Kenema and the Mende Collection – Designer PROFILE

Posted on October 8, 2011


Kenema was started by Tamu Thomas and fuses “timeless design with beautiful African / Ankara textiles”.

The idea for Kenema formed in January 2010 and became a reality in April 2010. They manufacture in Sierra Leone and are proud to say that they support fair trade practices by paying a fair price for the tailoring services.

image courtesy of Kenema
image courtesy of Kenema
image courtesy of Kenema

Kenema designs combine contemporary design with African fabric creating fun and stylish clothing inspired by all things African with a London twist. Most of their fabric is sourced in Africa and they aim to select prints that have not been used before to keep their designs fresh.

Their batik and tie-dye is hand made exclusively for them in Sierra Leone using traditional techniques creating an authentic African print you will not see anywhere else.  The aim is for the brand to remain unique within a market that is fast becoming saturated by using exclusive undiluted prints and design inspired by a truly multicultural upbringing in the wonderful city of London.

Each collection tells a story of Africa by using tribes, cultures, landscapes, sounds, basically anything African to reveal Africa as they see it – positive, versatile, fun and on the rise.  This is combined with a quintessentially London style that makes Kenema a brand of African fashion that is accessible to all.

image courtesy of Kenema

Kenema is very passionate about supporting businesses in African countries by enabling entrepreneurs and artisans to provide products, goods and services in exchange for fair pay. Whilst they aim to create a look that is distinctive they also strive to support those in need by paying fairly and supporting projects that have a direct impact on local communities in Sierra Leone.

The Mende collection draws its name from one of the biggest tribes in Sierra Leone – the Mende tribe, and Tamu (the designer behind Kenema) has decided that her collections will focus on the African continent and its many countries and cultures rather than just where she is personally from. The Mende tribe are known a lot for their batik and tie dye skills. She replicates the interest that the women of that tribe in water spirits, within her clothing by creating quite floaty pieces and using white trims throughout garments to represent the Mende tribe. She looked at the fashion in the 1800’s especially during the time of the Amistad slave ship on which various people from the Mende tribe were on board. She represents the fashion of the time through the use of big wide skirts, which was typical in the fashions of that time, but to still keep it relevant, fun and above all Kenema.

image courtesy of Kenema – Mende collection
image courtesy of Kenema – Mende collection

Clothing: Kenema

Models: Nyla Mirza

Make Up: Annette Beauvoir

Photography: JR Fotography

Styling: Alizé ‘Kenema’ Demange and Wanita Bardouille

image courtesy of Kenema

So for this collection the key words are ‘Tie dye’, ‘light colours’, ‘1840 shapes’, ‘bright colours’ and ‘backless’ silhouettes are key features of the Mende collection.

As Tamu says

“We are more than a fashion brand. We are style. We are a movement.”

You can check out the behind the scenes of the Mende collection on YouTube: http://youtube/QWY0EBZ8Wlk . And you can also view the preview of the Mende SS12 collection presented at Africa Fashion Week London:

On the 15th of October 2011 an exciting collaboration between Mayamiko, Slaves of the Extraordinary (SOTE) and designers will include Kenema as well as other designers such as Lauren Solomon of SLAVES OF THE EXTRAORDINARY, Mia by Mia Nisbet and also Bestow Elan.

The proceeds from this event will go to Mayamiko as they aim to alleviate poverty through sustainable development, job creation and raising awareness of HIV/AIDS.  They will bring a fun and exciting fundraising event in Kensington Roof Gardens with a silent auction that will feature pieces designed and donated by the designers as well as other companies, all with a focus on sustainable and ethical creativity. (buy tickets from here

Kenema founder Tamu is, by all essence of the word, a creative entrepreneur. She is known to organize events that give emerging brands, designers and musicians a platform to promote themselves either through performance, guest speaking or selling their products. She even has a charity too called “Kenema’s Big Sister” which aims through raised finance, to provide two school scholarships for girls attending the Holy Rosary Secondary School in Kenema (a war ravaged town in Sierra Leone during the late 1990s)

Her new initiative is a new Social Enterprise for creative female entrepreneurs called The First Lady. On 29th September 2011 was the recent First Lady meet up which involved networking, sharing and business related guests. On 18th December 2011 they celebrate their 1st anniversary for The First Lady Christmas Fayre at The Rag Factory, Heneage St, London, E1 – Off Brick Lane.

If you are an inspirational creative entrepreneur and feel your words inspire and educate others, or if you want to book a business stall or just want more information then email them at

First Lady Blog:


For more information on Kenema then also check out their:





Author: Jacqueline Shaw

Posted in: Fashion