When we decided to do this series, Ama Schulman was the first artist that popped into mind. We've become quick fans of her bandana brand All Very Goods since we started carrying them last summer. One look at her colorful, vibrant designs and you'll become a fan too!
Designed in Washington DC, Ama's bandanas are inspired by everything from Ghanian inks and Haitian art, to Dutch wax print fabrics and Asian design layout. An All Very Goods bandana has as much of a story as the customers who wear them! Storytelling is at the heart and soul of All Very Goods, honoring the history and mythologies of the past and re-writing the script for the future.
Rare Device: I've read that you started as a retail manager, making enamel pins as a side business. How did the decision to feature your designs on bandanas come about? Why is this your accessory of choice to feature your designs?
Ama Schulman: My first batch of pins took a lot longer to arrive than I thought they would. While I was waiting, I started playing around with my pin designs to see if there was something else I could do with them in the meantime. I honestly think I put together a design by accident that I thought would make a good looking bandana. I ended up getting it printed for myself and absolutely fell in love with it. I ended up being much happier with the bandanas than the pins so I decided to keep going in that direction.
I hope to continue to branch out into other kinds of accessories but I love that bandanas are a little statement piece. The bandana as we know it has always been used to tell stories and make statements. One of the earliest made in the US was a political bandana in support of George Washington. They've been used as political and cultural signifiers ever since. I am hoping to tap into that a little bit with my designs.
RD: In your interviews and on the website, storytelling comes up often. Tell us the importance of storytelling and what story is All Very Goods telling?
AS: I think about storytelling in 2 ways: 1) the stories, myths and history I use as inspirations for my designs and 2) the way we use the things we own to tell the world who we are and what is important to us.
One of my guiding principles when I'm designing is to represent Black people and Black culture. That being said, what I try to do is design for a world where representation isn't an issue. I usually start by asking 'what if?' What if we lived in a parallel universe where over the last 250 or so years, we had real equality in the US; not just political equality but cultural equality. What would the products we use look like? What references would seem commonplace? I try to then design those products. I guess as a sci-fi fan, I am also hoping by making these products, I can, in a very small way, help make that world more of a reality for us.
I really do hope people who buy my product will use them. I try to design lovely things but they are meant to be used. They really only come to life when someone wears them and they become part of that person's story.
RD: You grew up in Chad and in other parts of Africa and then spent your teen years in the States. Does that bicultural influence inspire your design work and how?
AS: My mother is also Ghanian and I am black/bi-racial. Pretty much everything that I design is about how cultures come together to create something new. In a way, I see it as a metaphor for my experience on a micro level and the Black experience on a macro level.
When you start to dig deeper though, you realize that there is no such thing as a closed or static culture. All cultures throughout history have grown and evolved through trade, travel and migration. We lived in Tanzania for a little while, and I remember seeing collections of Chinese porcelain that had been brought to Tanzania in the 12th Century by merchants. As these pieces became popular, local artists started making something similar using local materials and what they made eventually became traditional art of Tanzania. I love that and that kind of cultural evolution is fun to explore.
RD: I love that on your website blog and your Instagram account, you've been featuring Black design pioneers. Are there any contemporary Black designers that you follow/inspired by?
AS: I decided to feature designers who had passed because 1) they are incredible and it's insane to me that I didn't know about them before and 2) because there are a lot (not enough, but a lot!) of really phenomenal Black designers working now and there was no way for me to select just 20 working designers to feature. A few that I consider absolute, hands down, inspirational legends are Tracie Hervy, Tracy Reese, Emory Douglas, Sheila Bridges, Doru Owolu, Ozwald Boateng, Art Sims, and Gail Anderson but that is by no means a complete list.
RD: Do you have any words of advice for artists trying to make a name for themselves or start their own business? Do you have any words of advice for BIPOC artists trying to make the leap into sharing their art and turning it into a business (if that advice is different at all?)
AS: For me, making a name for yourself and starting your own business are two very different things. To be honest, I know very little about the first. This might be naive in our time of social media but I still believe that you should aspire to make good, useful things and that 'the name' will come if you do that well.
My advice to anyone hoping to start their own business is to start as soon as possible. Please don't wait for someone else to tell you it's the right time or to give you permission. I just learned that Black women start more small businesses than any other demographic, even white men. That makes sense to me because we are often problem solvers first and, for me anyway, 95% of running a small business is about problem solving.
I think the problem solving part of the brain is different from the self-confidence part. Even if you know you have a great idea or love making things, it can be hard to get the confidence to start something. The thing is once you start, that incredibly powerful problem solving part of the brain will take over and help you figure things out but you can't tap into that until you take that first step and just begin.
All Very Goods can be found at Rare Device and in our web shop.