Have you ever wondered how some major international fashion brands got their start? Today’s guest, Cecilia Ostman, co-founder of Njema Helena, shares the story of how their company, based in Nairobi, Kenya, went from a small start-up in a friend’s guest-house to a fast growing international fashion brand.
Njema Helena creates modern fashion with an African aesthetic for everyday life. Each item of clothing is produced exclusively in Kenya, and the colorful designs are made from fabric sourced from local traders. The company was founded in 2012 by Anne, Cecilia, and Annika Ostman in loving memory of their deceased daughter and sister, Helena. Helena had felt a strong connection to Kenya and had a true love for its art, culture, and people. Despite the tragedy that led to the creation of the company, Cecilia and her co-founders have continued to honor the memory of their beloved Helena, by creating a world class company with products that are sold by international online retailers such as House of Safi Hadi, Kuwala, Sapelle, Mor & Matilda, as well as boutiques in USA, Sweden, Italy, UK, South Africa, and Kenya. The brand has also been featured in several international publications and fashion shows, including the Africa Fashion Week in London.
Though the company is still a relative newcomer in the fashion industry, Cecilia, a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, and the creative mind behind the venture, is a seasoned industry veteran with prior experience designing for international fashion labels including Ralph Lauren, has big plans for the company. With a focus on African fabrics and a “made in Africa” ethos, they aim to create fashion items that will promote the endlessly inspiring African aesthetic and new opportunities. With all their items being made exclusively in Kenya the company intends to offer training to Kenyan tradesmen, particularly female workers, as well as providing them with fair and sustainable employment.