TAMU Thomas loved her career in social services in Harrow. She did the job for more than 10 years and still works as an independent social worker, but her dream was always to run and own her own business.
Two years ago, the dream came true.
In 2010, the mother from Harrow launched African clothing brand Kenema, and has since welcomed interest from around the world.
Tamu buys fabric from Africa, giving small market traders money and business and sells the dresses and designs here in the UK.
The 30-year-old said: “To be a social worker, you have to love it and be passionate about it. I am, but I am also very passionate about fashion and running my own business.
“I have always loved style and always cared about trends.
“I know that changing my life and career was a big decision and I knew it was going to be a rollercoaster ride, but I risked it and I was brave and I feel that I made the right decision.”
Tamu’s parents come from Sierra Leone, where she sources the fabric for everything except her dancewear designs.
“My fashion brand isn’t just a brand, all the patterns mean something and everything is thought out in detail,” she said.
“I am pleased that I can supply my fabric from Sierra Leone. It gives women who make the cloth out there business and money and growth for their small businesses. It also makes the African patterns much more unique.
“The reason I started the brand was because a relative of mine brought me a dress from Sierra Leone. I wore it here in London and I couldn’t believe how many people commented on it and loved it. This triggered me to create my own business.”
Kenema combines contemporary design with African fabric, creating fun and stylish clothing inspired by all things African, but with a London twist. It aims to select prints that have not been used before.
The batik and tie-dye is hand made in Sierra Leone using traditional techniques for creating an authentic African print. Each collection tells a story of Africa by using tribes, cultures, landscapes, sounds, and it is then combined with a London style.
Tamu, a single mother with a six-year-old daughter who goes to school in Harrow, said: “Obviously it has been hard and, yes, I have a young daughter to look after, so it was a big risk for me to give up my job where I was guaranteed a salary and money was coming in.
“Now there is no guarantee, but it’s a risk worth taking. I work 24/seven and I love it. I can work all through the night and it just doesn’t bother me, because I love what I do.
“I hope that I can open up a boutique store in London and New York and really take the brand worldwide, it would be a dream come true. I know its not impossible.”
Tamu is currently working on the autumn/winter collection and will soon begin designing next year’s spring/summer collection.
There has also been an interest from men, so she is hoping to release a unisex range also.
“The amount of time to make an item of clothing really depends on the process, making a dress can take one month to six months but, once we have the collection made in the UK, customers can buy from the website and their items will arrive in three to five working days,” she said.
Tamu said Kenema is passionate about supporting businesses in African countries by enabling entrepreneurs and artisans to provide products, goods and services in exchange for fair pay.
She added: “We aim to create a look that is distinctive and strive to support those in need by paying fairly and supporting projects that have a direct impact on local communities in Sierra Leone.
“It is where my parents are from and I have some family there also.
“The place means a lot to me, and I hope that I can give them something back. They really deserve it – there are women there who work really hard and hopefully we can work together happily.”
n To find out more about Kenema and see the latest collection, visit www.kenemaco.com.