Daily Life with Yohanna Alem
Yohanna, you were responsible for designing the "A Love For Humanity " t-shirts but could you introduce yourself to our readers and let us know a bit about your background and your journey thus far?
I have always been a curious person. It has taken me to explore and try new avenues throughout my life. I was born in London but moved to Scotland at a young age where I began my love affair with nature and the mountains. 10 years ago I also moved to India having made the decision a week prior. I lived and worked in the desert working with Artisans, learning from the masters of Textiles. Since then I have moved around working in design - from Album artwork for jazz labels to working on the Daily Paper x Puma collection where the Africa camo print is still used today, to designing footwear at Adidas for fashion collaborations such as Wales Bonner. It is all through my love of storytelling and curiosity to create through different mediums.
I would like to encourage people who feel that they have buried an idea or creative energy inside, to start to water them and bring their creative ideas to a place it can flow. We are never supposed to stop learning!
This T-shirt shows a mother and her child fleeing with nothing more than what they could grab, not knowing where they will end up or if they will ever return. The crayons are significant as that is the tool I wanted to use to show the purity and simplicity in the message.
"A Love For Humanity" is a statement to remind us all that we must always remember to love and respect each other as humans first and foremost. Love is what the world needs more of.
What's the best advice you've ever gotten?
I grew up learning from the most creative and inspiring humans. My mother has always led by example, teaching me to love and be kind to everyone no matter their background, and circumstance, to stay open minded and justice seeking. She taught me through her decades of actively working and campaigning for human rights to always keep an open mind and an open heart in order to help people. Her passion and love for humanity is what continues to inspire me and many others around her. Compassion is key. We can see that life can be very difficult for everyone but I hold on to the reminder that everything shall pass. I have this tattooed on my body in Ge'ez. It can relate to any situation and feeling since life is always in a constant state of change.
Could you tell our readers more about the NGO Restore The Motherland and Asmlash Grant Foundation, where all donations will be directed to and used?
The Asmlash Grant Foundation was first introduced to me by a friend that went out to Sudan to go and help the people that fled the on-going war in Tigray and are in need at the Um Rakuba camp. Her first hand experience really highlighted just how difficult the situation is for the people that managed to make it there. Unfortunately they continue to face many issues and on January 2nd a fire broke out destroying more than 93 makeshift homes and left more than 250 refugees homeless. Due to this disaster they have had to mobilize their resources to rehabilitate and house those left with nothing. The money we raise will go directly to the female-led households that lost it all in the fire, to help the women take care of their families. Restore The Motherland is raising money for its project #LetRefugeesLearn to donate educational resources towards the child refugees. Restore The Motherland aims to fulfill its purpose of breaking the barriers between children and education by giving them the resources that they lack. Restore The Motherland will specifically be donating school supplies, sports equipment, instruments, and any other resources that are needed that contribute to their educational/music & arts program. The combination of the NGOs will bring urgent housing rehabilitation and also create hope for the mother’s and children.
Why do you think initiatives such as these are important?
This initiative focuses on Refugees. A lot of us have personal stories that stem from life as a refugee, could be yourself or family, but the idea of leaving a country in seek of safety hits very close to home for many and so I wanted to partner up with a brand I knew would align with highlighting the need to shed light on refugees in different countries. Daily Paper has shown themselves to be an inspirational brand to so many and I am proud to have been a part of the journey with the family, knowing them for so many years and watching them fly high! The people are truly gems and always show love, commitment and trust so this was a very harmonious fit. "A Love For Humanity" will be a continuation of a non-profit series where we drop a new t-shirt and partner with an NGO from different countries that will focus on helping refugees in ways that can give them a sense of hope. It is clear we are in a very critical time in the world. There is so much hate and division it often feels like empathy has been lost in the mist of all the polarity. Over the past few years, it became apararent that companies had to show that they are engaging and transparent with their consumers and so it has sparked more focus on topics people feel passionate about. I believe that sustaining our earth is about looking at social, economical and environmental issues and helping bring awareness to it in whatever form we can. It is important to start initiatives like this to spark an emotion of love for others, show kindness and stay in gratitude!
As a creative, how do you find the motivation and inspiration to keep creating during a lockdown?
What a wild ride. I feel like lockdown forced us to face ourselves and our habits in the most honest way! I think it was a mix of weird documentaries, reading, listening to music, and being outdoors that kept me sane. I really had an urge to be closer to nature in these times. We couldn't do anything else so the best thing I did was go hiking as much as possible! Grounding my feet in the soil, meditating, trying to be the East African Wim Hof. No but really, connecting to the elements - air, water, fire, earth, was my spiritual sanctuary and safe space. It reminded me to stay present.
So much happened in lockdown! It was an extremely difficult time, not only was the world dealing with a pandemic, but my personal life was flipped upside down due to the war in Ethiopia. So much fear and uncertainty. I am grateful for those that have been there to support me. Staying present and taking it day by day was/is the most helpful perspective.
Name 4 songs that would describe your current mood, your personality and your roots.
Jamiroquai - Virtual Insanity. Massive tune! I mean, is there a more relevant song to what is going on in the world? I remember seeing this video as a kid and being mind blown. The music director said that it is the walls and furniture that move and not the floor. The mind can be easily deceived! A piece of art. I love this era of music, style and expression.
Tupac - Do for Love. This song uses a sample from Bobby Caldwell and it has a beautiful blend of soul and rap. I remember when he died, my older cousin sat me down and i cried a lot. I love his raw passion and way he delivers his message. I feel like I channel him when i get in that old school hip hop mood. My friends know my alter ego is a male aspiring rapper with a thin goatee and big dreams.
Tsegazeab Gebresilasee - Embeytey. This is a song that i learnt the lyrics to when i did a road trip through the mountains in Tigray years ago. In the song he gives thanks to his wife for loving him, looking after him, feeding him lol. Just a song that takes me back to joyful times. Also i love drums and a Tigrinya drum beat is constant through the genre of music, feels powerful.
Erykah Badu - Didn't cha know. This song makes me feel all the emotions. I love the slow and senusal sounds, the drum and a slow walk through a sandy path where you find a woman questioning everything but ultimately knowing that all will be ok. "Free your mind, and find your way, there will be a brighter day" Erykah Badu really captures emotions in super magical way.
Holding on to this message and wishing this new year blesses us with more peace and light to the world!