My name is Tamu Thomas; I am the founder of Kenema & Co. Kenema & Co is an African inspired brand uses African fabrics to create contemporary clothing for everyone. I work in partnership with a young lady called Alizé Demange. Together we create street/ every daywear using African fabrics. The idea for this clothing brand stemmed from numerous friends making positive comments about an African dress I was wore last year. I decided that I would create African inspired clothes for young women such as myself. The idea was born in June 2009, put into action in January 2010; we started production in April and began trading in May!
The idea is to make African clothes in a manner that includes people; I have observed that many African brands aim to be couture or specialist, which can alienate many people that would like to wear African prints. I would like African prints to be everyday wear not confined to the catwalk, exhibition or African party! I would describe Kenema & Co as fun clothing for people that don’t want to look like a carbon copy of everyone else. Our customers will shop wherever they see something they like and are more interested in style than fashion; they will not be queuing up at the Kate Moss for Top Shop launch!
We manufacture in Sierra Leone, not for cheap labour, going over there and shipping costs a lot of money so we are not really saving anything. We do it because that is were my parents are from and I feel very strongly about not forgetting my roots and supporting my homeland. Although I was born and raised in London I see Sierra Leone as my ancestral home. Working this manner enables us to pay the people we work with a fair price for their services. During our last trip one of our seamstresses made what she would usually make in six months in the space of ten days!
We also raise money for charitable projects in Sierra Leone. Our next project is to raise funds for a dirt bike enabling heath practitioners to access remote villages that are difficult to access by car.
Favourite song lyric
“You can win as long as you keep your head to the sky
You can win as long as you keep your head to the sky
Sounds of Blackness, ‘Optimistic’
I’m inspired by
My friends and family inspire me, especially my daughter. I am fortunate to be surrounded by positive forward thinkers that make things happen. In terms of ‘celebrity’ inspiration I am inspired by Michelle Obama, she is not just a first lady she is ‘the’ first lady. She is intelligent, stylish and elegant – timeless. Forget her colour she is a strong woman who is more than able to hold her own in any circumstance, that said for me as a young Black woman it is hugely inspirational to see a Black woman, moreover a Black family in the Obama’s position. With or without Mr. O she is an amazing person (those that know me know that I do not throw around the word amazing so if I say it I really mean it!). I am a Michelle Obama fan and would love to create a piece of casual clothing for her, something she can wear when she is just being Michelle and kicking it with her girlfriends.
The endless support from my mother is hugely inspirational she taught me to think tall and I try my best to do that. I also inspire me, I am in competition with myself, I am not mad I just think that I want to do better each time I do something.
My icons past/present
Clearly Michelle Obama is my present high Icon. My icon from the past is Rosa Parks – little did she know that her innocent defiance would spark a revolution! My daily icon is my mother – if you ever have the pleasure of meeting her you’ll know why!
thenublack philosophy/mantra according to Tamu Thomas
Self-belief goes a long way (take note, there is no room for arrogance in that statement).
Check me out