Designer Martha Mtegha thinks of herself as a nomad. Originally from Malawi, she lived in London before settling in Houston.
But it's her creative nature that inspires this identity. "For me, as an independent artist, I feel like a nomad—being creative, you don't really belong, you don't fit in a box," Mtegha says.
Mtegha is the regional director of Fashion Group International-Houston, an industry association for designers, and she launched her own line of women's clothing, Marrittah, in 2014. This month she debuted Ark + Nomad, with a name inspired by its role as a shelter for independent creatives like her from across the globe.
Ark + Nomad originally came out of her idea to open a brick-and-mortar store in Houston that would stock goods by local independent makers like her, but decided an online shop was a more practical starting point. Then she starting thinking about some of the creatives that she wanted to work with—and her mind kept returning to some of her favorite discoveries from around the world.
"I love to travel, and every time I travel I would buy stuff for my house, just little unique stuff," says Mtegha. "So I thought, instead of independent artists in Houston, why not different artists from countries I've traveled to?"
The first collection of wares is geared toward home goods and jewelry, with a particular focus on ceramics and other objects from South Africa. Mtegha skipped the African wax fabrics and prints that most Americans picture when talking about African design, instead selecting sleek teacups—oh, so many delightfully chic teacups!—plus jars and table runners with prints inspired by nature from Capetown's husband-and-wife duo Love Milo; geometric copper light fixtures by Leg Studios, and Modern Gesture's woven pendant lights inspired by African necklaces—Mtegha discovered her work at South African-based restaurant chain Nando's.
There is also pottery from London and lucite jewelry from Houston's shopnonhuman, and Mtegha promises more lines coming in 2017, as she will be scouting new wares to include in an upcoming trip to Portugal and Spain.
Mtegha is also re-focused on her own line, releasing a new Marrittah collection for Spring 2017, but she says with Ark + Nomad she's found her calling.
"My passion now is for independent artists, and there are plenty all over the world that don't get the recognition they deserve," she says.