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07th Jun 2022

Meet the entrepreneurs empowering Ireland’s African designers

Sarah McKenna Barry

Umoja Linn works as a marketplace for African designers in Ireland.

China Soribe and Meneliswa McDonald have always been passionate about African fashion, but found that in Ireland, African designers weren’t always easy to come by.

The issue wasn’t that the talent wasn’t there, but rather that African designers in Ireland were met with barriers when it came to getting their items to market.

Determined to change the landscape, and create a community for African designers, they founded Umoja Linn in 2017. In Swahili, Umoja translates to ‘unity’, while Linn is the Irish for ‘by us’.

“The name is a celebration of our Afro-Irish roots,” China and Meneliswa tell Her. “It represents our mission to unite and empower Afro-inspired designers, helping them monetise their talent and grow their reach one item at a time.”

For China and Meneliswa, Umoja Linn is the product of their love of fashion, and their desire to celebrate the Irish-African community.

China’s family moved to Tullamore, Offaly from Nigeria in 2007, and fashion is one of the channels through which she celebrates her identity.

“I had developed a deep love for my motherland, and portrayed this in my new life in Ireland,” she says. “I like to think that I’m perfecting the fusion of both my Nigerian roots and my Irish associations – a cultural hybrid if you’ve ever met one.”

Meneliswa, similarly, wanted to celebrate her Zulu heritage through fashion after moving to Ireland in 2007.

“I love Afro-centric Fashion, and as I was growing up in Ireland, I would design items to incorporate my Zulu culture into my everyday wear and style, but I really just wished there were more Afro-inspired fashion designers,” she says. “Now I get the joy of working with them on a daily basis and introducing Irish consumers to their incredible pieces.”

The African-Irish fashion scene in Ireland is rich and vibrant, and through their online marketplace, Umoja Linn hopes to empower the community further. Some of the founders’ favourite brands are InphinityX, Emerald and Wax and King.

As well as promoting brands online, Umoja Linn has a pop-up event taking place on 11 June at the Fumbally Stables in Dublin. More information on that can be found right here.

Photographer: Larissa Oliveira. Bucket hats: This creative fiend. Earrings: Doni Doni