Fashion Steeped in Tradition
Keza means beautiful in the melodic language of Kinyarawanda, a Bantu language spoken in parts of East Africa. Keza is also the name of Cherokee County resident Monica Hall’s boutique. No one is more surprised than Monica that she is a small business owner selling vibrant clothes and handmade African earrings. Keza Boutique evolved organically from Monica’s heart—her connection to Africa, women, her children, and her desire to empower mothers, especially single mothers. She also had a yearning to create beautiful things.
Inspiration from the Other Side of the World
Monica Hall was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and at the age of two, her family returned to Kampala, Uganda. Her father passed away the following year when Monica was only three, leaving her mother to raise her and her sisters alone. Monica recalls the apartment complex where she, her mother, and her sisters lived. Among their neighbors were quite a few single mothers, and the women supported each other both emotionally and financially.
The early experiences of watching women helping each other made a strong impression on Monica.
From Sunny Uganda to Wintry Minnesota
After spending her formative years in Africa, Monica returned to the United States to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing at the University of Minnesota. While working as a nurse, Monica had her first child, Alexander.
Monica thrived in pregnancy and motherhood, as she says, “Having a child is a wonderful time; there is nothing like it, and you are never the same after your child is born.” With a desire to help and mentor expectant mothers, Monica returned to school and earned her master’s in nurse midwifery.
Professional and Personal Fulfillment in Cherokee
Nine years ago Monica came to Georgia to escape the harsh winters of Minnesota. Here she found better weather and also the love of her life, Anthony Hall. Anthony works at Goshen Valley Boys Ranch and is an artist who has also been featured in Enjoy Cherokee. The couple met at The Factory Church in Woodstock and have been married for six years. When asked what attracted Monica to Anthony, she blushes a bit and says, “He is just wonderful.” They live in Canton with their three sons: Alexander, thirteen; Malachi, four; and Josiah, who is fifteen months old.
Anthony, a big supporter of Monica’s creative endeavor, says, “Keza has definitely brought Monica a sense of joy and pride. Once she learned how to transform fabric into beautiful garments, she realized she could also bring others joy. I enjoy watching her interact with her clients and share a part of who she is through her clothing.”
After Monica gave birth to Malachi in 2019, the creativity muse hit her. While folding one of his baby blankets, she looked more carefully and thought, “It’s just four lines of stitches; I can do that.” Feeling spontaneous, she jumped into the car with her son, drove to Walmart, and bought a sewing machine. Monica says sewing and creating was much more challenging than she expected; however, with trial and error and YouTube’s help, she was soon producing useful things. She then started incorporating into her clothing line some traditional African fabrics that friends and family members brought to the United States. Monica lights up talking about the material. “The bold colors and patterns are familiar, and they give me a sense of pride in my heritage.”
At Christmastime, a friend of Monica’s was going to a market to sell what she had been making, and she encouraged Monica to come along and do the same. Although apprehensive, Monica went to the market and ended up selling out all she brought then taking orders for more. Monica says, “I was happy and excited and felt fulfilled that I had made those things and people really wanted them.” Sewing had tapped into a creative part of Monica she did not know existed.
As Monica’s skills improved, she began taking her offerings to the Marietta Square Artisan Market. After customers asked for custom orders and the business grew more, Monica built her own website. Although most Keza Boutique business is now handled online, Monica still sometimes brings her wares to the Marietta Square Artisan Market.
Keza Boutique is a passion project for Monica, she says.
“I have no words for the sense of pride and fulfillment I feel when I look at something and think, ‘I made this.’ I ensure that everything is perfect and follow up to see if the order meets customer expectations. That is my name out there, and that matters to me.”
The Future for Keza
The Hall family is directed by their faith. Monica never saw herself selling clothing, but she and her husband say God keeps opening doors, and Monica is prepared to follow God wherever the journey takes her. Anthony believes “it’s more than just clothing,” and is excited to see what the future holds.
Indeed, Monica’s vibrant clothes are lovely, and they also represent Africa and the beautiful people and customs that come from the continent. While Monica is pleased to say that many customers who have never been to Africa like the clothes, she notes that many people worry about cultural appropriation. Wearing a shirt or headband because you admire the beauty of African print is not cultural appropriation, she says, it is actually positive as it is cultural appreciation.
Looking to the future, Monica says if God continues to make her small business prosper, she would like to use it to empower women in Uganda and Georgia. Currently the earrings and some clothing for sale in her online boutique are from artisans worldwide, including Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, and India.
Monica reports that the most powerful lesson she has learned in her business venture is that she has discovered
“Whatever I put my mind to, I can do. It can be hard and frustrating and take many tries, but I just have to take that first step and keep going.”
Sousou: Women Empowering Women in Africa
Sousou, or asue, from the Yoruba term esesu, originated in West Africa but is practiced in many African and Caribbean countries. Sousou is an informal rotating savings club formed by women and practiced for generations. Because of the exchange of cash, sousou requires trust.
Alicia Wallace from Insider Personal Finance says, “Many members of the African diaspora practice sousou all over the world because it is simple, it is tradition, it is rooted in a culture of community, and we have seen our parents do it over and over again. Today it is important to remain connected to our ancestors, maintain or work toward financial health, and ensure that the reputation of our practices is not sullied by thieves and scammers. Asue, for many of us, has given us a university education, used cars, down payments, computers, the discipline to save, and development of trust. The riches of our communities will always be its legacy.” Source: Insider Personal Finance August 19, 2020
The Pearl of Africa
Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa about the size of Great Britain. Winston Churchill called it the Pearl of Africa in his book My African Journey. He was referring to its diverse cultures and abundant wildlife, flora, and fauna as well as its vivid colors, snow-capped mountains, and massive Lake Victoria, the largest lake on the continent. Uganda is also famous for being home to the highest number of mountain gorillas worldwide. Source: Britannica Encyclopedia
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Leana Conway has been a Cherokee County resident for 22 years. Leana is originally from Canada but calls the South her home now. When she’s not writing about the fascinating neighbors she meets for Enjoy Cherokee Magazine, she’s busy as a full-time caregiver to her husband. Leana is also a blogger, mom, and new Oma (grandma in Dutch). Her life philosophy is “Find your calling, and you will find joy.”