Of Etrian descent and from Toronto’s west end, designer Maida Ghide is the creator of ANNAFORA – a brand with avant-garde leanings that has already garnered praise from far outside Toronto. Featured by Vogue Italia, Afropunk and ABOOK Taiwan (just to name a few), the already lengthy list of co-signs speak to the originality of the brand’s aesthetic, and its designer’s strong creative voice. Maida herself is soft spoken and thoughtful, embodying a confidence and humility that makes her seem far wiser than ordinarily expected someone 22 years young.
She took some time to talk to Omit Limitation about her lessons from her recent trip to Paris, why she wishes to empower the kings and queens inside us all, and her most recent collection, “The Corvid’s Nest”.
What was the first way you started creating, in any sense?
Honestly, it’s a hard question to answer because I’ve moved and evolved my whole life. I started when I was a kid just watching TV, seeing the characters and wanting to emulate them. I’d go into my closet and cut things up and stitch it myself. And then eventually over time it grew into me investing in a little sewing machine I got from Wal-Mart, actually trying to get fabric, cut things up and making my own stuff just so that I can wear what I really want to wear instead of what I saw in the stores.
By the time I got to high school, ripped bleached jeans were the thing. I did my own first and people were like “I want that too!” So I was like “Okay, you know what? Give me your old jeans, $15 a pair. I’ll make your jeans skinny, (back when everyone had bell bottoms.) I’ll bleach them up, I’ll do the dyeing, everything.” It sort of grew from there. I started to make my own jeans, and then around prom time, I was making girls’ prom dresses for them.
What was the moment when you knew that designing was the path for you? Or was there never any question about it?
There was question. There was a lot of question, because I have parents who pushed me to go the straight route – go to University, get a job, be happy – because happiness comes in a paycheque. When I was in University, I was studying Humanities. I did a full semester and was like “I’m doing things last minute, and this is the time in my life where I should be enthused.” Studying Humanities, you’re reading on philosophers who are talking about the passion of life, being happy, “love what you’re doing”. I knew what I loved; I just wasn’t doing it.
I was supposed to write an essay on Nietzsche and I was supposed to identify a personal relation with the intellectual consciousness and the individual and I just… I couldn’t write that essay knowing that I was bullshitting, because I’m not living that life. So
I took a leave, dropped out and was like “I’m gonna go to design school”. I got to design school, and I was like “I’m not even into this. You guys are teaching me everything I already know, I might as well just do this on my own.” And then I took a leave from that.
What was the first thing that you did make that you were very proud of?
A pair of pants for my high school sewing class. That really was the first in terms of piecework – I still have it as a reminder for myself. It was the very first time I sat down and actually conceptualized from start to finish. I just stepped outside of the box and took on the challenge of continuous growth. And I was like “Okay, if I can do this I can do something else. And it may not come out great the first time I do it, but I’ll learn and I’ll keep going.”
Did you ever create in any other medium, or was it just clothing?
That was my main focus. Learning how to draw and conceptualize the idea was a little bit hard for me at first, because I’m sort of like… idea, cut, sew it up – I can just create. I struggled a little bit in the beginning, learning how to communicate the idea in terms of a drawing. When I learned how to draw I kind of found a new love. I found that I like to paint… pencil is also an amazing medium for me. From there, I also learned I really loved to write.
What are the origins of the brand name ANNAFORA?
The name ANNAFORA comes from the word “anafora” which in Ancient Greek, which is stolen from the Ancient Egyptians, is a ceremony of sacrifice. In the ancient times they used to give their honest possessions to the Gods to say “we appreciate you, we want good fortune.”
In my present day understanding of term “anafora”, I see every single one of us as Gods. We’re here to create, we’re here to actually take ideas and manifest them. So this is my manifestation for you guys – this is my offering.
What are the design principles you feel you brand embodies?
I really don’t believe in gender separating. I got penalized in the beginning as just being quote-on-quote the “gay” brand, like “Is that what you want to sell?” It’s not about sexuality; moreso it’s about openness. And saying “You know what? In order to be a good-looking female, you don’t have to be hypersexualized; in order to be a good-looking male, you don’t have to be hypermasculine.” Prior to the industrial revolution, men were allowed to adorn themselves. It wasn’t about makeup and looking beautiful wasn’t about male and female, it was about hierarchy. The first pair of high heels were made for men. Makeup and wigs – men wore that.
To see now men have just been stripped of that ability to adorn themselves without being called gay, and all of that is targeted onto women – without that, you’re not seen as beautiful – it just creates this odd concept of “what is a woman” and “what is a man”. So right now, what I’m really trying to just build is that idea that we’re all just human beings and we should not be separate.
Why did you choose “The Corvid’s Nest” specifically as the name for this most recent collection?
“The Corvid’s Nest” is sort of like my spirit animal. The crow and the raven is my spirit sign, and when I look up at the skies they are so free. They’re seen as these animals that have this insight into the spirit world and to the physical world. They’re able to go up to the sky and fly – they look down on us, and up at the universe. It’s such an interesting concept because anywhere in the world, with the Native interpretations it’s that same sort of construct where they were communicators between us and the higher dimensions.
It really set the tone. I would look up at the sky and wish that I could just be free to fly… that’s been an aspiration of mine. So “The Corvid’s Nest” being the home of the corvid – the crow and the raven – the main character in the story is the sky. That’s why I chose the colours of the blue, and the aspect of fluidity and being able to float. That’s where a lot of the silhouettes come from – being able to move in freedom.
When you design, what fabrics do you tend to err towards?
I stay away from anything that’s not natural. I don’t think it’s good for our bodies. I’ve been creating with people in mind, the environment, and what’s good for us. I think it means so much more when you’re wearing something that’s not going to give you allergic reaction after; it’s not going to restrict you from sweating, breathing, and feeling comfortable. I like linen, cotton, bamboo, silk… I really like silk. It means a lot to me just to know that even if this product gets thrown out, it’s biodegradable. It can be reused; it can be reworn.
Resins and materials that are not good for the body – as much as the wearer gets to use it and the wearer gets to wear it, when you’re done with it, it sits there. And you see some of the landfills nowadays, it’s like “Holy shit”, that’s what we’re creating. That’s the byproduct of what we’re doing right now? It was a t-shirt, but now it’s a global crisis.
Do you have any avant garde influences that you draw on that have shaped the way you design today?
I walked into a Toronto store a couple years ago and I fell in love with this designer called Joffrey B. Small. He is completely handmade. They have a house in Italy… being from Toronto, I never really saw that way of production or that way of design. Everyone told me: you design, give it to the manufacturer, manufacturer develops it, and then you go from there. It was never really like you can contract your own seamstresses, you can leave it in house and then push it out to the world, you can own everything – it was never like that. Nobody in Toronto gave me that insight; nobody in Toronto was really doing that on a major scale.
To have that in my hand and see the quality and to understand that he also uses recycled and quality fabrics, it was a game changer for me in that “yes, I’m not the first one thinking this. I can emulate something.” Because now I know a) I’m not the first one, and b) not only am I not the first one, but someone’s still doing this. Not many people still have that technique and that quality.
On her recent trip to Paris, and how it’s inspired her:
Nobody’s having independent showrooms in Toronto. Nobody’s really pushing for individual and avant-garde designs in Toronto. I’d really like to test the waters and push boundaries.
Who is your clothing geared towards?
I think the biggest thing I want to see in people who wear my clothes is just a sense of confidence. Especially black people, I want to dress kings and queens. I want people to put on clothes and just feel immaculate. We’ve gone so long just viewing ourselves as the lowest bottom of the economy, when actually we’re the top of the hierarchy, of the food chain. We haven’t made it this far because we’re weak, we’ve been through 500 years of slavery and we made it out. There are races and beings that have been wiped out completely because they aren’t physically strong enough to withstand that. But black people have made it through and out, and now we’re still conquering.
We’ve faced so much adversity that I would really like to just see us reach the next level instead of struggling. You see things like Black Lives Matter and you see things like protests happening in the South, the Superbowl, and you so much negative connotations of what it means to be black and I just want to reverse that and say you know what, “we don’t have to struggle”. We don’t. We’re playing the white man’s game right now, and we could just literally create our own. We have so many resources to do that.
LESSONS OF THE TRADE
What are some key lessons you’ve learned in your professional training?
Recently I did an internship at a manufacturer – I learned a lot, just in terms of the amount of work, I think at that point I really connected with the labours of production. Sewing every day from 9am to 7pm, the strain on your body… this is where most of the work happens. Their expertise, their ability to sew so quickly – I was child compared to them. It really set the bar for me. When I put my house together and really set up my establishment, my seamstresses, they’re not going to be undervalued at all. They’re the most important part.
In terms of the lessons you have learned while building this brand, what has been some of the biggest stumbling blocks you’ve had on this journey?
The biggest lesson I’ve had is perseverance. I’ve always had a dream and I’ve stuck with it but in terms of learning how finance myself, being strict on budgeting… those things don’t come naturally. And writing a business plan – who taught me how to do that in school? No one. I literally walked into the industry blind. So I’ve taken a step back to manage and plan and not just be a creative, but actually be a businesswoman.
What has been a major sacrifice that you feel you have made going after this dream?
Going after the dream, sometimes I feel like I could work a nine-to-five. I could just have a solid job, go to school and live that college life, and as much as it sounds… I wouldn’t say stress-free, but there’s a sense of security there and I gave that up the day I started. I gave that up completely.
I’ve sacrificed a lot in terms of like my personal finances to really develop the brand. I’ve always put the brand first. I haven’t gone to clubs or gone to parties; I haven’t necessarily spent as much time with my friends as I would like to. In terms of my personal life I think my friends get it, and they’re proud of me.
What have been some of your major highlights on this journey?
I think it’s the communication between my mind and my hands. It’s the one thing I’m very, very proud of. It’s being able to operate like a computer in a sense. If I have an idea I can execute it start to finish; it doesn’t matter what my idea is. There’s no compromise, I don’t have to settle on anything – I can literally create and send it to people in the exact same way I saw it in my head. It’s like creating as if I’m standing outside of myself. I really appreciate the fact that I can now do that with the clothing… this is my medium.
What do you feel is next for the brand, how do you want to see it evolve? What are some goals that you’ve set for yourself?
The fashion industry gives you like 2-3 years to establish yourself, your personality and your core values. I would like to establish myself as an artist first, and then a clothing maker second. I want to sell the future, as opposed to what’s trending right now. And as much as the Toronto fashion industry likes to keep things contemporary, likes to keep things pleasant… I always find myself challenging to the next best thing and trying to reach a level of self-fulfillment.
I really like the idea of being able to come out with some really avant-garde designs and seeing it trickle down. Then seeing the work then go to major retail. They bite designs –it happens all over the world and you can’t necessarily protect against that. But to see that you’re an influencer in a way, it’s moving. And people catch on over time, they’re like “Okay, it happened there first, I should go there first to get it.”
If someone was looking for advice to start their own line what would you tell them? What would you tell young you three or five year ago?
I would tell young me to save your money. But I would also say establish your values. What do you believe in, what is your purpose, and what are the things that you want to advocate in this world? Because nobody in the world is going to advocate for you. Your work and your ambitions will get compromised if you don’t know what you want. So establish what you want, save your money, and don’t walk into anything blind, and be financially secure.
Other designers coming out of Toronto she feels will do big things:
On her favourite spots in Toronto:
I do like Kensington; Kensington likes to keep it real. I like to get my soap, get my lotion, keep on the natural vibe and get some crystals to meditate with. We’re all from different parts of the world – Kensington has something for you. There’s a little bit of everybody everywhere.
ANNAFORA’s most recent collection “The Corvid’s Nest” is now online at http://annafora.com/.