The last few months of my three-year stint in Sierra Leone is coming to an end and it’s time to look to the next chapter. I have been visiting the country since 2003 and have become quite attached to this small corner of West Africa. Its untouched beauty and friendly population paint a picture of paradise, but look closely and you begin to see the cracks. Everyday is a challenge for the majority of the population. One thing I have learnt is that in the face of harsh difficulties the Sierra Leone people will always find something to laugh and smile about. A rare gift that I hope to carry with me in life.
For the last six months I have been working on Gather&See from Freetown. Setting up an online site in a country that suffers three day power cuts and has snail pace internet has been frustrating. But it has also given me the freedom to reflect and gather my energies for the future ahead.
Not only am I sad to be leaving Sierra Leone behind but most importantly I am handing over NearFar- a brand that I set up five years ago. I came here in January 2009, at a time when the international community were still waking up to the idea that job creation was the key to poverty alleviation. Five years on, I am proud to be leaving a brand that stocks in over ten shops worldwide and employs three tailors full time. It has not been easy. I have moved workshops four times, had tailors come and go and struggled with quality control. When I think of the early days- I’m not sure how I carried on. In our first season we had a huge order from Anthropologie. There was great anticipation as the stock was completed and when it arrived in the U.K, not one single piece was size labeled.
We spent two solid days going through the items measuring them all for size. But after moving to Sierra Leone and working daily with the tailors things have gone from strength to strength. What has been so amazing is the positive press that we have received and the opportunity to bring Sierra Leone onto the international stage. We have been able to shine light on a country so often known as a war zone, slowly breaking down misconceptions. It has made me realise more then ever the power of employment and that through businesses like NearFar, people can become self sustainable and support not only themselves but also their families. I think more than ever that fashion can play a major role in creating change.
So, while I am very sad to be leaving Sierra Leone, a country that has been my home for three years, I am excited for the next stage and the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience with the brands that we will be at Gather&See.