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When I think of Mariatu Turay of Gitas Portal, I think of a line in Disney’s animation, The Incredibles.
There’s a part where they began the superhero relocation program and the heroes were asked to keep a low profile, kind of a witness protection program for superheroes. Anyway, when the narrator asked where the superheroes were, I loved the reply:
They are living among us. Average citizens, average heroes. Quietly and anonymously continuing to make the world a better place.
Mariatu Turay, a London based fashion designer is an average citizen, average hero. Quietly and anonymously continuing to make the world a better place. The owner of Gitas Portal, a fashion brand which is influenced by Mariatu’s combined Sierra Leonian and Barbadian heritage. Hers is inspiring and a clear indication that we must never give up on our dreams.
Her Journey and Homelessness
Raised in Sierra Leone, Mariatu had to pack up one day and flee the city because of the civil war. Her father was in government at the time of the military coup and he had to go into hiding with his family because they were a target. They eventually went back home, but their house was burnt down.
Afterwards they fled to the US. Things were not easy for them in the new country. She was only 16 when they left Sierra Leone and lived in the U.S. with her mother and brothers. Survival was tough, so much so that they went homeless many times. According to her:
“…in America it was mostly a result of not being able to afford adequate accommodation, so my mum, siblings and I moved around asking friends to put us up. Eventually, my mum had to make the difficult decision to separate us–sending my younger brothers to Barbados.”
In order to help her family pay the bills, Mariatu walked into a hair salon and offered her braiding skills. She was hired on the spot. Eventually she learned secretarial skills so she could earn more and provide more support for her family. Faced with life’s challenges, she consistently found creative ways to keep moving, sometimes through sheer determination and grit.
All through her career in government, this determination and grit kept her dream for Gitas Portal alive.
Gitas Portal is a fashion brand that makes use of African print in their designs. According to Mariatu Turay, before Gitas Portal, was Gitas Portal. This is a concept that was always a part of her, through every stage of her life.
Surrounded by women in her family who were cloth traders and merchants, she’s always had a love for the bold and daring colours of African print fabric. Her love for the print finally found expression when her mother gave her a hand propelled singer sewing machine when she was about 11 or 12 years old. However, it was not until 2016 that she quit her job in government to focus wholly on Gitas Portal.
The Inspiration Behind Gitas Portal
Gitas Portal is a business born out of love. I’ll just share an excerpt from her interview Mariatu with Madame Noire:
“I want women to stand out. I went through a phase in my early career where I was afraid to stand out because I believed that I had to blend in with everybody else to be accepted. This was the false belief that the less African and Caribbean I was, the better it would be in the corporate game. So I did the usual corporate dress–muted colored dress, hair a certain way, etc. And it then dawned that I could only ever be me, not somebody else–and my style, culture is part of who I am and what makes me interesting and unique. So for the women out there (and there are quite a few)–BE BOLD, win every time by being you, WEAR COLOR–be unapologetic about your beauty and express your style with confidence.” (Highlights ours)
There is so much to admire about Mariatu Turay. She went on to earn a BA in Economics, Politics and Public Administration. She studied law, but decided not to qualify for practice. Even though she used her qualifications, at the end, her passion was stronger, leading her to resign eventually. She is now married with 5 children.
Mariatu’s passion is evident in the painstaking effort used to craft her products to high industry standards. Recognising her ability as a God given talent, Mariatu unapologetically celebrates being a Christian, mother, wife, and woman in business.
To shop Gitas Portal, click here.
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