She may have launched a fashion label now sold globally and at swish boutiques like Holt Renfrew, but Treana Peake is no stranger to the precariousness of life’s most basic needs.
As an only child of a single mother in her home town of Hanna, Alberta, she struggled with poverty, and for a while lived in a one-bedroom house with her grandparents without running water. Yet each Christmas, an unmarked white envelope would arrive at their door with a gift of cash that she and her mother would rely on to make it through the holiday and rest of the year.
That experience—an anonymous donor who simply gave cash with no expectation of thanks or recognition—forever marked her.
“I was so struck by this person’s beautiful intentions,” says Peake. At the age of 18, she promptly bought a ticket to Romania to work with orphanages; a trip to Africa soon followed to help build water wells for villages trying to access clean drinking water.
The Obakki Foundation—the charitable component to the Obakki fashion brand that Peake launched in 2005—has since worked to build wells and provide educational and economic opportunities, bringing clean water to more than two million people in vulnerable parts of Africa.
The latest Obakki launch, The Story of Us homewares collection, is now focused on building capacity to empower the women of Bidi Bidi, Uganda, one of the world’s largest refugee resettlement areas, which is home to thousands of women who have been displaced from South Sudan’s brutal civil war.
The Story of Us represents the individual journeys of 150 specific women from the Bidi Bidi camp. When Peake gave each woman three strips of fabric and asked them to share stories from their past and present—as well as hopes for their future—the women wove the strips together to create a giant wall hanging that represents each of their stories.
Now hanging at Walrus in Vancouver, the circle—an uplifting response to tragic circumstances—is only one of many, and includes photos and stories of the formidable women who have created them.
The Obakki Foundation Indigo Collection features a range of textiles—tablecloths, napkins, table runners, and scarves—that feature the ancient art of traditional indigo dyeing (for the first collection on display at Walrus, Peake was taught how to dye the fabric herself, an incredibly time-consuming process).
Commercial sewing and natural dyeing are the ways these women have traditionally provided for themselves; as such, the Obakki Foundation opened its first tailor shop and textile training facility in the heart of the refugee resettlement area. The first of the collection just arrived in Vancouver this week.
The rest of the range features the Bidi Bidi Collection (scarf, t-shirts); the Mud Cloth Textiles (mud-rich minerals collected from the bottom of rivers and applied to locally-woven cloth, then baked in the sun); and partnerships with other brands, such as Frazer Parfum.
One of the few modern perfume houses to create organic and natural perfume, Frazer Parfum launched its shea butter, essential oil and solid perfume collection as part of the Story of Us collection with all of the ingredients sourced locally in Namibia and scented with the sustainably collected sap of the Omumbiri tree. Because shea butter is a powerful economic opportunity, the Obakki Foundation is now working on developing a processing centre in Uganda where the women of Bidi Bidi can transform the shea nut into a saleable product for export.
The entire collection is on display at Walrus in Vancouver until Nov. 26. After that, the Obakki pop-up hits the road with stops in New York, Toronto and other North American cities. Every single cent of the net proceeds goes back to directly help the women of Bidi Bidi invest in their future.
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