How do you take African, wax-printed fabrics that are steeped in hundreds of years of tradition and make them fresh for an American audience? This was the challenge Mapate Diop and Evan Fried faced. Their answer: DIOP, a line of “heritage-inspired” tops and bandanas.
While pieces made of wax-printed fabrics, like Ankara, have surged in the States in the last few years, as Fried observes, those pieces are largely marketed to women – the big skirt and crop top sets come to mind. In contrast, DIOP is geared toward the upwardly mobile, culturally-conscious millennial male. “We’ve taken the time to build something for them. We’re not just creating a dashiki and marketing it towards people in America,” Fried says.
“We’ve updated (the Ankara) with sort of a modern cut and some of our own signature details, namely our hemline, we have an irregular pocket, we’ve brought up the sleeves and opened up the collar,” says New York-born Diop, adding, “we gave it more of a jersey feel to make it feel more modern.”
In the brand’s infancy, Diop says the pair wondered, “What kind of shirt would we want to wear? And what’s something that still fits into our wardrobe and (with) the things that we’re already wearing?” The marker of any great piece, of course, is its ability to fill the gaps in your closet while harmonizing with what’s hanging next to it.
Fried is from West Bloomfield and he and Mapate met in Baltimore, both completing Venture for America fellowships, a two-year program for recent college grads who want to work at a startup in cities with an emerging tech scene. Fried took notice of the shirt Diop was wearing, made from Ankara by his Nigerian mother.
Diop says, “He said, ‘is there any way we can do this ourselves?'” This question led to prototypes, market research and an Indiegogo campaign that raised $20,000. They set up in Detroit in June. Diop says coming up, “To white people I was black, to black people I was African and to Africans, I was American. All those things are true. We want to continue the dialogue between cultures.”