Born in the Eastern town of Kono, Sierra Leone, Isatu Harrison was raised by her entrepreneurial single mother with her 3 siblings. Whilst living in Kono, civil war broke out which put her community in danger. Her entire family had to escape from the civil war in Kono and moved to the capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown.
Despite being uprooted from her family home, Isatu had a happy upbringing and knew that there was much more to Sierra Leone than the war which seemed to define it at the time.
As a child Isatu Harrison’s childhood experience saw her watch her single mother not only raise four children alone, but also build a business of designing clothes using traditional West African tie-dyed prints for herself. This experience is a major influence on Isatu’s designs. She also gets inspiration from her cultural heritage, antique fashion handbooks and her own travels.
In 2001, Harrison went to the UK to study a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Psychology and consequently left the fashion industry to work in several management roles in HR and Transport for London. In all these, Isatu Harrison knew deep in her heart that her real passion is in designing. After starting a family with her husband and having a daughter who grew up with an interest in building a career in modelling, Isatu could no longer ignore her true calling; fashion. Just as her daughter’s career in modelling started to take off, her designs also did.
Isatu Harrison officially launched Izelia at Africa Fashion Week in August 2014 and London Fashion Week in the same year. Izelia is a brand for those who want to make an impression in stylish and colourful outfits with high quality fabrics and structured tailoring. Each piece features a new twist on African-inspired fashion and Isatu’s own signature style of design.
Izelia, fast becoming a global brand has its roots in Sierra Leone. It showcases Isatu Harrison’s modern and sophisticated range of ready to wear clothes. Harrison enjoys exploring with different textures and materials, but the best part remains seeing the end result of her creations and how it all comes together. She says she has always admired Christian Dior for redefining women’s fashion in the 50s and whose hourglass shapes opened up a new era of femininity. Isatu also has admiration for Zac Posen for his determination and work ethics.
Harrison’s designs are unique; she wants to make an impression in stylish and colourful outfits with high quality fabrics and structured tailoring. She believes we sometimes shy away from bold colours but that in a society where neutral colours are the colours of elegance, it would be nice to completely stand out and bring a new palette to town.
As her brand grows in the UK, Isatu is also looking at expanding in Sierra Leone, where she would like to establish a strong manufacturing and production base to support the growth of the country and create more job opportunities. She intends to inspire and assist women in rural areas and be a voice for them and young creative minds.
Harrison says three most important tips when pursuing your passion and taking a leap of faith are:
• Build a network of support around you. The more people you know and trust, the more it helps you believe in yourself.
• Spend 5-10 minutes every day meditating on your business, your idea or your dream. Visualize yourself and your business the way you want it to be. Your mental picture has a powerful effect on your actions or behaviour. The way you see yourself on the inside, largely determines your performance on the outside.
• Develop the “Three Ds” of a new habit formation: Decision, Discipline and Determination.