Janan Shakur created Casa di Culture with her two sisters out of a need to translate a love of travel and culture into globally inspired products. As a brand, they represent a segment of society that considers the world its meeting place, music its language and culture its religion. The product line includes organic cotton t-shirts, batik hoop and button earrings, reversible tube scarves, wrap skirts and hand-casted silver jewelry. Aside from the clothing, they also run the blog, Bloggin’ Nomads, which discusses global customs, highlights international musicians, captures street-style fashion and interviews global nomads, travelers who are making their community a better place.
ND: Has travel, in any capacity, shaped the way you view and navigate through the world? Has it had an impact on your clothing brand?
JS: Travel has definitely shaped the way I view and navigate through the world. Visiting six continents and often being the sole ‘African-American representative’ has made me more aware of who I am and what I represent as an individual and a person of color. I am also much more understanding, open minded and respectful of the beauty and cultural diversity that exists around the world.
Travel also impacted Casa di Culture because we saw a need to make culturally relevant clothing products and accessories that have a deeper, cultural significance.
ND: What inspired your love of travel, and how did you come to the decision to make the permanent move abroad?
JS: A combination of experiences ranging from my parents’ love of culture to attending an international boarding school inspired my love of travel. Growing up in Washington, D.C. also gave me access to amazing international festivals, cultural exhibits and excellent global cuisine.
After attending boarding school, I knew that I wanted to study abroad and Europe made the most sense as one sister was studying in Berlin and the other in Paris. Luckily, during my junior year I found out about a small college in the Italian region of Switzerland that incorporated international travel into the required curriculum and I was sold! Once I arrived here, I immediately fell in love with this beautiful and unique country.
I studied in Switzerland for four years but decided to make it my home in 2008 when I got married to my longtime boyfriend, who is Swiss.
ND: How different (or similar) is your life in Switzerland as compared to the life you led growing up in the States?
JS: My day-to-day life in Switzerland is pretty similar to my life in the States.The main difference, however, is that it has taken me longer to meet people and find my niche due to language and cultural differences. After living here for almost 8 years in three different Swiss cities, I now feel settled and have my own routine, favorite spots and solid group of friends with similar interests.
When I first moved here I did experience ‘culture shock’ ranging from the federally implemented 10pm quiet hours to finding most stores closed after 6:30pm during the weekday and closed all day on Sunday. Despite the quirkiness of this tiny country (in U.S. lingo it’s about the size of West Virginia), Switzerland is one of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever lived and each day I’m blown away by the natural beauty the Alps and lakes provide.
ND: What’s it like visiting the states now that you’ve been away so long? Have you gotten the inevitable question, “When are you coming back?” and how do you respond?
JS: Visiting the states is always fun, but the longer I’m away the stranger it feels to return. It normally takes me two days to settle in because everything there seems so new, large and slightly commercial. I’m also always amazed/overwhelmed by the amount of options that exist; from the seemingly unlimited television channels to endless grocery store aisles.
My friends and family stopped asking me when I would come back because I kept on pushing back my return date. Now they’ve accepted that I’ve made Switzerland my home and enjoy visiting me here.
ND: What’s your ideal travel destination?
JS: My ideal travel destination, for the moment, is a safe, temperate place with an efficient public transportation system, delicious and affordable food, friendly people, creative vibe, outdoor markets and surrounded by natural beauty.
ND: 3 things you dont travel without…
JS: Excluding my passport and money, I always pack the following three things:
- Casa di Culture reversible tube scarf: This scarf has been used as a head wrap, blanket, pillow and belt depending on the situation.
- Digital camera: I like to take street style photographs as well as landscape pictures so it’s nice to always have my camera by my side.
- A good book: I love reading a good book and it’s the perfect travel accessory because it’s lightweight, inexpensive and you can read while you’re on the train, at the park, on the beach, waiting for friends etc.
ND: What’s your travel philosophy?
JS: Travel like a modern nomad.
I normally do research before traveling (i.e.travel information from the airport/train station to my hotel, city/town/regional map, basic phrases in the local language, key addresses of museums, restaurants, boutiques, etc.). I also get recommendations from friends, friends of friends or even social networks to find out what I should do, eat and see once I’ve arrived. Though, once I arrive I try to just go with the flow and give myself the freedom to stray from my itinerary and explore.