Sabine Matsheka makes clothes that make sense for a desert climate. She writes on her website that MARU is “inspired by life beneath the clouds, in the sun-baked Kalahari Desert, quenched by the wealth of the Okavango Delta. Elements of nature are central to the soul of MARU.”
Now based in Gaborone in Botswana, Matsheka who is a Motswana woman, has travelled widely and lived in Europe, America and South Africa. She obtained her Masters degree at the London School of Economics and Political Science, has worked in the non-profit space and developed a drive to pioneer digital access across the continent. Sabine’s ambition is not to make pretty clothes only. She is passionate about working towards an active textile and manufacturing industry in Botswana, “where we are combatively intersectional in our approach”.
We caught up with Sabine via email.
Has fashion design always been an ambition?
As cliched as it may seem, fashion and design have always been dreams of mine. I saved any any extra money I was given as a little girl to be able to buy clothing or shoes. I later expressed this love for fashion through my high school years as a drama student – I loved costume design and dressing the (acting) part. My first real job was working in retail for a brand that I loved, but I could never afford as a student. I believe that experience cemented my love for all things fashion.
What challenges have you had to overcome?
One of the main challenges in running a small business is funding. I am self-funding MARU and that’s proven to be challenging at times as we work to scale things up, given the limited opportunities for funding in this industry. Another challenge has been ensuring our items are 100% locally made, which isn’t easy given the current state of the local textile and apparel industry in Botswana. Though, in spite of this and the high cost that comes with doing things locally, we’ve remained determined. We are succeeding in making ‘local’ a focal point of our business.
What inspired the name MARU?
Naming my brand MARU was probably one of the first things I was sure of, even before imagining my designs. I always knew I wanted my brand to have a Setswana name and always imagined us making minimalist, light-weight collections to be worn under the hot Botswana sun. Thus MARU, meaning clouds in Setswana – clothes that are free and weightless like clouds are.
What materials do you use and from where are they sourced?
Our sources of supply are between Francistown and Gaborone in Botswana and Johannesburg. As much as we’d love for our supply to be fully local to promote true social and environmental sustainability, existing industries don’t always allow for that which is why we follow a bottom-up approach – working with systems and subsystems that currently exist. We have intentions of producing textiles sustainably, locally in the future.
Are your dyeing methods sustainable?
We make use of vegetable dye in our collections where possible, and if they are dyed by suppliers we ensure the method obeys sustainable practice, by way of minimal emission and chemical waste/damage.
Working in an industry that has a heavy carbon footprint and is guilty of sending tonnes of waste to landfills, what changes are you hoping to see?
The extractive and exploitive nature of the fashion industry needs to change. Big retailers and textile/clothing manufacturers and producers continue to operate within colonial frameworks built from capitalistic structures that allow unethical yielding of resources, exploitation of culture and spaces to be occupied for their own disproportionate gains. The call for a more conscious approach is an important one but real change can only be made through the decolonisation of the whole fashion ecosystem.
How has travelling influenced your work?
I would say it’s allowed me to gain a broader perspective on what some women like to wear around the world. The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is understanding the practicality of textiles and how this is related to the environments we live in. I make clothes that make sense for a desert climate. Climate and functionality are a central part of how we all dress.
Do you think fashion can eliminate divisions whether it be cultural, racial, ethnic, religious etc, in our society?
Fashion can be a catalyst towards change in our societies as the industry and its shortcomings are a direct reflection of our society. The most marginalised of our societies remain disenfranchised not only in the fashion industry, but society too. With a more inclusive, respectful, conscious approach that prioritises dismantling of the current exploitative structure then only then can we start to hopefully see these divisions slowly start to fade.
What does sustainability mean to you and to your work?
It’s not the easiest way to have run my business but it was the only way that made sense to me. I am adamant that MARU be sustainable – to be kind to the land we’ve been given, and give back to it. We’ve approached building MARu as a bottom-up sustainable brand. The aim is to encourage activity in the industry where there is none, and where there is, present and remediate flaws. That’s what sustainability means for me and my work.
What are your future plans for MARU?
Aside from our seasonal collections (A/W ‘21 coming up next), we are working towards producing our own fabrics sustainably. We also continue to work on conscious efforts on the social front as well.
Learn more about Maru here.