With the state of COVID-19, at first, masks were needed for health purposes. That still is true, but with months of this ‘new normal’ PPE outerwear, masks have also become something a bit more expressive and have even been deemed as a fashion statement for some. At least, for the local ready-to-wear bold print clothing line D’IYANU, that sentiment certainly strikes a cord.
D’IYANU was started by Addie Elabor, who came to the United States from Nigeria when she was six years old. Elabor wasn’t involved in fashion at first, more so actually on the marketing and business side, but found the need for a specific type of niche market in the world of style.
“I was looking for a clothing line that had modern African-inspired fashion using prints that are traditionally used in West African clothing, but are [also] re-mixed it in a way that’s more modern and fresh and exciting, so that people my age can get into it and wear it,” says Elabor. “[Or] anyone who is just interested in prints, and loves the vibrancy and wants to celebrate the culture can also get into it as well. So when I got this idea, I looked around, I searched and I didn’t really see any brand that was doing it prominently. So I decided, why not me?”
That question led Elabor to seek out a local designer to help bring her ideas to fruition and essentially launch the new brand over five years ago in 2014. The initial collection that launched in January of that year had just six styles, and with Elabor pouring her own money into this new passion project, she was able to find ways to get the clothes manufactured locally and shipped out of her studio apartment in King of Prussia.
“That year was kind of a struggle, getting things started, as you can imagine,” adds Elabor. “I realized that online was really the way to go. If I could figure out how to reach my target market online, then I would be able to sustain this business.”
By October of 2014, D’IYANU—which gets its name from the French meaning of “D’” for “of” or “from“ and the Nigerian language Yoruba meaning for “IYANU” meaning “miracle” or “wonderful”—had become a success. Currently, the brand is located in Norristown off Main Street and has grown to accustom 15 employees, an office space and a warehouse where they ship their products out.
When coronavirus hit, everything changed for businesses, and luckily D’IYANU was in a good enough position to make a pivot and also start making masks on top of their other online offerings. Blending the prints that are typically offered in Western African cultures with modern designs has always been at the core of the brand’s mission, so it only made sense for the masks to follow suit and become much more than just essential items.
“We started making masks because we realized there was a demand for it, and it became more of a fashion statement. So we have beautiful fabric and we realize since everyone is making masks, this is just kind of a no-brainer. We decided we wanted to make sure our masks were great quality and also have features that customers would appreciate,” explains Elabor. “Our masks are made with the nose wires, we have a pocket for filters and we also supply the filter as well. As far as pivoting to making masks, it wasn’t hard because we did already have the fabric and everything. All the prints we use are ones we’ve made in the past or ones we are making for current collections or future ones.”
The masks come in different sizes and styles that are accustomed to different groups of buyers, and there is even a design underway for those with beards. Interested buyers can choose between the ‘Shaka’ and the ‘Uzo’ style. The Shaka masks are three pleat and can open up to fit your face like a medical mask, and the Uzo is a bit more breathable for the hot season. Both styles also come with filters.
D’YANU has also been using their masks for good as well donating to different organizations and healthcare facilities in the process. In fact, for each cloth mask purchased, D’IYANU donates two medical masks. So far, the brand has donated over 12,000 masks to those in need.
“We have donated so far to three organizations. ‘Masks for the People’ are based in LA, they supply to people in communities of color that don’t necessarily have access to purchase masks, or even essential workers in those communities as well. They have teams that serve different purposes. Also, [we have] supplied to the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, they also do the same thing and they’re based out in Jersey. We also recently supplied CHOP in Philly, 2,000 masks and then to another Philly organization more recently, Project Home. They supply masks for homeless people in the Philly area.”
The stylish masks are available on D’IYANU’s site, along with their other fashionable offerings. The brand will also be releasing what they call the ‘Resort Collection’ on June 19 and will also be offering matching masks with those new items to go along as well.
To learn more about D’IYANU, visit diyanu.com