Words: Ouigi Theodore
To see two women running a successful business has become the norm. To see a Black mother and daughter running a successful clothing business, that will become the norm, and House of Aama has surely laid the foundation. Akua Shabaka watched her mother, Rebecca Henry, juggle her corporate job as an attorney and tap into her creativity while navigating the complicated world around her with a level of pride and comfort enmeshed with discomfort. Initially, I found out about House of Aama through a dear friend and stylist, Tiffany M. Williams. She might have just styled the “Blood Root” collection which debuted at Eurzulie Café during fashion week. It was clear that these two women were deliberate about what they stood for, and were unapologetic about sharing it with the world. So when launching the “Culture” section of this site, I was clear on the kinds of features we wanted to do. They had to come from honest people dedicated to telling their story, lacking the fear that made those fearful more afraid. And House of Aama was top of the list of features.
We scheduled a 1pm call last Thursday, and I was eager to hear the creative voices responsible for the beautifully, soulful and openly coded set designs behind the House of Aama’s iconic photo shoots. When the Whatsapp call came in, two numbers popped up which clearly let me know that they were in two different locations looping me into the call. Rebecca (mom) was in LA and Akua (daughter) was in NYc and I (interviewer) was in Haiti. It was a triangular connection that could not go unmentioned as the world watched LA shake to its core, NYc challenged by the epidemic, and Haiti still in a state of protest. Make no mistake about it, I understood the symbolism of us coming together to share this story, but also to write history. Since it was clear in my research that they had a special connection to music and its power, I went straight to that.
The music in your collections always feel deliberate. Who are you listening to when designing or choosing music for your shows?
Rebecca started shooting names like Ali Faraka, Fai, Mali Music. “I was brought up on the blues-Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf”. Akua chimes in with "Blind Willy Johnson, Cassandra Wilson and Jimmy Hendrix". I quickly realized that I did not want to miss any great music recommendation from them. I didn't want to miss anyone. I did my best to take notes, but requested that they actually email me the names. “Ok, not a problem”, they responded. They did better-they sent us an actual "playlist" via Apple Music which we replicated on Spotify as well and included it in this story below. 20 tracks that will quickly bring you into the House of Aama universe. Listen to the playlist while you slowly, yes slowly, enjoy the visuals from this story and dive into the world of “House of Aama”. see playlist at end of story.
The Pandemic shift:
"I am 53, Rebecca says, when this pandemic first happened I knew we had to look for the opportunities in this. When the industry closed, we went back to how we used to do things. We are a one hundred percent female owned, self-funded Black brand and are proud of that. We want to continue to stay healthy, and get wealthy". The duo is clear about the balance of health and wealth This is not another opportunity to romance in the historic past, and not profit and empower themselves. This is not business as usual, but it’s clearly centered in their business efforts.
On Creole culture /Spirituality:
It is very deliberate. We are connected. I spent all my summers on a farm with my grandparents. What I saw was hoodoo voodoo, blood root, I didn't know what it was as a child. Now, I know it’s a root. These are those people and I am these people. It’s also very pure, Ifa/Senegal and Ogun. These names that you see in our brand and collections are who we are, and it’s very intentional.
How has the last few weeks been since the push of Black owned businesses all over social media?
We’ve seen an uptick in sales, social media, collaborations that are directly reaching out to us and lots of new opportunities. We must position ourselves to seize the moment and build on it.
Akua: It’s been an interesting shift that we need to figure out, and determine what the future holds for new followers. Our mission is rooted in our culture, so it’s interesting. We undertake all of our PR, and were slaving to get PR. We are focused on Covid, but now the tide has changed. I do think that anything is possible. My mom has a specific thought process. We are at a time where our peers realize that a lot of things just don’t matter. A lot of us decided that all of this press just doesn’t matter in this moment of social injustice. All of the things we thought were glamorous…they are not. If we don’t create our own things, we will rely on things from others.
Rebecca: 80s/90s Cross Color, Fubu, I think that movement is coming around again.We want a piece of that pie, but also want our own. We have to talk about building our own CFDA. We have to seize the time. The energy is high, so it’s a matter of doing it.
Final Thoughts & Press:
We wanted to create a cult following instead of focusing on the press. Working to get press was a slave experience. I am still at Parsons as a student, says Akua. I took it upon myself to search for writers and connect with people. I reached out to about 200 writers, one thing led to another and we landed on the Vogue piece. We are thankful and mindful. The prize rests here with my people, so we stay focused on the prize.
I personally could have easily written an essay on the conversation and the energy of what was shared. But I'll leave it to you to explore the beauty and message of House of Aama. Enjoy the beautiful visuals and dig deeper into their collections. This surely won't be the last of us featuring this mother and daughter duo-guaranteed.