Mum opens Barking clothes shop inspired by Sierra Leone roots
11:39 29 November 2016
A designer who was forced to flee a civil war has launched her first clothing store.
Inspired by her native Sierra Leone, Isatu Harrison blends African prints with contemporary cuts for her label Izelia, which finds a permanent home in Barking’s Vicarage Field shopping centre on Thursday.
The 37-year-old learnt the tricks of the trade from her mum, Sarah, who forged a tie-dye business with 40 employees before the country’s civil war forced them to flee to a different town, leaving everything behind.
Despite her passion for fashion, Isatu initially studied psychology at Southbank University when she moved to London in 2001.
“I was always interested in what my mum was doing and used to help her out whenever I could,” she explained.
“But at home [in Sierra Leone] everyone wants their children to become a doctor or lawyer, and I needed a job.”
Shortly after beginning her studies, Isatu ended up landing a job with TfL to pay the bills – and stayed for nine years.
It was only after having her own daughter that she felt able to quit her day job and explore her own ambitions.
“But I couldn’t stay at home and be a house wife, and the only thing I knew how to do was to make clothes,” admitted Isatu, who lives in Woodford with her husband Richard and Izellah, now seven.
Fast forward several years and a vocational fashion course, Isatu ended up being referred to the Barking Enterprise Centre in Cambridge Road, where she began to realise her ambition to launch her own shop.
“They helped me think about the right direction – I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without them,” she explained.
As well as her own line, Isatu will also be plying the work of four other budding African designers from her Ripple Road store – and offering studio space for them to develop.
“I wanted this not only for myself but to encourage people so they can all come together and show what they can do,” she added.
Izelia will launch with a free party from 6pm to 8pm.