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29 Untold stories in 29 Days Campaign (active)
“I grew up in a widely multicultural setting, a childhood between Beirut, with all its traditional gender roles, and Kinshasa, a matriarchal society where women are often the breadwinners of their families. My father has been in the Congo for the last three decades, he established a bakery and flour mill in Kinshasa that I watched flourish over the years. What I was mostly drawn to at the time were the ‘Mamas’, the tough, smart, and entrepreneurial women of the Congo. As a little girl, I would stand in the doorway of the bakery early in the morning, and watch the proud local women swagger in and out the bakery in their bold, brightly colored outfits. They were there to buy our delicious baguettes, which they piled on their heads in large blue buckets to re-sell at the local market down the road. What attitude! What an inspiration for a young girl dreaming of womanhood!
Each one of these women has become my muse – the Mama Benz collection is designed to carry every woman’s story, every mama’s story. The design was initially an exploration of the classic tote bag, found in most women’s wardrobes. From there, I let my creativity run wild, incorporating the Mama Benz identity into different classic, chic, and easy-to-wear styles suitable for every modern woman. Our handbags are crafted of fine Italian leather, but with an added element, a touch of Africa – the main feature of every Mama Benz bag is the perforations at the rim in which Wax-inspired, boldly printed silk scarves from our very own collection can be weaved into in different ways.
Introduced to the continent through Dutch companies, ‘Wax Hollandais’ was long an important good in African trade. Historically, the Mamas of Togo – and later of various other African countries – made their mark by trading wax fabric. Coming from nothing, these women rose to be among the wealthiest of the population. The name “Mama Benz” was coined in the mid-50’s, as these women were driving around in their very own luxury cars, a representation of wealth and success at the time. Powerful women are much admired in African culture, and to this day the most successful of them, the “Mama Benzes”, enjoy a place of great honor in their societies.
Mama Benz was created to bring together the women of the world and unite two contrasting cultures through a handbag that represents femininity, ingenuity, courage, and success. It is an ode to the women from my childhood and more so, an ode to female empowerment – because these women do not attain their power through inheritance or societal choice, but through struggle, effort, and achievement, and that should be exemplary to all women.
Today’s woman in all corners of the world is a Mama Benz in her own right, making her mark, carrying her story everywhere she goes.” Clara Assi Tribute on Congolese culture
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