Interview: Meet Waris Dirie
Activist, Bond girl, author, triathlete… get to know the multi-talented name behind our new collaboration.
“I was born and raised as a nomad. As a child I’d never had a pair of shoes and would always walk everywhere barefoot. Because of this I understand the importance of healthy, natural feet”. Meet Waris Dirie, the inspirational woman behind our latest collaboration with Soul of Africa.
In support of Waris’s charity organisation, The Desert Flower Foundation, the new Soul of Africa range features ‘Born Free Born Nomad’ prints inspired by Waris. The shoes are hand-stitched at a new production line in Addis Ababa that directly provides sustainable jobs for local people. The shoes are made with World Fair Trade canvas made by The Village Industry, a textile and garment producer in Addis Ababa, using natural dyes and hand-printing on sustainably sourced cotton yarns from Ethiopian womens’ cooperatives.
As for Waris, her story is unique, and inspirational. Raised in a Somali nomadic family, she went on to become a supermodel, triathlon runner and human rights activist who set up the Desert Flower foundation following the book and the film Desert Flower which became the strongest statement ever in the fight against FGM. She is the recipient of a number of prizes and awards for her continued humanitarian work. We caught up with her to talk about the foundation, this collaboration and how she’s becoming a children’s book author in her spare time!
Waris, you are an inspirational woman! Please tell us about this collaboration, how did you get involved? What initially drew you towards it?
A couple of years ago I was approached by Dulma from Soul of Africa to collaborate on creating a new print design to be made in Ethiopia providing jobs for people. I’m a big supporter of economic development and prosperity in Africa, so what she was doing resonated with me a lot. Plus, I liked the shoes and the barefoot concept behind it. As a child I never had any shoes, I wish I had those when I was growing up!
What inspired the prints of the collection?
I was born in a nomad family in the desert, I escaped a forced marriage at the age of 13 by fleeing from my home country to London. Since then, I’m on the move and currently live in Poland. I’ve never been one to stay still. I was born nomad, and I am a nomad and always will be.
Tell us about the Desert Flower foundation and your ambition for it?
I founded the Desert Flower Foundation in 2002 to fight against female genital mutilation and for the women’s rights and education in Africa as I experienced the pain firsthand. I want to end this inhumane practice once and for all. Unicef reports that almost nine out of 10 girls in Sierra Leone are cut, even though in January 2019 the country officially banned the practice. My organisation manages four medical centres for the holistic treatment of FGM victims in Paris, Stockholm, Berlin and Amsterdam and we are planning more across Europe, Africa, Asia and the US.
Why is the ‘barefoot lifestyle’ important to you?
For me, the barefoot lifestyle is body positivity. Women are ‘forced’ to wear high heels to look pretty while they are damaging their feet and feel uncomfortable or even in pain by wearing tall, narrow footwear. Women need to take back their power and wear what they like. Together we can change things, celebrating peace, love, care, compassion and beauty of the world.
What do you like doing to relax and escape?
In my free time, apart from exercising and spending time with my children, I enjoy painting very much. Recently I published a children’s book ‘My Africa. The Journey’, which was developed and designed to be a first reading book for kids, because along with a story the book includes several writing and reading exercises designed by teachers. The book is distributed to children in Africa together with a set of pencils and a schoolbag.
Credit for Waris images: Desert Flower Foundation