For Fort Point community member Imani Mcfarlane, founder of HOTC Wraps, an African headwrap is more than beautiful fabric. Learn about how she teaches the cultural and wellness aspects of headwraps, as well as her path to owning her own design business, in this week’s Fort Point Q&A.
Tell us a little bit about your background as a designer.
I was born in Jamaica and migrated to the U.S. in 1972 at age 10 with my siblings, and have been residing in Boston ever since. I started designing at 11 or 12 at the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts. I did my first professional collection when I was about 18 years old. At that time I was attending Boston State College, studying to be a teacher, but I needed money. I saw an ad to enter to win to design for the Miss Universe Pageant. I entered and I won, and that’s when I started taking the whole fashion part of my life seriously.
I designed couture for several years. I did everything from bridal gowns to men’s suits, leather hats— everything. In the late 70s and 80s I used to get my leather from the Fort Point area. I got my first job in this district, as a stitcher, when I was 16 years old. In the late 80s I started focusing more on using Ankara textiles, which are African prints—on usingEuropean tailored style with African prints. Then, I opened a shop in the South End, Tafari Designs. I was designing a lot for reggae artists such as Queen Ifrica.
I have three children—two boys and a girl— and at that point I decided that raising three children was a lot, and I basically went bankrupt trying to make everything by hand, so I went into interior decorating. I started working for a company called Freddy Farkel’s Brighton Upholstery, where I did design consultations. And then I went to be a decorator for Fabric Place. I got most of my training in Framingham, at their headquarters, and the Boston Design Center through different high-end design houses.
I left corporate America because of racism. I always wore my headwraps, and got negative responses because of it while I was a decorator. One day I decided that I didn’t have to take it. So I left.
Tell us about HOTC Wraps.
I decided that since my headwrap was a problem, I needed to do something about the mammy voodoo queen stereotype. I thought education was needed—why would someone look at a beautiful piece of art and have so many negative things to say? So I decided to design a workshop on the art of African head wrapping. The first workshop was at the YMCA, and then from there I brought it to Egleston Square Branch Library, and then to many other libraries—Spelman College, Suffolk University, UMass Boston.
That’s what HOTC Wraps—which was just me, until recently when I brought my daughter on as my business partner—has been doing for the past 11 years: specialized educational workshops, which are now called Wrapshops.
What do you teach in your Wrapshops?
We highlight the cultural relevance of the African headwrap, and the spirituality behind it. We also discuss the medical benefits of the headwraps, which are so important. The headwraps that HOTC designs and manufacturers use natural textiles: cotton and silk. They allow the pores to breath, which is very important. They protect the scalp and they regulate body temperature. The colors of the headwraps are also important. For instance, a blue headwrap restores. A bright orange, yellow, or gold headwrap brings energy. Colors heal, and they effect our emotions.
We have demonstrated the art and fashion behind the African headwrap at Boston Medical and at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. Recently, we distributed a memorandum and went knocking on the doors of insurance companies to encourage them to pay for headwraps, as they do for wigs.
I go to colleges and meet young women who are dealing with cancer, and at the wrapshops I call them up to wrap their hair, and they pull me aside and thank me and tell me about going through chemo. When I get that response it makes me feel good. I’m a healer—it’s about using fashion to touch and save lives.
Where do you get your fabric?
Wherever I travel and I see a beautiful textile, I purchase it. I also purchase fabric from my sister, who lives in Nigeria. Mostly, I buy the authentic African prints from friends who travel to Africa—or when my daughter goes to Ghana, I buy from her. The silk textiles, I buy online or in New York.
How has the Fort Point community responded to your work?
A lot of Bostonians think I’m bold. I’m a black woman in South Boston, which is predominantly white, talking about the African headwrap. Some people love it. They love the colors, and the fact that I do quality work. The fact that I’m here at here in Factory 63 in Fort Point—most innovative district in New England—speaks to the quality work I produce.
Have you collaborated with anyone in Fort Point?
Alana, who is a photographer at Midway Studios, did portraits with headwraps at Open Studios. I’m looking forward to collaborating with Carl Stevens on step-by-step illustrations for the headwraps and collaborating with Kimberly Sutherland at Blue Mercury Spa.
HOTC headwraps are inspired by African, Caribbean, and international culture. I also pull from top designers like Chanel I have also been inspired by the Boston lifestyle: when I think Boston, I think serious, corporate, tailored, Oxford shirts, Pima shirts in the summer. Pima cotton kerchief raps have been added to my collection. In a sense, the sleek tailoring—that clean look— shows in our headwraps.
What are some of the favorite pieces that you’ve made?
The Adinkra Bedding Collection. It’s a combination of linen and silk in black, white, and chocolate brown. It’s a combination of European fabric and African design. And the Cowrie Peak Headwrap. I use that particular headwrap to bring an awareness of genocide and touch the human side of people.
You can catch a pop up of Imani’s work at the Fort Point Channel Fabric & Fiber Arts Fair on Saturday, September 30, 12-4pm at Atlantic Wharf, 290 Congress St.
All photos courtesy of Imani’s website.
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Alix Bryant is the Marketing and Social Media Intern for Friends of Fort Point Channel and an upcoming senior at the University of Rhode Island.
Editing support provided by Katie Hunt