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Local boutique, Vivid Emporium, gives back to West African communities

Vivid Emporium .jpg
Fashion show displays Vivid Emporium's new styles. Photo courtesy of Kadiatu Kamara.

Over a year ago, Kadiatu Kamara opened Vivid Emporium, a boutique that sells authentic  jewelry, clothing, art and material from the West African countries Ghana, Mali, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

The boutique, located in Chapel Hill, is connected with Kamara’s nonprofit FANGHA, which is based in Freetown, Sierra Leone and means “empower.” 

Kamara said the nonprofit identifies young people to train and employ them in the fashion industry by providing the material and platform for them to work. She said it’s inspiring young people to use their skills to provide for themselves and their family, regardless if they have a formal education or not.

“What I do is I work with those youth, I identify them and I help to enhance the quality of their products so that we can enrich a standard as a company,” she said.

She said there are so many young people who are talented and have a craft, but they can’t always afford to express their own creativity. 

“Now we produce the things back in Sierra Leone — it’s important that we keep producing in Sierra Leone because that’s how we keep those women working and those young people working and expressing themselves,” she said. 

When Kamara was younger, her and her family barely survived the 11-year Sierra Leone civil war that took 50,000 lives. Her family’s home was burned to the ground by rebels and she and her friends were held captive. Kamara was released by a member of the rebel forces who convinced her comrades that she was too ugly to bother with. 

After the war, she moved to London to stay with her father, who she hadn’t seen in eight years. She started working in the modeling business and, in 2008, she was named Miss West Africa, U.K. before opening Vivid Emporium in Freetown in 2009. 

“For me, it’s just kind of building one community at a time by providing jobs for them,” she said. 

Chapel Hill resident Dawn Henderson is more than a customer. Kamara also mentors Henderson's son with his designs and displays his work in her shop and fashion show. She said she was attracted to Kamara's shop because of the unique designs. 

“This has given me an opportunity to support someone who’s doing something, not just stylistically different, but doing something in terms of their responsibility back to the community that they hold the textiles from,” she said. 

Customer Lydia Ross said she bought a ball gown from Vivid Emporium that Kamara originally designed for Miss Sierra Leone to wear in the Miss Universe pageant many years ago. 

“You walk into the store and it’s like you’re transported into another piece of the world,” she said. “I think it’s important in any community to have access to the outside world.”

Ross said Carrboro feels very open and enlightened, but doesn’t have a lot of multicultural influences. She said this store adds that multicultural aspect that Carrboro needs. 

Kamara said her store is adjusting to a different market in Carrboro, but that they provide something new for the community. 

“We know that Carrboro and Chapel Hill is predominately more affluent, predominantly white population," Henderson said. "So giving the opportunity to expose individuals to something to different, to a different perspective, to something that can be fresh — it just adds to the richness of the community.”

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