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Meet Banna Girmay of Mama Banna in South Bay

Today we’d like to introduce you to Banna Girmay.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I went to law school thinking that a healthy salary would fulfill my appetite and while I really loved the rigor and analytical bootcamp nature of law school, I learned quickly (rather slowly) that the practice of law wasn’t as fulfilling for me.

I joined Goldman Sachs out of law school where I worked to implement new rules and regulations enacted after the 2008 financial crisis. The thrill of being at a lauded organization and the important conversations happening at the company definitely kept me happy for some time but after a couple of years, I decided to try out another career, management consulting. I joined Oliver Wyman and worked on a number of fairly quantitative projects, which, as a lawyer with zero Excel experience, was a whirlwind and very intimidating. While I didn’t stay at Oliver Wyman for long, I will forever be grateful for being forced to learn Excel – it’s definitely come in handy in so many ways.

My old boss asked me to return to Goldman as a VP, an offer which I gladly accepted, but fairly quickly I realized I needed to take my personal interest in fashion more seriously – law/consulting wasn’t meeting my creative demands. I enrolled in an entry-level sewing course at FIT and I’ll say that was a pivotal step forward in me starting Mama Banna.

Soon, fashion became the thing – and my job became a means. Several fashion internships later, I decided to take the plunge and develop a brand that spoke to me, which I didn’t see in the market. Something that incorporated both my cultures – Southern California and Eritrea – equally and seamlessly. Here we are now!

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It has definitely not been a smooth road – figuring out fabrics, fabric printing, production, etc. were all separate and new journeys for me. When starting a fashion business, it can feel like you are managing a team of people who are not necessarily all on the same page. So you have to be vigilant, kind and smart in your dealings.

Please tell us about Mama Banna.
Mama Banna is a streetwear brand inspired by the coasts and cultures of Southern California and East Africa. We highlight creatives in the diaspora who are actively pushing the culture every day through their work. Culture is at the heart of any community and, I believe, the hallmark of a thriving society – building it out brings me immense pride and joy.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
I’m an August baby and every year I had a pool party for my birthday. Watermelon eating contests and pushing uncles in pools are some of my best memories.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Main photo credits: Samson Debela
Product photo credits: Photographer: Betty Asmerom
Models: Mary Yemane & Abraham Yemane
Assistant: Helen Tedla

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