3 Ladies Pirates – The Malagasy Brand Putting a New Spin on Femininity
Samira Mihaja Moumini, captain of the Malagasy brand, 3 Ladies Pirates, never actually intended to become a fashion designer. After completing her master’s degree in pharmacology, she decided to explore a whole new field altogether, namely the world of digital marketing. “I’m deeply impressed by this field and love navigating it,” Samira told Fashionomics Africa. Then, one day in 2012, Samira found herself discussing fashion with a friend, and suddenly, she felt eager to explore an entirely new professional direction in life. “We were talking about the quality of sewing, and Madagascar’s potential in that field. And she suggested founding a brand as she knew how to sew.” And so, the seed for what would eventually become the 3 Ladies Pirates brand was sown, and by 2013 Samira set out to make it grow into a profitable reality.
“I didn’t have experience in designing and in fashion. I learned while we were buying fabrics. I watched a lot of videos about fashion shows, I listened to a lot of podcast, etc.,” she told us. “Finding the right team was challenging, as was establishing discipline in terms of quality. Malagasy products are locally known for their bad quality. We wanted to show that it was a cliché and that, with a lot of work, we can achieve the same quality as imported brands.” The 3 Ladies Pirates team finally came together when Samira was introduced to Bakoly, Salohy and Seheno. “An old friend introduced me to Bakoly. She was her aunt. When I told Bakoly that we needed more tailors, she gave me Seheno’s phone number. She said, “Call this woman and see if you like her work”. A few months later we needed another tailor. I posted a call for tailors on Twitter, and a good friend wrote me a few days later to introduce me to Salohy. I don’t sew and don’t have the skills needed for the workshop. These women do. And I am really proud to work with them. They’re not working for me, we work together, as a team. They teach me things about the fabrics, they advise me, and I sit and learn. I listen to them. 3 Ladies Pirates would not be possible without all their amazing work.”
Madagascar is home to many talented fashion designers – from the north, the south, the center and the coast of the island. They typically work with fabrics such as linen, wax and cotton. “Local designers love to work with the colours white, beige, brown or off-white. It is a beautiful colour palette that initially helped us shape the proposal for our clothes. We later decided to work with more intense colours like red, deep blue, yellow or mustard,” Samira explains. “Our typical process is as follows: I draw things that I would like to wear. I ask Bakoly and Seheno about the best fabric to use for my ideas, and we make a prototype. Once we are satisfied we call some customers and ask them to share their impressions about the clothes. Upon gathering enough positive feedback, we start to sell them.”
When Samira and her team of lady pirates first started playing around with ideas as to which fabrics they would feature in their designs, they quickly landed on lambahoany. “Lambahoany as we like to say, is the cousin of the khanga, another fabric that can be found in Comoros and East Africa. It’s like the Kitenge. The difference is that the lambahoany features scenes of Malagasy life with a Malagasy quote. This Malagasy quote is about love, life, the family, money, or Malagasy values. We were searching for a fabric which could tell the Malagasy story. First we tried wax and other fabrics, but we weren’t satisfied. We tested jackets and skirts with lambahoany and people liked it. In addition to that, we were sad to see that it had lost its value and we wanted people to see it differently. So, our process is to mix modern design with the traditional fabric.”
Samira was born to a Malagasy mother, and a Comorian father, and working with this fabric helped her to learn more about her Malagasy roots and history. “In the past, we wore the lambahoany for big events like weddings, male circumcision, funerals, etc. Nowadays it’s mainly used as a sarong or pareo when going on holidays or to recover car seats. We are bringing back this fabric’s value. 95 % of the materials we use are made in Madagascar, by Cotona.”
When it came to picking the right name for the brand, the team was determined to veer from the female cliché. They wanted something more tomboy-esque, something that would mirror the many different facets of femininity. “Women are always women, regardless of what they’re wearing. As we grow up, we are taught that women like pink, heart shapes, Barbie dolls, that women wear dresses and skirts and so many other clichés. Funnily enough, we love men’s clothes. Men have lucked out on the fact they have access to wonderful shirt and jacket designs – we’re almost jealous of those designs,” Samira laughs. “This is why sometimes we prefer to wear men’s clothes. And it’s important to let people know that women can wear whatever they want and still stay true to their femininity. The brand’s name – 3 Ladies Pirates – reflects this. Also, we think pirates are cool,” she grins.
This celebration of women and femininity is also what inspired their latest collection VIAVY, in collaboration with the Malagasy brand, Voahary Madagascar. “We had the opportunity to work with Voahary on a project last year, when a customer wanted two clutches. We chose to do one of them with Voahary and were amazed by the quality of their work. The new collection is named, VIAVY, Malagasy for “woman”. It is made by women for women. Women like us – you know, working girls, women who can handle their personal and professional life like a boss, women who are proud of their roots, culture and history,” Samira explains. “The VIAVY collection is made up of three different types of bags, all of which are named after important female figures in Malagasy culture. We wanted to show the richness of our culture through the story of these women. Their work, their power and their values speak a lot to VOAHARY MADAGASCAR founder, Mino, and myself. The maxi bag is named after Gisele Rabesahala, Madagascar’s first female minister. Then there’s the smaller purse, named after the poet Suzy Andry, and the clutch after Queen Binao. We may be selling fashion but it’s important for us to remember our history and to teach it to our customers, because it’s important to know where we come from.”
The 3 Ladies Pirates team knows exactly which direction they want to steer the ship that is their brand into. While, for now, they are mainly focused on surviving this crazy pandemic, they are already looking towards a bright, not-so-distant future that will allow them to collaborate with other Malagasy brands, this time to create a swimwear line. Follow them on Facebook or Instagram to stay up to date with their latest projects, and to secure your very own VIAVY bag!