Mariatu Turay, the London based fashion designer and founder of Gitas Portal fashion label, a ready to wear brand that uses West African textiles, has opened up her first boutique in London.

Founded in 2011, the label’s motto – Be Bold, Win, Wear Colour – encourages women to be empowered in all aspects of their lives, to be unapologetically beautiful and to rock their own personal style with confidence.

Gitas Portal: Changing the perception of “brand Africa”Mariatu’s recent success has not come easy. Born in London and raised in Freetown, Mariatu was forced to flee Sierra Leone during the Civil war, as her father was a government official and her family was targeted. At only 16, Mariatu moved to the US and began working as a hair braider to support her family. She slowly transitioned to more corporate work, gaining experience in secretarial and office skills.

Her entrepreneurial spirit never failing, she eventually moved to the UK where her hairdressing skills financed her university education.

Although she went through brief periods of homelessness, Mariatu never gave up.

“My family life and dreams were interrupted overnight. I went from having a good life to having nothing. No one in their right mind wants to be homeless and face the uncertainty of having nothing. The trauma is on all levels but I never lost my way at the most challenging of times. Always knowing that with hard work and kindness, I’d make it.”

With a BA in Economics, Politics and Public Administration, Mariatu continued her studies in law, but decided not to qualify for practice. Deciding instead to tap into her passion for fashion and creativity and launch her fashion brand.

Gitas Portal: Changing the perception of “brand Africa”

The self-taught designer hopes to see African Inspired fashion set to a higher standard, promoting quality designs and changing the perception of “brand Africa”.

Gitas Portal: Changing the perception of “brand Africa”

“In a field that’s predominantly non-black and in which the established preference has been for textiles and aesthetics that are recognised and accepted as mainstream; I am an African woman determined to celebrate African prints outside of its preferred context.”

Gitas Portal: Changing the perception of “brand Africa”

“The biggest challenge is access to industry wide support to mainstream African fashion. Designers like myself are mostly on the fringes of the fashion industry.
The industry is quite close-knit, with a preference for celebrating well-known brands that dabble with African print in one-off collections; and designers who have worked their way through traditional access routes. We live in a global economy, where brand America, brand Europe and brand Asia have had good head starts; while brand Africa is still tangled in persistent generalisations and perceptions of ‘poor quality’ and racial bias. These big picture issues impact women like me in the fashion industry, making it challenging to grow fast, and get the credit for our contribution to fashion.”

Gitas Portal: Changing the perception of “brand Africa”

Mariatu’s journey proves that hard work and determination are key not only to becoming a success, but to overcoming a difficult beginning. We have no doubt that she’ll achieve her dreams.

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