Meet Rita Bunatal
First and foremost, tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do, and what are you passionate about?
Hi! My name is Rita Bunatal and I am a senior at Ithaca College pursuing my B.S. in Communication Management and Design with a Corporate Communications focus and minors in African Diaspora studies & Communication studies. I identify as a Ghanaian - Kenyan American & a Pan-African womanist. I was born and raised in Dallas, TX and moved to Ghana when I was 14. I attended Tema International School located in Tema, Ghana. I moved back to the United States to attend Ithaca College located in Ithaca, NY. I am very interested in exploring the complex identity formations of young Africans who continue to live between Africa and the United States.
Tell us about your brainchild, Malaika Apparel. How did it come about?
I started to create designs that were inspired by the happiness, pain, frustration, joy, anger and excitement I felt in the midst of not only being a first generation African attending college, but also as a black woman living between the U.S. and Ghana. As a Communications Major, I was inspired by various misrepresentations of the narratives surrounding Black bodies in the media, as well as the misunderstanding of each other within the diaspora.
What has been your biggest challenge as a business owner. Specifically as black female business owner?
Balancing everything is so difficult. Being a senior and launching my business has been a very difficult time. I am also an RA as well as the Co-President for the IC African Students Association. Being a student leader has been very difficult as well as trying to manage a budding business. Since starting, I have found that there are many businesses owned by Black women and it has been empowering seeing that there is an entire network of black women who are starting businesses.
How has being a social justice activist as well as a business owner impacted your health? Your safety?
It has impacted it significantly. It is just recently that I am learning the importance of self-care and doing things that make me happy. I am learning not only so much about myself, but I am learning the importance of my voice and my existence. I have had my personal safety threatened on a few occasions because of my involvement in various demonstrations on campus. It has been not only a terrifying, but most eye-opening experience. I am learning to take care of myself, because if I don’t do it, who will?
People often present the argument that it’s “bad for business” to be subjective in issues, specifically social justice issues. Do you think that social justice and entrepreneurship intersect? If so, how.
I have heard this several times and have had several folks tell me that it will “hurt business” if I target a specific audience or make items that focus on the empowerment of black bodies. I have thought about this for a while, and I just realized that Malaika Apparel isn’t wanting to reach the masses. We aren’t looking for anyone. We are finding the people who share the passions of the community we have built and are empowering them. The people who support Malaika are devoted to all of its products & are what make it the lifestyle brand that it is.
This is a little left field, but what do you think about female entrepreneurship and its contribution to the growth of various sectors within Africa?
I feel like the future of Africa are the women. The continent won’t grow without the growth of female entrepreneurship. I have been a lot of of work done by female entrepreneurs in Africa and have started having a few conversations regarding what it means to be a female entrepreneur on the continent and in the diaspora.