We had the good fortune of connecting with Helen Annette Njau and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Helen Annette, how does your business help the community?
Having had to flee Sierra Leone at a young age for a better life in the U.S., the privilege for such an opportunity is not always there. I want to create opportunities for people to better themselves right where they are with pride and security in their home despite circumstances. At House Of Takura, our bags are not just bags, but are meant to carry opportunities into the future of work in Africa which can only be done through empowering the youth. The youth unemployment rate in Africa is roughly 70%. The number of people that are there right now and cannot get gainful employment to start and build their future is frankly astounding. Can you imagine that sort of future for your loved ones? We cannot. Which is why we employ people within Africa every day. From the ones making the fabrics to the ones acquiring the leather to the ones making the bags. We see a bright present and future for Africa. The goal of this brand is to build a legacy of being socially present, conscious and impactful. Our bags put people to work. The work we do is heart work. It is beyond us. Our bags carry the future. In 2020, we began an initiative of donating a portion of the proceeds of every bag sold to organizations doing real empowerment work. Those organizations include ones helping caring for and building a safe space for orphans in Ivory Coast to those empowering young girls in Sierra Leone to see themselves as equals and worthy of careers. This year our “Empowering the Future Initiative” will include doing a Buy 1, Give 1 with a backpack we intend to release shortly. For every bag purchased in that particular backpack, we will donate 1 bag to a Maasai school-age child in Arusha, Tanzania. We also plan on donating backpacks to the orphans in Ivory Coast filled with necessary supplies. This is how our brand impacts the world. We identify a problem and we find a solution based on what the people on the ground say they need. We also, from time to time, donate bags or gift cards to organizations around Houston and Austin.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I graduated from law school in 2005. To be specific, University of Kentucky College of Law (go Wildcats)! I practiced law with a regional law firm in Louisville until 2010 when I went in-house and practiced law with a publicly-traded healthcare company. I was with them until 2014 when I resigned my position. After that it took 18 months before I could secure another position. I worked as Chief Compliance Officer for a small healthcare company here in Houston for about 1 year and was subsequently laid off a month or so before the company was acquired by another healthcare company. Now I just work on my business (House Of Takura), take legal cases here and there and do document review work to pay the bills and invest in my business. This road has not been easy. Resigning my position at the publicly-traded healthcare company was tough because it paid well but I was being unfairly treated and I could not take it any longer. Being unemployed from March 2014 to October 2015 really messes with your confidence because you constantly question whether you are smart enough and if you are why are you still unemployed. It shook me to my core. It also allowed me to get closer to God. Before this, I went to church and prayed ocassionally but during that experience, I prayed on an almost daily basis. I read the Bible more. I started listening to more Christian music. On the outside, I was falling apart but on the inside who I am was being constantly renewed and reshaped. I became a more optimistic person during this process. I became the person who always hopes, who always speaks life-giving words, who believes that things will always workout for the good. I became a person who cannot be shaken by outside circumstances. The stronger I became in my faith, the more my eyes opened to all the good that is in the world and my place in that spectrum of kindness. My brand is literally built off my faith. There are doors that have opened for this brand that literally have nothing to do with me. All those media opportunities we have been given, have nothing to do with us but with other people who saw something in the brand or in me. When people meet me, I want them to encounter the God in me. This is how I carry myself and my brand and I truly believe that had I not been unemployed for that long and forced to face who I was versus who I wanted to be, I would not be the person I am today and this brand would not have had these doors opened for it. One lesson I have learned in all of this is that you get in this world what you have the courage to ask for. Oprah said that and I believe it. I have internalized it so much that I speak the things I want to see in my business and literally they happen. Whatever you put out there, through words, actions or whatever, you will get back. So I have learned to put nothing but goodness and kindness out there. If I don’t get it back, my son will get it back long after I am gone. I would like people to know that House Of Takura is a collective effort. Yes there is this one woman behind it doing the day-to-day work but there is an army of people who are liking, sharing and purchasing. There is another army of people strategizing and providing ideas. There is another army of people praying for the brand. This brand is a product of the goodness and the kindness of strangers.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I would eat at Ginger Thai in Cinco. This is hands down my favorite restaurant. The food is second to none. I would also try to get brunch in at Snooze because the mimosas over there are too yummy. If we are going for drinks, I would head out to somewhere further into downtown – around the Uptown area. I like Songkran Thai Kitchen and the Tasting Room over there. There are so many drink spots that it literally would be me asking a couple of girlfriends where is the spot for the night. We never visit a drink spot twice unless we are really impressed. I would try to catch some live music where any kind of band was playing. For instance, there is a band called Cool Breeze Houston and I love their sound. They play different joints around the city and I have been to multiple spots that they have played. My friend’s husband is lead singer. Discovery Green is a great place for an afternoon outdoors. I have not visited the Color Factory yet but have heard great things. I would definitely use that opportunity to go. I love City Centre as well. We can literally be entertained by any restaurant or bar over there. I do love RA Sushi in City Centre and Cyclone Anaya’s.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I would love to dedicate my shoutout to my baby sister Christiana Thompson. She literally pushed me to launch my first collection in December 2015. She insisted that I had been sitting on House Of Takura too long (since as far back as 2007 or even earlier) and that I needed to launch it. She basically said the time is now. So I launched my first collection “Born in the Motherland, Made in the U.S.A.” at her prompting. I like to think that it was God who sent her to deliver the message that the time was now. I actually believe that it was all God. I would also like to shoutout my husband who is literally my biggest cheerleader. I call him the caretaker of my heart and the believer in my dreams. This journey has not been easy and sometimes I have wanted to quit and he is always there to remind me that I am a lot of things but not a quitter. Finally, I would like to shoutout African Fashion Week Houston for providing a platform on which I could continue launching my collections; Great Day Houston and Houston Life for putting me on TV even though they knew me from nowhere; Houston Black-Owned Business for always shouting me out; Facebook for sending a team to do a mini-documentary on my brand and sharing it with the world and many more opportunities they have provided for me to grow my brand; and finally Voyage Houston for providing me with one of my first interviews in Houston to get the word out there about my brand. I honestly could go on and on because this brand is nothing without literally the kindness of strangers who have continuously found a way to support me.
Youtube: House Of Takura
Images 1-6: Tiffany Couture Image 7: @askphotog Image 8: Annette Njau