Stereotypes can be as widespread as they are dangerous. Just ask IC alumna and CEO of Malaika Apparel, Rita Bunatal ’16, who discovered her talent for creating powerful messaging and designs, beginning with fashion statements that corrected falsehoods about the continent of Africa.
"My life’s mission is to bridge that gap and educate people about all of the misinformation we’ve been fed for hundreds of years,” Rita said.
Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Rita was 14 when she moved with her family to Ghana, where she attended high school and experienced the power of immersing herself in her mother’s culture. Ithaca College was Rita’s first stop back in the United States.
As an international student who considered Ghana her home—but had lived in the United States, too—she brought an enlightened cultural awareness. She described her first year as “reverse culture shock.” Thousands of miles from her family, Rita recognized the necessity of building her community and a “home away from home.” She bonded with new friends through student organizations like the African Students Association, and later, POC at IC.
“It's beautiful how sometimes you can really create your own chosen family, because sometimes you need that,” said Rita.
Though she made great friends at IC, Rita also encountered blatant falsehoods about Africa, such as the idea that Africa was a country and not a vast continent with 54 countries.
“For me, it was just very eye opening. That was one of the things that also pushed me to start Malaika, because I really wanted to educate people,” Rita said.