Los Angeles-based Mama Banna as founded by Banna Girmay is a new streetwear brand launched in 2019. The brand is rooted in the spirit of East Africa, specifically Eritrean where both of Girmay’s parents were born.
Paying homage to the region’s deep heritage, the label’s holiday collection highlights themes from vintage issues of Vanguard, an Eritrean magazine circulate during a period of revolution in the country.
We had a phone conversation with Girmay about her background and her newly launched label. Enjoy the exchange below.
Snobette: What was your path to creating Mamma Banna?
Banna Girmay: “I have been working as a lawyer for about six to seven years and realized it was not really something I was passionate about. I pivoted to fashion full time, and started my brand Mama Banna a year ago, while also doing some work in fashion styling. My family is from Eritrea, I was born here in the United States and have travelled to Eritrea often.”
“Over time I realized that there were not many brands especially in streetwear that spoke to East African heritage. That’s really where the root of the brand came from, a desire to represent Eritrean culture in a casual way.
“As a designer I’m inspired by creatives like Kim Shui, the way she’s taken elements of her culture and really seamlessly brought them into a style that is attractive and that anyone could wear. That’s the direction I want to keep going in.”
Snobette: What does the Name Mama Banna mean?
Banna Girmay: In Eritrean culture, when you call someone Mama, it’s an introduction to their name as an elder, a sign of respect. In many ways because culture is usually preserved through women, I wanted to convey a feminine element of my culture. That lead me to combine Mama with my name as I way to inject my personal identity to the brand as well.
Snobette: What was the thinking behind your previous Legends collection with the actress Zeudy Araya and singer songwriter Yemane Barya tees?
Banna Girmay: “I wanted to find a way to commemorate all these iconic artists and I felt like there was no better way, than to create a vintage looking concert t-shirt. For example, Zeudy Araya is legendary for her roles in erotic films, she posed for Playboy, and is now producing films. She is still alive. I’ve been trying to contact her. I have to find a way to make that happen. We have to give people their roses while they are alive.”
Snobette: What’s next for Mama Banna?
Banna Girmay: “I remember when Moncler did these amazing puffers with Liya Kebede‘s Lemlem brand that went viral they were inspired by traditional Eritrean and Ethiopian art. I remember thinking, how amazing would it be if someone in our culture made that.
“There are so many beautiful cultural elements to our culture that are not very mainstream, and we understand the depth of those references and their historical context. And so I really want to tell those stories for my own people. Whoever wears it, I think that’s positive because it is pushing the culture forward, instead keeping the culture to yourself.”
“This current collection is inspired by vintage version of an Eritrean magazine I found called Vanguard. They were circulated during the Eritrean War of independence to update people on what was happening with the war. The content of the magazines, talked about life, the ideals of anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism as well as feminism.”
Snobette: What sneakers have you had on your radar this winter?
Banna Girmay: “I really got into the Nike and Stüssy‘s Spiridon sneakers, I really wanted the white ones but then I stumbled upon the silver ones. They’re very futuristic. And then my other obsession lately are Adidas Samba sneakers, in every color. Also, I’m not a Jordan girl, but there was a Jordan 1 Mocha that have been really high on the list as well.”