BY ANN BROWN
For Penda Diakité, her fashion is her art. Diakité is a mixed-media artist, designer, and filmmaker whose art is not only available for sale, but is also on her fashion pieces. PendaWear is an urban/West African ArtWear brand.
Her art is an eclectic mix of cultures as Diakité grew up between her two homes in Mali, West Africa, and Portland, Oregon. L.A.-based Diakité graduated from California Institute of the Arts, with a BFA in film/video and a minor in Cultural Studies. She is also the author of a children’s book, “I Lost My Tooth in Africa.”
Each item in PendaWear, which was launched in 1998, is custom quality, made-to-order art-wear apparel. “I started in spring of 2016. As a mixed media artist, I began my line by blending my artwork and clothing together (printing images of my art onto the fabric and working from there). As my brand developed, I started using more traditional symbols and patterns from my home in West Africa on my fabrics,” says Diakité. “I treat the clothing that I create like the art I make–it is an extension of me: a tangible piece of expression. I’m all about self-empowerment among women of color, and the clothing I create is a manifestation of that concept.”
Because her pieces are one of a kind, her line stands out from other fashion brands. “I am always creating content from the heart, and am constantly focusing on staying trendy and unique. Over everything, my mind is focused on the creative process, and harnessing positive energy, rarely competing with other businesses,” says Diakité.
The line includes dresses, tops, skirts, jackets, pants, swimsuits and accessories for women and men. “The Fanta Swimsuit is a best seller; however, I do have some new swimwear in the works that I will be releasing soon,” reveals Diakité.
As with all small businesses, along the way Diakité has had her share of challenges. “Being a young entrepreneur can often be a ‘challenge’ in itself. As far as PendaWear, the biggest challenge has been dealing with third parties attempting to replicate and steal my designs, as well as using my images (ironically, often images of me) to advertise. On the bright side, the copied product isn’t the same quality as mine, and it is flattering to know people enjoy my designs. I am always creating something new, so by the time they steal one design I am on to the next anyways,” shares Diakité.
Going forward Diakité is looking to expand. She says, “I am currently looking to begin selling my products in different stores. Continued expansion is always the goal!”