Friday, July 3, 2009


On the heels of a life-altering trip to Ghana, West Africa, where they fell in love with African fashion and textiles, Cindy Gaston and Edna Bissoon launched Hemma, a collection of luxury womenswear that incorporates the same, traditional techniques that have been used to weave fabrics for African nobility for centuries. Hemma affords each client an opportunity to dress with undeniable contemporary style while indulging in the textures and richness of royalty. The name Hemma derives from the word “ohemma,” meaning queen in the Twi language of Ghana.In the spring of 2007, partners Cindy Gaston and Edna Bissoon studied abroad in Ghana, West Africa. While Cindy, pursued a career in law, and Edna, medicine, they also independently designed. They were inspired by African fashion and textiles, in particular intricately handwoven Kente. Drawing from its rich history, they began incorporating Kente into their designs. At the same time, they were dedicated to volunteering as teachers at La Yahoushua, a local middle school. The passion for their students transcended the classroom as they advised a photography club extending to many students their first opportunity to capture the world around them. Once back in New York, Edna and Cindy received such wide acclaim for their creations that they launched a lifestyle brand combining African luxury with a fresh spin on classic designs. 5% of all profits will be donated to the school where they both taught.

Edna Bissoon and Cindy Gaston both bring 5 years each of modeling experience and with that, first hand experience into the fashion industry. Ms. Bissoon has also studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology, designed marketing tools for a social justice not- for-profit in London and independently designed for 3 years. Similarly, Ms. Gaston has studied the history of Kente at New York University in Ghana, designed several products for HBO's original series Flight of the Conchords, and independently designed for approximately 4 years.

How was your experience in Ghana? Have you visited any other country in Africa?
The people of Ghana were more welcoming than we could have expected. Their accepting nature and generosity allowed us to gain an intimate look into this rich history and culture, which has provided us with boundless inspiration. The culture and locals prescribe that you live life completely awake to the beauty and opportunity surrounding you—Hemma emerged from this awakening and strives to spread this message to each client.
During our stay in Ghana, we also had the opportunity to visit South Africa. There, we researched the history of the culture and apartheid. Along with South Africa, Edna has visited both Egypt and Burkina Faso where she studied the history of both countries.

Walk us trough a day with the creators of Hemma fashions.
We are currently preparing for our summer launch so a day for us is always exciting, different and jammed packed. Our days are filled with everything from meetings with our marketing agents, advisors and tailors to planning our launch events and trunk shows. We also enjoy exploring New York boutiques and just people watching in one of the most fashion forward cities in the world! We have a great Hemma team behind us but we continue to be involved in even the smallest details of the company; we wear all of the hats of Hemma from the business aspects to the creative and designing ones.

What goes into designing a Hemma outfit?
Hemma garments are inspired by the desire to make women feel confident about their bodies and make a powerful statement. The premiere collection consists of very classic styles that can be easily incorporated into your wardrobe and worn as separates. Our initial offering includes two-piece suits, day dresses, corsets, and cocktail suiting. We want to prove to the masses that our designs can be easily worn to any event, from day to night, office to gala, and combined with what they already own. Our garments were designed for both the adventurous and the more modest with colors that reflect both moods. Our designs are also built to last as a staple piece in our clients’ closets that transcends changing seasons in fashion.

How would your describe your own personal styles?
Edna: My style is adventurous, colorful and sensual. I enjoy being a woman, the beauty of the female figure and I love expressing this confidence through my clothing. I like to make a powerful statement when I walk into a room but always in a chic and elegant way.
Cindy: I would describe my style as chic and sophisticated with an edge. I love wearing staple chic pieces that I feel great in while adding an attention grabbing element to the outfit.

What kind of woman wears Hemma Fashions?
Hemma is made for women of all backgrounds who enjoy being draped in rich quality fabrics such as Kente and silks. Some of our pieces can be worn to the office as well as by trend-setters in the fashion industry. Hemma is also for the women who appreciate quality no matter where in the world it comes from and for those who can value West Africa’s incredibly deep history and culture.

Who are your favorite designers?
We draw our inspiration from many places, with a particular admiration for labels such as Diane Von Furstenberg and Chanel. Like these amazing collections, Hemma will be known for always making a powerful statement and creating timeless garments.

Do you know any African Designers?
We enjoy Oumou Sy’s designs, also known as Senegal's Queen of Couture who designs very glamorous Afro avant-garde pieces. Her garments are always unique and fearless.
We also love Liya Kebede an Ethiopian born super model, activist and designer. Her new line Lemlem is inspired by woven fabrics of Ethiopia and we love seeing other designers bring the beauty of other parts of Africa to the West.

Any plans of Hemma becoming a big store, with boutiques all over the globe?
Of course we plan to share Hemma with the entire Globe! We are beginning with boutiques in New York City and will soon expand to other luxe boutiques everywhere. Ultimately, we aspire to become a lifestyle brand offering children’s clothing, menswear, house decor, and jewelry. We also aspire to owning our own boutiques around the globe.

What made you decide to send part of your sale proceeds to a school in Ghana?
Hemma is dedicated to advancing the educational system in Ghana. 5% of all profits are donated to La Yahoushua, a middle school where we both taught. Our students helped us learn about the culture and to appreciate our everyday life in Ghana. By becoming photography club advisors, we were able to really make an impact on the children and we wanted to give back to them as they gave to us. The school was founded in 1965 to provide an education for the disadvantaged of the community. The first classrooms were held in a shed in Accra, Ghana
The school continues to lack resources and many of the students experience economic hardships. Approximately 80% work as house help to families in the area. By investing in quality pieces that last a lifetime, clients will also be impacting the lives of these school children.

Can you give any advice to Ciaafrique readers wishing to follow your footsteps?
Our greatest advice is to be passionate about what you do and then have the discipline and work ethic to follow through! Having your own company is a lot of work but also endlessly rewarding. Also, there is way more preparation involved in every step of the way than you first imagine and it’s true what they say preparation is everything. Do as much research as humanly possible on anything that you want to get into because to succeed you have to be an expert on your business. Finally, it’s critical that you always stay optimistic and hopeful.

Ciaa:What response have you gotten from the public so far?
The public has been very surprised and excited about our fresh, innovative perspective on luxury with an African twist. Women have told me that they like that these pieces are separates and can be mixed in with their existing wardrobe, something that they say is difficult to do with other African inspired collections. People also like the wonderfully rich colors that are incorporated so tastefully in our line. We often hear that people love that there is a wide range of colors and patterns for everyone from the daring to the more conservative. We have everything from solid colored fabrics but with the same beautifully woven texture to fabrics with 2 or 3 colors intricately woven to produce astounding patterns.

When can we expect the new collection?
We are launching our collection in July so stay tuned!

How and where can ciaafrique readers and I of course (laugh) buy you garments?
Our creations can be purchased at select boutiques in New York City as of now. The names of these boutiques can be found on our website. We will soon also make available garments for sale on our site so that women in any country can order their Hemma original.

Any other thing you would like to cover that has not been covered in these questions?
The origin of Kente cloth has a long history in Ghana dating back to the 17th century during Chief Akenten's reign. At that time, the caravan trade routes of the Sahara were flourishing with the exchange of goods including dyed silks from the East. Impressed by the textile, he moved to develop the Kente band weaving system for the royal class. Overtime, the technique of weaving Kente has become extremely specialized, so much so that each color and pattern has its own meaning.

The Kente used by Hemma is authentically created with the same techniques established centuries ago, including the weaving still done on handmade wooden looms. Traditionally, the intricately woven Kente was the designated attire for the heads of state and their families but occasionally served as gifts for foreign rulers. Kente was previously only worn to special ceremonies and events and is still worn by royalty today. Hemma strives to bring Kente to the public and make all of our clients feel just as luxurious.
To learn more about Hemma, visit us at
And our official website,

Thank you for your time and I wish you all the best.


  1. I love the article and specially that picture with the girl wearing the black dress and green shoes.

  2. Interesting interview!
    Love the clothes and looking forward to the website!
    Many thaks

  3. tres joli collection sista, great interview:)

  4. Thank guys!!!!! i really love their clothes, I can t beleive that this fabrics is availablr almost everywhere in West Africa, but i never thought it will be this fashionable.


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