HEN NYANDEI: PROMOTING HOPE AND RESILIENCE THROUGH FASHION
June 12, 2020
Hen Nyandei is a clothing and accessories brand launched some six (6) years ago in Freetown, Sierra Leone to meet the growing demand of African inspired fashion. It all began with accessories which included slippers and bags, today it is a full on fashion house and a sought-after brand. Due to the pandemic a lot of businesses struggled to keep running. Some creatives were conflicted by the ethics of promoting sales; especially for goods that were not considered essential. Others adapted their businesses to suit the most immediate needs (Masks, Hospital gowns and beddings and other paraphernalia) This Fashion House delved further into a high-risk zone and kept on creating pieces that uplifts the moods of people and families. Who would have thought it possible? That people will invest in clothes and accessories, but like every faith-inspired, people- centered project it succeeded. We were curious to make the connection between a positive mental health attitude, clothes and of course business. So we caught up with their Creative Director and Founder: Laura Koroma to share a bit more on their story.
PASSION AT WORK
My name is Laura Koroma I’m a civil servant, I work for the ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs. I’m a graduate from the University of Sierra Leone (FBC) a wife and a mother to a lovely son. My passions are child protection and fashion. I have always loved fashion and as far back as I could remember I would create my own style by making improvisations to dresses or create an entire new look inspired by a magazine. My seamstress became my go to person, we made a fine pair, as she was just starting the trade. We grew together, adding a few touches here and there. On some days I would create unique pieces and on other days it would be a miss! Then people started complimenting my sense of style at the office, it got to a point most of my colleagues consulted me when they wanted a dress sewn. This is how my journey as the creative director of Hen Nyandei began, today we aim to satisfy the stylish desires of women and men, with a specific niche for African inspired look. I still have my 9 to 5 job but pursuing business became an added advantage that brought more income. It has not been a smooth ride but I thank God for my customers and family. They have been my source of support and I am grateful. Sometimes just seeing pictures of people wearing my dresses makes my day. About 18 months ago I started doing tie-dye made by local artisans and I must say I have not regretted this move. Maybe this is because tie-dye is rooted in culture and shouts out authenticity, whatever the reason, I am happy that I followed my gut-inspired sense to launch this collection.
ADAPTING TO CHANGING TIMES 2020, is the beginning of a new decade and I had so many brilliant plans for Hen Nyandei. This was going to be the year that I created masterpieces that made people stand out, be unique and different. So all of my behind the scenes blueprints where focused on flexible styles not the regular African wear that everyone does. The big idea is to take my brand worldwide to the biggest fashion houses and runways. This I am certain will happen once we adjust to the new normal, now I am triggered more than ever to digitalise my business. In the next few months we will go online with a website and an online shop to promote our collections, my vision and my style. COVID-19 came at a time when most designers were in high spirit and I’m not an exception, the last few months were peak season for weddings in Sierra Leone. Every good designer would have had a couple of meetings with brides & their guest a few months before. Maybe this is due to us having perfect weather, that triggers people into dressing up! Celebrants wanted multiple outfits for their celebrations. When the virus struck, people became numb, disorientated and panicked especially when they saw the devastating effects in western countries. So there was paranoia everywhere, the only things people spoke about was their wellbeing, how to keep themselves and their family safe. Suddenly it seemed as if someone took away sunshine, it was all gloom and doom! No one spoke about weddings and other happy events. My spirit was crushed, most people called to cancel, others told me they were observing the situation. It was hard but I tried to keep calm and spoke to my seamstress and the other workers at the shop that business might be slow for now, instead of waiting, we started making face masks like a week before our 1st confirmed case. In the middle of cancellations, one bride downsized from a couple of dresses to just one and other people asked if we could still do a dress or 2 for their birthday photo-shoots. This was the beginning of dresses to uplift moods, people couldn’t have full blown celebrations but decided to make their days special anyway. As a social work enthusiast, I was motivated into continue on in making these dresses that made people happy. I think the dresses we have created in this period are our best yet, even if I say so myself. Alongside the COVID-19 response facemask we still make dresses for few occasions, that’s what has kept us going. We try to keep people away from the shop so we make your dress and deliver it, so as to observe social distancing and avoid the shop being crowded.
THE INTRICACY OF THE DESIGN PROCESS
Just before we knew Corona and lockdown measures would hit us, we had a whirlwind of events that made me hunt and shop for fabric like never before. I was exhausted with requests for specific kinds of fabric, sometimes they seemed weird but I wanted to plan ahead of time so stocked up we did. I didn’t know that all this walking around to source fabrics and finishing’s was something I enjoyed, well until now that our movement is restricted. I have learnt a lesson through this- let’s live our lives to its fullest, don’t put away something you can do today for tomorrow. For me designing dresses for people is what I enjoying doing most! I am mostly open to designing for anyone who wants to stand out, but if I had to pick out a muse in this season it would be Samira Bawumia, the second lady of the Republic of Ghana. This stylish woman has won my heart, for the past 2 years I have followed her social media account. If you do, you will know that her outfits are exceptional. You know when, outfits scream creativity plus the way she carries herself, that poise- the aura. Plus, she is curvy, no offense to slim people (but people who know me), know that I always try to do outfits for plus size people, so she just meets all my criteria. I will be honoured to make a dress for a beautiful, stylish and educated strong African woman Samira Bawumia.
CATWALKING INTO THE FUTURE
The fashion and creative industry was really picking up in Sierra Leone before COVID19. I am so impressed with all these upcoming fashion designers, artists, photographers, makeup artists and graphic designers, I see a great future for us. As the world faces a pandemic everything else in the world is not the same, and fashion and clothes making will not be an exception. Extra responsibilities and burdens have mounted with fewer jobs and economic difficulties. At this moment buying new outfits for some people might seem like a distant dream. Despite our few successes, it has not been business as usual for us. Just like I shared with a friend in the same line of business a couple of weeks ago this is it: fashion has a great future. This year would have been a great year for fashion in Sierra Leone, so despite all what’s going on, the economy is bad and so on, let’s make the best of it. I told him that what you are known for is making making gowns and costume dresses, make casual outfits, something someone can just pick up ready to wear. We all have to be creative at the point. While we pray, hope and wish for COVID19 to end let’s: Take this time to create new designs Work on improving what we do, (think about a part of your business that customers always complain about and try to improve it) Work on making something different, by the time COVID19 ends it will just be a matter of implementing or putting to use what you have been putting together. After COVID-19 I know the ripple effects would be there, but I am optimistic that we will bounce back. The Sierra Leone creative industry will go places.
“In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.” Author Unknown