenâ€™s History Month. What made you select these women in particular?
Gabriella: I just basically chose women first of all that I like, respected what they did, and second of all, I wanted to choose women who I thought were good role models, and were very positive in what they did for other women as well. Who were just groundbreaking, or paving new paths for women in their respective fields.
Format: Who are some of the most inspiring women to you within urban culture?
Gabriella: Coco Chanel is definitely not so much in urban culture, but I just find her incredibly inspiring as far as the fashion goes, and her influence can be felt all the way down to street culture, so I would say that I find her amazing. And then thereâ€™s like musicians, like Blondie, and Pat Benatar, and Lauryn Hill, and Nina Simone. You know, I guess as far as back in the day people, the founder of X-Girl, Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth, I find that totally an inspiration, because she was one of groundbreakers as far as girlâ€™s streetwear. And even Sofia Coppola as far as her work in film, and she had one of the first girls clothing lines back in the day, so as far as her impact on the culture now, and even being one of the first girl streetwear companies back in the day, I find that really inspiring as well.
Format: What inspired the M.I.S.S. project?
Gabriella: MISS was something that I had kind of had on the brain for a long time and then I finally found the right person, my partner, Liz Baka. When I found someone who could actually help me out with it and make it come together, we just did it. I felt like the whole streetwear thing was so male dominated, and I got the sense even talking to other people, like the graffiti artist Toofly, sheâ€™s also a girl in this manâ€™s game. I wanted something where women could come together, share ideas, network, promote themselves, kind of like a little club for us to help each other out, get our names out there, show the world what we could do.
Format: Has it been successful?
Gabriella: Itâ€™s been awesome, the concept has kind of evolved over time. Thereâ€™s also a magazine section where the content is updated quarterly and we have things like Dear Coco which is an advice column that I do. The whole concept behind that, is giving girls the fashion advice that I think Coco Chanel would have given if she was alive today, so thatâ€™s like a fun feature; and then thereâ€™s a section called Back in the Days, where Liz, the co-founder of M.I.S.S., her gig is dealing with vintage, so in the Back in the Days section she always does something involving vintage; and then thereâ€™s a Mamaâ€™s kitchen section where I do recipes; and then thereâ€™s a Gold Star section that gives the products that we like gold stars. Thereâ€™s also a M.I.S.S. Diary section where the M.I.S.S. members kind of give their day in the life, of like what their typical day is. Something that weâ€™re going to be adding on in the next launch, is like more of a place for the women to sell themselves and what they do, so weâ€™ll have direct links to their websites and have it broken down by like, these are stylists, if you need a stylist contact these people, or you know, these are designers or these are musicians, and kind of make it more friendly to someone who might be looking for some kind of service, and they can go on the site and find it there. Another part of M.I.S.S. is the daily blog, where we basically update it daily with new products for women, events, news, and thatâ€™s been really good as well. People really enjoy that. Something for the future which we want to do is like a Little M.I.S.S. Mentoring Program, because we want to be able to reach out to younger girls and maybe they want to be a fashion designer or something, and they have questions or donâ€™t know what school to go to, or whatever. We want to have it set up so that people can get in touch with M.I.S.S. members and get some information on what they can do to get where they are.
Format: Why do you think streetwear is such a male dominated industry?
Gabriella: I think itâ€™s male dominated because I feel like a lot of it grew out of male dominated things like skate culture and stuff like that. I think thatâ€™s probably the main reason, and since it started out that way its kind of daunting, or maybe intimidating for other girls to get into it. And I think itâ€™s kind of like this new style of dressing for girls, I think part of it, thereâ€™s fewer girls in it, because girls donâ€™t just wear streetwear the way guys do. Guys will have their Nikeâ€™s on, their fancy denim, their all-over print, and like the hoodie and a New Era, whereas girls kind of mix it up a little. They wear high heels, they wear vintage, they wear high end shit, theyâ€™ll wear a Louis Vuitton bag with their streetwear t-shirt, so I think the fact that they mix it up a little makes it be less like â€˜Iâ€™m totally streetwear.â€™ But I think everyday weâ€™re seeing more and more girls get into it, and more and more shops are approaching us saying â€œhey, we want to carry more girls stuff,â€ or, â€œgirls are asking for stuff.â€ So I think itâ€™s actually an exciting time to be a woman in streetwear because the market is totally developing for us right now.
Format: What are some difficulties youâ€™ve ran into being a female in the industry?
Gabriella: Well, I mean, I think and this can apply to any industry, you always want to be taken seriously. And I think that Iâ€™ve done an ok job with that. I feel like Iâ€™ve gained the respect of my peers, but I think that as a woman, an easy way to get attention is to show your tits and ass, because that will definitely get guys attention, but then you may not necessarily get their respect. Part of my mission is creating a new definition of whatâ€™s sexy, itâ€™s more about keeping your clothes on, and more about cleverness and wit, or just leaving something to the imagination. I guess as far as difficulty, itâ€™s almost just like getting out there and getting the name out there, because since so much of it is just for boys, the fact that you have girls stuff, you have to educate the market, you have to create the market, so I guess itâ€™s a combination of those things.
Format: You recently dropped the Juicy Mama nail polish, and Bijules accessories. What inspired these collaborations?
Gabriella: I had known about Bijules for a while, and Iâ€™d always been a big fan of her stuff. I started Mama as a t-shirt line because it was the most economically feasible way to get a brand started and thatâ€™s why thereâ€™s so many t-shirt companies, but there were so many other things that I wanted to create. And I loved and respected Julesâ€™s work. I had some ideas for jewelry and we met at Magic a few years back and we both knew of each other and respected each other and we were just like hey letâ€™s do something together.
As far as the Juicy Mama, that kind of grew out of a frustration of not being able to find cool nail polish colors that would match my sneakers. You know I like the kicks, and I like to get my manicures done to sometimes match the kicks, but you go to the store and itâ€™s all red and pink and orange and purple nail polish, and thatâ€™s not really the color of my sneakers. So the goal was to create colors that we could customize and match to our shoes.
Format: What about the collaboration with Montana? How did that come about?
Gabriella: That was something that my husband Ali had always wanted to do, like a Hello My Name Is tee that we could customize, and you know just brainstorming we were like, we really should sell it with a marker so itâ€™s a complete package, and then from there it was kind of a no-brainer. We had met the Montana people in Barcelona and I guess I was just like, if weâ€™re going to do this, we should do this with the premier graffiti pen company. Theyâ€™re the best, and we just met them, and we totally respect what they do, and it totally makes sense.
Format: Besides these collaborations, how has Mama grown since you started the line?
Gabriella: The Glamorous Life is actually a good thing for people who are curious about what happens behind the scenes, which is basically what we based our blog on. Thatâ€™s been a really good driver for us. Weâ€™ve had some of our shirts in some music videos, we had a shirt in a Chamillioniare video, and a Lupe Fiasco video, and most recently the new The Pack video, â€œIâ€™m Shinin.â€™â€ Stuff like that, and people will be like, â€œoh my god we saw your stuff.â€ Things like that, word kind of travels around and that kind of thing.
Format: What can people expect from Mama in 2007?
Gabriella: Weâ€™ve got a full line of cut and sew; weâ€™ve really put a lot of our energy into that, so thatâ€™s kind of a new and exciting thing for us. We started a little bit of that last year with just a few pieces but thatâ€™s kind of grown into like a full collection that includes outerwear, shirts, pants, and tops. Thatâ€™s been a big thing for us. Our menâ€™s line called #1 Hit Wonder which is also doing really well, and weâ€™re continuing with that. Weâ€™ve got some other projects in the works, but I canâ€™t really talk about them right now, but theyâ€™ll be dope, thatâ€™s all I can really say though.
More Info: http://www.mamaclothing.com