In a world that is heavily digitised and thriving in the art of cultural acceptance, there has come a generation of creatives that unapologetically express their love for culture and being a child of diaspora. Diaspora is typically known as a group of people from a shared homeland, who move from one country to another, also known as the act of migration. Finding inspiration through different mediums, creatives are now able to utilise their platforms as a means of teaching others about their culture, while learning about where they come from. One of the creatives that strives to do just that is brand owner and founder of TAVII, Anja Saleh.
Anja Saleh is a designer, poet and educator, with a background in political science and sociology. She was born and raised in a small city in the south of Germany and would often move back and forth between Germany and her ancestral homeland, Egypt.
“I consider myself, well, Nubian-Eygptian/ African-German/ Egyptian-German…the beauty of it, I guess, is that I can pick and choose because it is all an essential and factual part of me,” Anja says.
In 2018, Anja decided to launch TAVII. Inspired by the magnificent stories of Egypt, which are reflected in the jewelry that she creates, Anja says she has been working on collections that are inspired by “silenced communities in Egypt” and believes it is a way of “challenging the status quo of what is perceived as good or beautiful designs”.
The brand represents more than what we see on the surface, “TAVII is Ancient Egyptian and means the two lands,” Anja explains, adding: “It is derived from the concept of Sema Tawy, namely ‘the union of two lands’ originally meaning upper and lower Egypt.” Prior to the unification of Egypt, many Egyptians lived under the rule of one of the two lands – lower Egypt is to the north of the country, while upper Egypt is to the south, with each on different sides of the famous River Nile.
“The two lands resonate with the diaspora experience, which biographically connects individuals to at least two places in the world, while at the same time distancing them from these places to a certain extent,” Anja says, as she touches upon the richness of history and what it means to her. “The further we move away from our past, the more relevant it becomes to us. We want to remember and commemorate ancestral rituals, traditions and wisdoms.” Anja believes this is a way of “enriching our cultures” while “manifesting memories of previous generations”.
“TAVII reminds me of both of my home countries. Egypt and Germany”, drawing in inspiration from both, and the “complexity and beauty of belonging to several places”, Anja says. The desire to learn more about one’s roots and culture is growing in many communities, bringing people closer to who they are and where their parents are from, and thereby “re-connecting them to their past, beyond their physical being”, she continues.
Her commitment to sustainable fashion has meant Anja has taken the unconventional path compared to the bulk of the fashion industry. “The offers for mass production and fast fashion in general are just so incredibly profitable and seem easier to access and or maintain, however this is a difficulty that I know will be worth it in the long run and I will always stand against fast fashion,” she explains.
“With this approach in mind and the determination to not fall into the mass production of the fast-fashion trap – I want to try to switch things in the industry, with the aim of being as sustainable as the process allows me. I started to dig deeper into the ins and outs of my own history and the story I wanted to tell to make sure each step is intentional. Things that I was convinced would add to the energy of the work.”
“When creating a business,” Anja adds, “seek help and make trusted people a part of the process, do not be afraid to get started and be confident even in your failures. To embrace the process is not a saying, it is a necessity and that becomes very apparent in the process.”
Her favourite piece from the collection? “The Nostal Hoops are inspired by the tiny earrings of the same style that most kids of the diaspora wore when they were very young or let’s say were made to wear. It was this one common thing – usually in gold though – that one could easily spot on childhood pictures of others, regardless of the country their parents come from.”
“The things that we inherit are a part of us. From the very obvious, like our features to the things mostly not even fully accessible to ourselves, like the rich lives of our ancestors. The richness of their lives was made up by wisdom, lots of strength but also a lot of pain that translated into trauma and that we, too, have inherited with beauty, wisdom and strength. So, what my heritage means to me is not so much a choice than it is a given. It shapes my whole being. From the way I see to the way I fear, it all leads to strings connected to my heritage,” Anja reveals.