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Meet Trailblazer Nay Secka

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nay Secka.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Nay. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I’ve been sketching since I was seven years old! Long before I knew what a “Fashion Designer” was, I knew I wanted to change the way my clothes looked. I was born in New York City but I grew up in Gambia, West Africa and they weren’t any fashion designers back then, only tailors or seamstresses. An aunt of mine who would always see me sketching once said to me “you should be a fashion designer when you grow up” and I said “what is that?” she said, “someone who designs clothes that people wear” and I said, “no, I don’t want to be a tailor, I want to be bank manager”. Ha! Little did I know back then! After graduating high school and returning back to New York for college, I realized what the fashion industry was and I was completely captivated. I went on to work for brands such as Giorgio Armani, Kenneth Cole, Norma Kamali, Ann Taylor and several others over a span of 15 years in every area from the retail floor to fashion production and really got an inside look of how to (and how not to) run a successful brand. It wouldn’t be till late 2015, however on my dad’s birthday that I would launch TEGAA.

Initially, I had wanted to go straight into clothing with a completely different concept but couldn’t figure out how to come up with the capital to do so without going into debt so in the midst of trying to figure out how to make it happen, tragedy struck – my dad passed away suddenly & unexpectedly. He had been my only supporter and he really believed in me so I was devastated when I lost him. When he passed, I went back to Gambia for his funeral and that was the turning point that birthed TEGAA as we know it today. Being back in Gambia for the first time in 13 years reminded me of all the amazing art & artisans I grew up around and helped me pivot to creating a line that wasn’t just beautiful but that was inspired by my authentic culture, 100% handmade and sustainable and would support not just me but also the artisans I would team up with and give back to the country as a whole. It also enabled me bring to light to the caste system which affects these artisans who do such phenomenal work but face prejudice within their own society. To that effect, I named the brand “TEGAA” which literally means artisan in Wollof.

I believe that the ultimate luxury is making something by hand and this is what I do here everyday. I source ethical materials from Gambia and hand make about 90% of my line here in San Diego. The other 10% is made by the artisans in Gambia. I focus on using only natural dyes, toxin-free materials and recycled materials and organic cotton whenever possible. I focus on producing limited-edition or one-of-a-kind pieces that will last a lifetime because I don’t believe in accumulating more but I do believe in having the best! I donate 5% of all my sales to Power Up Gambia – a charity that provides solar-powered water and electricity to all the hospitals & clinics in Gambia. My goal is to create an affordable ethical resortwear line that positively affects everyone who is connected to it and keeping the artisan tradition alive.

Has it been a smooth road?
As they say, the struggle has been real! Lol! As an entrepreneur, you have to rely on yourself for every aspect of your business and there is constant learning involved. Also, because I am creating something that has never been done before – TEGAA is the first Gambian brand and the first time Gambian artisans are creating for the western consumer – there is a learning curve for myself & for them as well. Dealing with deadlines and quality control between two continents is no easy feat! Building an ethical brand that is affordable requires a significant amount of research to maintain standards that work for the design & the environment and on top of that, making sure you can sell what you create. Your brain, instincts and logic all have to be aligned daily to build a business that succeeds and that takes perseverance. I would tell anyone starting out to take a step everyday towards their goal and not wait for “the right time” because there is no such thing. Don’t wait for anyone’s approval of your work, give yourself a pat on the back when you need it and look at how far you have come. Listen to your customers and use what is useful to improve your work. Settle into the journey and see it all the way through because there is no final destination. And most importantly, make sure you are choosing something you love because that is the only way to be happy.

We’d love to hear more about TEGAA.
With TEGAA, I’m creating an ethical resortwear line for modern day adventures. I’m creating pieces for the woman who explores and wants to be comfortable and look fabulous while doing so. My brand is mostly known for my shell collection pieces and my one-of-a-kind fabrics. People go crazy for my prints and I make sure to source unique fabrics that can’t be found elsewhere. I think style is very personal and I help women express their own personal style by providing something that is unique and that is easy to wear – like my machine washable handbags – and that’s easy to combine with your wardrobe. What I truly love about my brand is the tribe of women it attracts who are not just fashion-oriented but also conscious consumers. I’m also so grateful to be able to support a charity like Power up Gambia by doing something that I love. My customers know that they can find beautiful, artisan-made, luxury, one-of-a-kind goods that are ethically & sustainably made that will last them for years to come.

So much of the media coverage is focused on the challenges facing women today, but what about the opportunities? Do you feel there are any opportunities that women are particularly well-positioned for?
I think opportunities are a matter of mindset. Most women believe the conditioning that they are only capable to a certain extent, or that they need permission to go after their dreams and that’s what holds them back. History has proven that the women who mark their mark on the world are the ones who lean into their possibilities as opposed to their perceived limitations. I do believe there is a shift happening however, women are coming together and creating community as opposed to competition. They’re seeing that success is easily attainable by supporting each and celebrating each other’s wins. I have certainly seen a lot of women create opportunities for other women by being successful in their own field and creating jobs, mentorships and even scholarships for others. We are creating our own opportunities and the more we do that, the less our challenges will become. We should all be our sister’s keeper!

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Image Credit:
Photographer: Daniel Graham

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