If you're looking for a way to have chic, comfortable clothes that actually make a difference in the world, look no further than Obakki. Founded by Treana Peake in 2005, Obakki is a fashion line of detailed garments, and a corresponding foundation that drills water wells in South Sudan. 100% of donations go directly to drilling wells so families can build homes and establish communities around these stable sources of water.
On top of a real philanthropic impact, Obakki also has really lovely clothes--it's a win-win for all involved. We caught up with Treana Peake, the founder and mastermind behind Obakki to find out how she "makes it" and makes fashion with a purpose.
Fashionista: What inspired you to start Obakki? Treana Peake: I was always a very creative person, and I was looking at ways to use my creativity to bring attention to the philanthropic activities I was working on. I have always been involved in philanthropy, I've worked with charities in Africa for many years, so being able to merge my creative talents and philanthropy is why I started the line. Now I have Obakki which tells the story of the Sudan and various proceeds from Obakki go to creating water wells there.
What inspires your designs? My inspirations come directly from the fieldwork I do in South Sudan. I see a lot of hardship, but at the same time I try to see the beauty in everything as well. I'm picking up creative inspirations every step of the way.
What background did you have in fashion before your started Obakki? I had more of a creative direction background, I didn't have a formal design background, but I have been managing companies for years. I just sort of threw myself into it. I have one-stop house-meets-design studio where we do everything from design to manufacture, so it's a quick and easy way to dive into it.
Why is it important to you to have your business under one roof? Fashion is a many-layered business, and there are many aspects that you have to pay attention to--it's not just designing clothes. Having everything under one roof allows me to have my hands in everything and allows me to be able to attach my voice to every single part of my company. I want to know everyone who is working for me and really feel a part of the process in every way.
What's a typical workday like for you? I get up really early and I take my kids to school. I get to work and we usually meet in the morning and discuss the things that are inspiring us from a creative standpoint. We have a really collaborative team--everyone brings their dogs to work! We talk about the work that the Obakki Foundation is doing, so our day is full of brainstorming, and design, and business... I guess I just run around the entire day and then all of a sudden it's time to go home! [laughs]
Why was it important to you to have the philanthropic aspect to your business? I have always been involved in philanthropy, and by using fashion as a canvas, I knew I was going to be able to effectively tell a story about someone in another part of the world who can't maybe tell their own story and be able to reach a lot of people through that.
Would you say that the wider impact of your clothes is the most fulfilling part of your job? For me it is really fulfilling. I love the creative process, but even more is that through that creative process, we're changing lives and the people who are buying our clothes are changing lives. It's about connecting people throughout the world through fashion to create positive change. Everyone is going to buy clothes anyway, why not buy into a brand that is actually helping people? I love that connectivity, and I go to Africa four times a year to check up on our projects. It's a surreal feeling to be sitting in a remote village in South Sudan and seeing the people celebrating the gift of water that we have given them and knowing that it came because of fashion.
You are working on so many levels--fashion, philanthropy, and having your own family--what was the biggest obstacle for you to overcome to make Obakki successful? Really, the hard part is getting people to believe that we are actually affecting this change because so many brands today are using a humanitarian angle as another marketing layer. That is not the case here. This season we created 300 water wells in three months alone. It's about showing people that we are authentic and gaining consumers trust. We are directly doing our own field work, we have our own 501-3C nonprofit organization, 100% of our donated money goes to our projects. I have been working in philanthropy for 20 years, so Obakki is a natural crossover between fashion and philanthropy. This is me, this is not coming from a PR team.
Why did the Obakki Foundation choose to create wells in the South Sudan as its specific project? Water changes everything. It's the starting point for any type of development. Communities in the South Sudan are constantly roaming looking for water, and so they've had no chance to focus on finding crops, building houses, sending their children to schools. It's also a quick project, so we can drill a water well in 2-3 days and it's done. There is a real, quick, and tangible result at the end of buying an Obakki product.
Who is your dream customer--getting back to the fashion side of things? Well it changes every season. This season I was inspired by the story of the South Sudan, and so my dream customer is someone like Alek Wek, who is a very successful model who comes from the region where we're drilling wells, so in a sense this collection is a story of her.
How do you hope to see Obakki and the Obakki Foundation growing in the future? I would just love to invite more people into the Obakki world and involve people in philanthropy through the purchase of clothing. When you build a brand and have a following, you are able to use that to effect change and do good work, so merging Obakki and the Obakki Foundation even closer together is another goal of mine.