Edna Bissoon and Cindy Gaston were on track to pursue medicine and law, respectively. But in 2007, when they took a semester abroad in Ghana, they fell in love with the traditional kente fabrics of the region and La Yahoushua, the small village school where they were teaching, there was no turning back to the original careers that they had planned.
In just a few years-November 2009 to be exact-they launched their New York City-based clothing label, Hemma; five percent of sales benefits La Yahoushua, and almost every piece from Hemma is cut from kente.
For Gaston, the fact that kente is entirely handmade (it takes three months to make 6 yards) was inspiring. “There’s kente out there that’s done by machine, but it’s not as detailed. You can tell the difference. It’s not as intricate,” she said. Their preference for the handmade versions of kente is a byproduct of their frustrations with mass-produced clothing.
“What excites me about Hemma the most is the fact that we’re going to be able to share our wonderful experiences of Ghana and of Africa through our clothing,” says Bissoon. “We’re going to be able to share the tradition, the history, the beauty of Ghana and of Africa. We want to open up people’s minds in terms of what can come out of Africa and not necessarily stereotypical and traditional clothing that people expect to see, but very Western, chic styles with colors that people aren’t necessarily used to wearing, but are excited to wear because they’re vibrant and they look and feel great.”
Click here for more information about Hemma.