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Point of View: Goya Gallagher of Malaika

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03 Oct '22

Innovative, pioneering, unique. Many superlatives could be used to describe Egyptian homeware label, MALAIKA. The founder of the female-led initiative discusses its origins, passion for the country, and making an authentic impact.

Author

Esme Royston

Within the expanse of a nation that birthed one of the world’s most ancient civilisations is a culture brimming with traditions, customs, and stories as diverse as its origins. For MALAIKA, the Cairo-based homeware label, capturing and honouring the prolific backdrop of Egypt’s storied history has become one of their chief opportunities as well as its greatest challenges. Honouring traditions and customs that are intrinsically embedded within the country’s cultural fabric is a heavy responsibility for anyone to carry, particularly one without Egyptian origins. But Goya Gallagher, the name behind the label and the Ecuadorian transplant many years in the making, carries that mantle well. Egypt, it seems, has become intricately woven into her identity. It’s with that same perception that she and childhood friend and Co-Founder, Margarita Andrade, approach each collection of MALAIKA.

In its nascent stages, MALAIKA was dedicated to Egyptian cotton bedding founded from an unfulfilled niche in the market. Product offerings then began to expand into table linens, the lionshare of which makes up the company today. Intricate hand-embroidered and hand-printed table napkins, placemats and tablecloths then became the vehicle from which many of their future collections were based.

In a quick game of name association, a word parallel to “organic” could easily be drawn. In an era often driven by overnight success hinged upon quick fixes and trend-driven solutions, the label has been steadfast in their approach, methodically developing and refining their brand into a company that’s equal parts luxury homeware and bonafide pioneer of championing women. MALAIKA was born long before sustainability initiatives and socially-minded business practices became a form of marketing or simply a box to check off the startup list. That identity has come through the intentionality of creating products as dedicated to aesthetic and quality as it is attentive to the care of the hands that made them.

Pivoting in the beginning from local manufacturers to small, female-led production enabled both. When asked about the decision to operate on a business model that both focused on women while empowering them, Gallagher responded, “This started about 17 years ago, before ‘social enterprise’ was even a word. From the beginning, and I can’t even tell you why exactly, it was important to us. We really wanted women to be a central part of our brand.”

“I think MALAIKA, truly in the end, is really just an expression of our love of Egypt.”

There’s an element of innovative pragmatism woven throughout decisions that have largely come to define the label. Cognisant that domesticity in Egypt was and is overwhelmingly female, and that pulling women outside the home to work would have been intrinsically limiting, Gallagher explored a different path. “We saw an opportunity to add value to Egyptian cotton through embroidery, but at the same time give opportunities to women to work from home.” From that recognition their business model of teaching women the art of embroidery blossomed, and as the demand for more space grew, so too did the opportunity for the women. Their business has steadily transformed from workshops, to a factory, and finally into a school in downtown Cairo. That school, Threads of Hope, doubles as a community centre, pivotal to the lives of Sudanese, Palestinian and other refugee women, many of whom who have had to rebuild their lives with their children alone.

Gallagher’s approach to MALAIKA is one of quiet resolve and intentionality. Intentionality to bring change, to enable posterity of ancient crafts, create representation for disparate groups across Egypt, and empowerment, each of which has been carefully woven into the fabric of the brand DNA. And in many ways, there’s become a proverbial passing of the baton. Weaving techniques like that of the Palace Placemat and Mamluk Tablecloth, traditionally passed generationally through men, are now being preserved by women.

“This started about 17 years ago, before ‘social enterprise’ was even a word. From the beginning, and I can’t even tell you why exactly, it was important to us. We really wanted women to be a central part of our brand.”

While MALAIKA collections derive inspiration from specific eras and regions of Egypt’s expansive historical catalogue, the brand is also what Gallagher refers to as “artisan-led”. Within each collection is an exploration of the community, the region, and ultimately the people behind adjacent crafts that are created to compliment the work of MALAIKA. There’s a representation that happens and an unfolding of the intricate layers of the storied histories. The result is that every time the label delves into a new collection, a different face of Egypt is brought to life for the world to see.

The origins of MALAIKA were born out of an enchantment for Egypt nearly two decades ago. That same thread carries it forward into the next chapter. Gallagher’s affection for Egypt is resolute, perhaps best illustrated with a folder that she shares with the brand’s Creative Director, Cruz María Wyndham, titled “2030”. Their overabundance of inspiration is quietly tucked away regularly to prohibit distraction from the task at hand, but continues to drive the future vision of the label. “I think MALAIKA, truly in the end, is really just an expression of our love of Egypt.”

Founder's Advice

Dinner party or afternoon luncheon?

Dinner party

Intimate gathering or big bash?

Intimate gathering, but where everyone ends up dancing

Muted or bright colour palette?

Bright

Favourite item from the collection?

Sultana Tablecloth

The one item we're all forgetting to use when hosting?

The underlining for a tablecloth

Best hosting advice?

The host should have the best time

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Starry Napkin, Set of 4
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