“I have to walk the walk if I’m talking the talk,” says Ashley Alexis McFarlane on the transformation of OMI Woods into an eco-friendly, sustainable special occasion brand.
In May 2017, owner and creative director McFarlane showcased her “Into The Woods” collection at Fashion Takes Action, Design Forward’s Canadian Sustainable Fashion Award show, and came away as one of three finalists for the finale showcase in October 2017.
OMI Woods has been on the scene quite a bit this year. If you attended the AfroChic TO Reloaded cultural event, not only would you have seen Amanda Parris of CBC Arts, host and interview in signature OMI Woods Golden Hibiscus threads, but McFarlane also showcased her summer collection during the sold-out event.
The AfroChic TO showcase took McFarlane back to where she began. The magna cum laude Ivy League graduate of UPenn was using her Communications degree as a Violence Protection Activist in Toronto 7 years ago when she showed her first African print designs at the premier AfroChic TO event.
Transitioning the use of her communications degree but still an activist at heart, McFarlane designs collections that relay a story of African tradition using non-traditional colours, mobilizing the antiquated to modern styles. Each piece is made to order with the intention to luxuriate every woman for any special occasion.
“I started with a love for textiles and prints,” says McFarlane about her first pieces. That love grew into a harsh realization that although her pieces were beginning to garner notoriety, she was uncomfortable contributing to the fashion industry’s toll on the environment--behind oil, fashion is the second highest polluter. “We don’t fully understand or recognize the price of being unsustainable,” says McFarlane.
The meaningful and symbolic use of African print resonated with McFarlane before the recent hype. Those materials were traditionally dyed naturally, but since the popularity of African print has grown significantly, much of the fabric is now chemically dyed in rivers across China. Though this is less expensive, the cost is the destruction of natural resources and poor working conditions. With fast fashion was on the rise and many brands cutting costs with less ethical choices, McFarlane made the bold decision that she wanted no part of that for her brand. “I manufacture in Canada, pay fair wages, and create opportunities for local graduates of fashion programs.” She also uses eco-friendly textiles made from recycled water bottles, and dyes that do not use water.
The brand’s makeover also included a name change. You may have been familiar with McFarlane’s original brand name, Asikire Afana, meaning sugar machete, which stemmed from McFarlane’s Jamaican Maroon descent. Upon realizing that customers and staff couldn’t pronounce the exotic name, she decided to change the brand name to something both culturally relevant and easy to pronounce. The name OMI Woods pays homage to her Jamaican and African descent and highlights her commitment to environmental friendliness.
If you’ve never had a chance to experience an OMI Woods show, here’s your chance. Byblacks.com is a proud sponsor of McFarlane’s latest showcase happening this Saturday, September 2, at Kazembe & Associates 4th Annual HOB NOB Boat Cruise. “I really focus on how to make fashion better,” says McFarlane who is in fitting company, as the cruise will be hosting some of Toronto’s greatest movers and shakers for a night of entertainment and networking.
All proceeds from the cruise will be supporting scholarship and mentorship programs provided to underprivileged youth by the Kazembe Foundation. McFarlane may give the Yankee Lady passengers a sneak peek of the new collection with her onboard fashion show. “For The Rivers” features flowing silhouettes with newly created prints developed in collaboration with graphic artist Camille Lauren. Be sure to catch the show on Saturday to see this trailblazer’s innovation in action.
You can also see highlights of OMI Woods' latest designs on their Instagram.