Though JUMA, the brainchild of Alia Juma and her brother, Jamil, was launched in Toronto Canada in 2003, the eccentric clothing brand is well and truly grounded in globalization. The siblings have traveled extensively–growing up in Congo and Kenya, later living in Kazakhstan and various cities in North America–and continue to do so today. “As much as I love Canada, I definitely consider myself a global citizen,” Alia Juma notes. “I don’t identity with one country; I feel nomadic.”
These travels, says Juma, have definitely influenced the seemingly fearless approach to business the brand embodies, as well as the aesthetic and style choices for the collections. “I believe we are quite adaptable due to our lifetime of travels,” she notes. “Every country has different types of circumstances, and you must be quick to adapt to not only your surroundings, but also to the people and situations they throw at you.”
In her distinctive textile patterns and garment designs, Alia Juma has mentioned inspirations as diverse as Masai tribal art; wood carvers from Congo and Kenya; sea shells and wildlife from Mombasa; the clothes and cultural practices of Kazakhstan’s mountain people; fabric makers and sellers in Karachi; school, friends, and life in various North American cities; and even her mother’s silks and books.
Today, she lives and works in China, and the country is slowly finding its way into her practice and her heart. “In terms of day-to-day living, I find things quite comfortable. I live in Dalian, which is quite similar to Vancouver–it’s a coastal city, beautiful and clean, with super amazing people, great food, and fresh air,” she explains. “Upon spending more and more time here, I fell in love with China: the people, the culture imbedded within each region, the diversity of the cities, food, and language was a definite draw for me. Everyday I’m inspired by my surroundings, whether I’m relaxing on a beach in Dalian, wandering the streets of Shanghai or sitting on a patio in a hutong.”
These influences, however, are not applied to the collections with any geographical market limitations. Instead, they are amalgamated into the overarching JUMA approach to design. “We prefer to create what’s true to our brand, and build followings within the different regions,” Juma explains. However, she notes that the company may adjust their marketing strategies, for example, language and photography choices, depending on the country they are working in at the time.
When the Juma siblings took their first step into China, it was only to explore new manufacturing options. However, they quickly noticed an opportunity to help address a need in the local market for well-designed, contemporary products. “There isn’t a typical customer in China,” says Juma. “I find that shopping habits are individual here–the majority of our customers just want something unique.”
The JUMA brand is a favourite of idiosyncratic North American performers and models, like Solange Knowles, Nicki Minaj, and Coco Rocha, and it is now beginning to attract the attention of counterparts in the Chinese-speaking world. Recently, Juma was tasked by Chinese singer Wu Mochou (also known as Momo Wu) to design “something special” for her to wear on the cover of a popular Beijing lifestyle magazine. The company also work with numerous leading contemporary brands in China (as well as other global brands), selling their clothes and lifestyle accessories in their JUMA Studio retail points in Shanghai, Dalian, Tianjin, Hangzhou and Beijing and online at www.jumastudio.com.
“Business-wise we take things step-by-step because things are constantly changing for us; we’re always meeting new people and sharing new ideas and opportunities,” Juma notes. “I look back on the last 13 years and I see a gradual evolution. We started from a place where we were running around doing everything ourselves and trying to control all aspects of our company, and we’ve evolved into a team of amazing people working together to constantly develop and grow the brand.”
About Alia Juma
Alia Juma attended George Brown College and worked as an assistant designer at various design houses. Both Alia and her brother Jamil are well-travelled and have lived in exotic locales such as Kenya, Congo, and Kazakhstan as well as all over North America, including Vancouver, Montreal, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. In their spare time, the siblings have actively volunteered with various charities including the MAC Aids Fund and Mission 1 World. The name of their brand, JUMA, is also their last name, which is the Arabic word for Friday.