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Kozby World Fashions


According to a study released this spring by the Kauffman Foundation, immigrants are more than twice as likely as native-born Americans to start businesses. Kola Zubair came to Connecticut from Nigeria because it was the one state where he had family, but he also found the supportive environment he needed to start his own clothing design company. WNPR’s J Holt brings us this story.\

To watch Kola Zubair work in his clothing design workshop is almost like watching a magician. He’ll sit down at one of his machines with a rough edged piece of raw fabric, and while engaged in conversation transform it into a perfectly shaped sash, precisely the right length to become a ruffle on a dress, without seeming to have measured anything.

Kola Zubair- “If I know what I want to do, then I’ll just place it on the table, sit down with it, and just imagine it the way it’s going to come out. You communicate with the fabric."

At thirty-one years old, Kola already has over two decades of experience developing his craft.

Kola Zubair- "In Africa, we believe if you want to know how to make clothes, you have to go to a small shop to learn how to do that, and from there you’re gonna move up with your life and set up your own business with your self. That’s what we do. And I studied with a designer from grade three. That was i was nine years old."

After his apprenticeship, Kola primarily made men’s clothing in Nigeria, starting with jeans, polo shirts and blazers. over the years he began to make dresses as well, and women’s wear became the bulk of his work. With the encouragement of his grandmother, he emigrated to the us two years ago to advance his skills as a designer, and started managing what was then her sewing business in east hartford, before taking it over himself. While he did encounter challenges in the creation of Kozby World Fashions, he didn’t see his recent immigrant status as a factor.

Kola Zubair- "I think It’s almost the same process, like the citizen of the country and the immigrant, too. It’s like almost the same challenges that we’re facing. If you don’t know your way out of the business you won’t go anywhere. If you know the way, there is great opportunity right here."

After receiving a sewing machine as a gift soon after arrival in Connecticut, Kola was able to generate enough sewing work by word of mouth to self finance his overhead costs, and the eventual purchase of some commercial machines. He found additional support and guidance in the Niro Design Center in downtown Hartford, co-founded by Rondelyn Bell, and Naimah Spann.

Naimah Spann- “Kola came in, he was very new from Africa, just got here. He came that day and we never got rid of him. He’s been here ever since.”

One of the design center’s missions is to combine fashion and design training with entrepreneurship and business development skills. Along with mentoring and use of equipment, Kola says that their guidance has helped him improve the durability of his garments for the demands of the American market.

He has built up a loyal clientelle, including Tola Adediran, who drives over an hour from massachusetts for his products and service.

Tola Adediran- "That’s how much we love Kola. He’s made about 5 outfits for me now, and today we got here to try on our outfits and there were a few things I wanted changed. And that’s what he’s doing now- he already had it done before but he’s a good sport about it and he’s changing it for me."

Many of Kola’s clients are immigrants as well. He feels he is being supported by the community, and wants honor that support by making sure each customer is totally happy. So he takes any changes that have to be made in stride. While that individual dedication is a foundation of his everyday business, both he and Rondelyn Bell of Niro see that it can get in the way of opportunities for growth.

Rondelyn Bell- “One of his biggest and greatest strengths so far has been connection. He got here and was like I want to make it in fashion and need to connect myself to anyone whos related to fashion and he’s done that. Even being featured in African Fashion Week New York, how the heck did he get there he’s only been here less than two years. The next step is really focusing on that line and getting it really more international, national level than it is just locally.

Kola has three weeks to finish his line for the show in New York, and he’ll pull as many late work nights as he needs to complete it. Examples of his line are also available at the Niro Boutique. Later this summer he’ll be teaching classes at the Niro Design Center, and Bell thinks that experience will help him streamline his own work.

Rondelyn Bell- "I think he's got a lot to offer. Definitely."

For WNPR, I'm J Holt.

J studied documentary radio at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, in Portland, Maine, and returned to his home state of Connecticut to intern with the production team at Connecticut Public. After that, he stuck around.

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