I was searching through Etsy for face chains and headdresses for Burning Man. I had something vague in my head – something ethereal yet durable, with natural materials and neutral colors, quality made, no feathers – but I couldn’t find anything that didn’t look cheesy or trashy or over-the-top. I gave up my search.
Then, an acquaintance of mine, a women named Saida (pronounced Sigh-e-duh) Moroudova, posted photos to Facebook of her new project, Object and Dawn, featuring gorgeous headdresses that are unlike any other fashion art I’ve seen. That’s it. That’s what I’ve been looking for, I thought.
I got in touch with Saida to ask about how I could get one for myself for Burning Man, and she generously agreed to send one of these thoughtfully crafted pieces my way.* (It won’t be here in time for me to photograph it on myself before Burning Man, so I’m posting Object & Dawn’s pictures instead. However, you can order this week and it will arrive before August 24th.)
When I get on the phone with Saida one evening to find out more about her brand, she tells me her cofounder Amy Vaninetti can’t talk on the phone, because she’s flying out to Kenya the next day to work on the next stages of the brand. We realize that we are in the same Burning Man camp. And as I learn more about her, I realize that she’s not just any fashion entrepreneur. She’s paid her dues, developed her sense of style so much so that nobody but her could make such gorgeous pieces.
Born in Azerbaijan under the Soviet Republic, Saida saw her country fall apart by age 15, lived in refugee camps and learned to speak seven languages by the age of 20. She studied art in Sweden, then fashion at Parson’s in Paris and New York, before working in the conventional fashion industry for 10 years, becoming increasingly miserable. “At one point I looked around at my bosses and realized I didn’t want any of their lives,” Saida tells me.
Eight years ago, she quit and started her own company in fashion wholesale distribution. It was a temporary gig that grew into a business, something that provided the freedom and the time that she needed to recover from years in corporate America. And then, three years ago, she was preparing for her first Burning Man, and made herself a headpiece: paper maché horns covered in disco ball mirrors. “I just really liked the process,” she says. “It was active meditation for me. Everyone told me I should start a line of headpieces. But I was like, no, there’s already enough of that on the market. In fashion, thousands of pieces are produced of each style and suddenly you would see it everywhere! But I wanted my styles to be more individual.”
When she got home from the Burn, inspired by the Burner community and her tribe of friends in New York, she set up up a bilingual blog showcasing empowered women, fashion, travel, and sustainable living. “It’s hard to fund this blog if you have principles,” she commiserated with me. “There’s so much easy money out there, but I won’t take it if it doesn’t feel right. This blog was always a love child, never a commercial project. It connected me to so many different women in many parts of the world and taught me the importance of modern tribes.” She amassed a large following on her Instagram feed without any artifice or effort, simply by showcasing her Burner-Off-Duty life in L.A., travels around the world, sparkly parties where she sports her own 3D printed headpieces, and–of course–smoothie bowls. She’s the epitome of the creative, nomadic, health-conscious but relaxed entrepreneur–the kind of woman whose photos you would hate-like, if she wasn’t so darn charming and authentic.
While she was on a trip to Vietnam last year, she got a message from Vogue that they wanted to shoot one of her headpieces, which they had found on her Instagram feed. The shoot ended up not happening. But, “I took it as a sign from the universe that I needed to do it. Within the week this whole idea came to me. I realized that I wanted to make a sort of Lego of a headpiece that you can take apart and put together in various shapes and forms according to your desires in the moment–something that would allow everyone to use their own imagination and style when putting my designs together.”
As she dove into her idea, she realized how much work it would be to develop the business, so she called up Amy, with whom she had worked with on a project that hadn’t come to fruition. She didn’t know Amy’s whole skillset, just that she enjoyed her vibe and her work ethic. “Amy is really hard working and she understood the idea of modular accessories and clothing. I called her up and I presented her this idea. I told her that my long-term goal would be to establish a production line that is sustainable and ethically sourced. To tap into global heritage and work with authentic tribes all over the world. To help communities do what they do best, have them make something that is beautiful, sourced with local resources, and have them apply their craft and pass it on, to make things that really last, but also fit our own lifestyle.”
Amy listened, and said, ‘Do you know what I do?” For the past eight years, Amy has been working as a director for Mama Hope, an international non-profit focused on empowering grassroots communities to eliminate global poverty through social entrepreneurship. Amy joined Mama Hope as the second team member and has aided the growth of the organization’s partnerships from two projects in Kenya in 2008, to now 100+ projects across five countries in Africa as well as India and Guatemala.
So the two teamed up and got designing. “I wanted to create something that was neutral enough that it would look equally good on men and women. I wanted to create shapes I hadn’t seen before,” Saida says. Also, unlike most festival brands, Saida will completely reinvent the brand’s look each collection. “Each collection will be completely different than the one before, yet wearable together with everything else.”
This first collection of headpieces are made of high-grade alloy metal and shells, both sourced from India and assembled in L.A. Though Saida was assured by suppliers that the materials were sourced ethically, for the next collection they will get certified sustainable and ethically-sourced material. “I’m never going to have local artisans make something for me that they don’t have access to locally,” Saida says. Plus, they have plans to work with the Masai tribe in Kenya.
“Everyone has heard about the negative side of production in the fashion industry, but our goal is to do the opposite and make a positive impact with all of our designs,” Amy says. “It’s about collaboration; finding artists with diverse backgrounds and designing products together. It’s about building bridges, the exchange of ideas and opportunity to expose a global network to diverse cultures. It’s about jobs, fair wages and women being self-sufficient.”
“We’re never going to have sales or promotions, because we’re paying for the quality,” Saida says. Right now, the brand is direct-to-consumer, to avoid a markup that would put the headpieces out of reach for all but very rarified revelers.
Amy and Saida were planning on launching in the fall, but once again, Vogue intervened. They put their initial collection of headpieces on some performers at a high-end party called You Are So Lucky, held at a manor north of New York City. It was the kind of event that Gatsby would throw if he were to team up with Sleep No More. Vogue covered the party, and three of Object and Dawn’s headpieces were featured in the story about the party. As accolades and praise flowed in from their friends, she and Amy scrambled to set up a website selling the headpieces in just three weeks, in time for Burning Man. (It kicks off on August 27th.) “Vogue triggered a wave of incredible support from our tribe,” Saida says. “People approached us to commission pieces for creative ceremonies, and asked if they could get the pieces for Burning Man. We realized we had to capitalize on that moment, so we got to work!”
Saida is building the collection so that the pieces are not only beautiful, but functional for those who will use them hard: partiers, ravers, festival goers. They’re testing them on fire spinners and go-go dancers, then soliciting feedback, which has been positive. “Quality is so important to us, we want our accessories to last through hours of dancing, years of travel,” Saida says. All the headbands in this initial collection are lined with velvet ribbon so it sits softly on the head, and is light and comfortable – the dancers who wore it to You Are So Lucky wore the pieces for 12 hours straight. “People who actually wore it at the event and tell us how good it made them feel,” Saida says. “Nobody complained about the weight or discomfort. It’s quite balanced and comfortable and great to dance in.”
I can verify that. A friend and I were texting and she texted a third friend who wore the face chain one to You Are So Lucky, who reported back that it wasn’t heavy at all. It also flat packs, making it easy to bring all over the world to any festival you might attend, whether it’s Africa Burn or a small gathering in Bali.