How To Grow a Unique, Badass, Eco-Conscious Brand
Nay Secka is a badass entrepreneur & I could not be more excited that she’s on the blog today.
We first met when Nay was a moderator for The Skinny Confidential Facebook group. She has the coolest brand ( obsessed with the puka shell necklace that doubles as an anklet ) & she is a total hustler.
In this post you’ll hear all about her morning routine, ‘a day in the life’ for Nay & some business takeaways that are KEY for growing your business & staying true your business.
Nay’s brand TEGAA is one of a kind, sustainable, charitable, non-toxic & chemical-free AND it supports indigenous artists. Let’s meet Nay:
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♡ Introduce yourself to The Skinny Confidential community.
Nay Secka: Hi Skinnies! My name is Nay Secka & I’m an ethical fashion designer, meditation teacher, Gambian-American, dog mom & founder of TEGAA – the first & only ethical resort wear brand handmade by Gambian artisans.
♡ Why did you decide to start your business?
NS: I’ve always had a love & appreciation for artisan made goods. There’s nothing like a handmade item that takes skill & patience to create. I always knew I wanted to create a sustainable brand that would create work for artisans while also giving back.
The initial idea for TEGAA was very different from what it is now. Back then, I had wanted to create a jewelry collection featuring the traditional silver jewelry Gambian silversmiths are known for, but it required a significant capital investment which I didn’t have. During that time, my Dad passed away suddenly & I went back to Gambia for the first time in 13 years to attend his funeral. This is when I got reacquainted with the incredible work of the artisans.
I was familiar with it since I grew up around it but I totally took it for granted when I was younger. I also loved that they worked with natural materials & were able to create such stunning work with very limited resources. During this trip is when I pivoted my business to what it is today. I like to think of it as my Dad’s last gift to me because he was the one meeting with them to help me get my samples made before he passed & he knew how much I wanted to revive the artisan industry by working with them.
It was exactly what I was supposed to do because whilst working in the fashion industry in New York City for 14+ years, I knew how toxic the fashion industry was with all the chemicals on the clothing but I couldn’t afford any of the sustainable brands that were out there. All the brands at the time were “luxury ethical fashion” not contemporary or accessible so the “clean” clothing was so high priced that it wasn’t an option for many.
I would buy something brand new & throw it in the wash right away which now I know didn’t do much, lol. My entire goal with TEGAA is to make ethical fashion accessible. To make it at a price point that allows people to have access to clothing that doesn’t harm them. I launched with jewelry & accessories & I am now crowdfunding to launch the clothing which I am super excited about!
♡ You’re very into eco-consciousness. Talk to us about that.
NS: I’ve always gone the holistic, chemical-free route when it comes to my skincare & cleaning products. I even make my own shampoo & conditioner with all natural ingredients, so I bring the same consciousness to how I live my whole life. I really believe in the cyclical connection of people & the earth. When my consumption became more ethical & conscious, I became healthier, more grounded, peaceful & my skin & hair got better, all of it!
My deepest desire is to remove the toxicity out of fashion. Most people are unaware that when they pick up an item of clothing, jewelry, shoes, or accessories from a store it is covered in toxic chemicals that leaches onto your skin when you wear it. When a garment is made by traditional factory standards, you have hundreds of people working on that one item & they all deposit their individual DNA on it.
For example, when a shirt is being manufactured, one person sews on the collar, another sews the sleeve, another sews the buttons & so on & so forth most likely in a hot, humid factory. It is then sprayed with chemicals such as formaldehyde, urea resins, petroleum scours, softeners, heavy metals, flame retardants, ammonia all in an effort to prevent mildew & make sure it arrives to the store nice & crisp with that “new smell.” These toxins are known carcinogens, skin irritants, affect the nervous systems & in some cases even affect neurological damage in fetuses. Real scary stuff!
Another layer to that is the conditions the workers who produce fast fashion are forced into. Factories are in marginalized communities where the chemicals used on the clothing contaminates their water supply & these workers aren’t even earning a living wage.
Parents are tricked into send their kids off for an education, instead they’re forced into child labor. Women in these communities give birth to children with fatal birth defects because they are exposed to the gases from these factories. I never could get on board with sacrificing the well-being of our earth or humans just to look cute.
I think people have a tendency to not look too deeply into how their actions affect other beings so I like to show people how it affects them personally. For instance, littering ( which is absolutely appalling! ) ends up depositing trash & single use plastics into our oceans which kills the plankton that serves as the oxygen source for marine life.
This lack of oxygen suffocates fish & other marine life which obviously results in dead fish. If people were told they could never eat sushi again if they litter I bet they would walk their trash to a garbage can & never touch a plastic water bottle again! I think taking time to tune into yourself through meditation & getting grounded shows you how you’re part of a larger whole & how it’s all a ripple effect. I’m amazed & inspired at the resilience of the earth. No matter what we do to it, it blooms & graces us with it’s beauty every day.
♡ You support all kinds of artists which I think is so cool. Can you give us a BTS look at the process of working with them?
NS: It usually starts with a design I create then I set out to find the artisan with the right skillset to create it. That’s the hard part because Gambian artisans are very old school & traditional & not very open to “new” suggestions or sticking to deadlines, lol.
That was a major learning curve for me. My business manager in Gambia does the leg work of finding the artisans & keeping a roster of them so that we maintain the relationship. We always make it a point to add new artisans with unique designs of their own to our roster as well because Gambia is the smallest country on the mainland of Africa. It’s also one of the poorest with very limited career opportunities so I want to do my part in contributing to its advancement by working with as many of them as possible.
♡ I’m a huge fan of your puka shell necklace that doubles as an anklet. Talk to us about how it came to be.
NS: The Lanna choker which is my favorite for layering was created to be a “gateway cowrie shell choker” for those that loved the triple layer Neneh choker but were a little hesitant to go the full goddess look, lol ( although I think the Neneh choker is everything!!! ).
Whenever I’m designing I always think of the girl on-the-go, from the beach, to dinner, to dancing & how can I lighten her load by giving her one piece she can wear all day that will work in different environments. Living in New York City taught me that. We don’t get to drive home to change, we leave the apartment once with everything we need to look cute from day to night so with TEGAA, I always think of pieces that can fit more than one look & are easy to wear & move around in. I love the Lanna because you can wear it around your ankle at the beach & then switch it to your neck as a choker when you are ready to head to dinner. Plus it’s so cute to layer with the Mandala necklace!
♡ What’s a day in the life for you?
NS: My day varies depending on what I’m working on but it usually begins with my morning routine which I do my best to be consistent with daily.
If I have items in production, I will have a call with my business manager as soon as I start work because Gambia is 4 hours ahead of the U.S. I also work with artisans in Miami so I will check in with them as well as see how everything is coming along. I sometimes will have a meditation client scheduled in the mornings also.
Next I’ll check emails, do my social media post for the day & delegate tasks that need to be done to my intern.
I’ll then get to work on a running list of things I need to get done either on the website, the Amazon store, or sourcing materials for the collection.
I usually have my first meal around noon so I make myself lunch & while I do this I’ll usually catch up on my text messages & non-work emails.
After lunch I’ll get back to work until around 3pm when I take my dog out again & get a mini break & some sun to get re-energized. If I am working on some new styles or meditation classes, after this break is when I’ll hand make them or do my sketches, work on the mood board, shoot some product or record a meditation.
The time I end my day varies but I try to be in bed by 10pm at the latest. I always unwind & shift from work mode to relax mode by changing into a bathrobe & turning on some 432 hz music & lighting some sustainably sourced palo santo to shift the energy.
I’ll wash my face, put on my nighttime skincare products, do my evening buddhist chants & give myself a head massage. My nighttime treat is some sleepy tea with ashwaghanda while watching an episode of Wendy Williams “Hot Topics” which comes on every evening on Youtube. It’s 20 mins of tabloid news that makes me laugh so hard!
♡ Do you have a morning routine that sets you up for success?
NS: Yes! The minute I open my eyes I mentally recite everything I’m grateful for whether it is something currently in my life or something I desire to have in my life……..manifesting is my jam!
If I had a dream the night before I will quickly write it down in a dream journal I keep by my bedside. I then inhale & exhale out of each nostril & the nostril which is least blocked is the side of the bed I get out of. Weird I know, lol! It’s an ayurveda practice I learned that intuitively guides you to get your day started on the right foot. I like it because psychologically, it represents you starting your day by making the right decisions!
Next, I drink my elixir which is made of fresh squeezed lemon, turmeric, black pepper, Himalayan salt & warm water. I’ll usually sip this as I am walking my dog around the block. When I get back home I do my meditation which usually lasts about 20 minutes then I get in a good Pilates workout for about an hour. I find that starting my morning a little slow & finishing it off with a good sweaty workout makes me clear, ready & energized for the day & no matter how the day turns out, I’ve accomplished the most important part – aligning my mind & body.
♡ What are some tips & tricks that you learned when launching your business?
NS: I always say that the person I am becoming through building this business has been more rewarding than anything tangible I’ve accomplished. It’s not for the faint of heart! LOL! Some important things I’ve learned so far:
Mind your mindset. Pursuing something that has been such a lifelong dream really made me have to confront my limiting beliefs. It makes you see limitations you didn’t even know you had & albeit so much work to break down subconscious programming, but it’s worth it because you’ll reach new levels personally & professionally.
Don’t be afraid to be a leader. When creating something that doesn’t exist, people will question you & doubt your capability, but it’s up to you & only you to believe in what you are doing. No one else’s validation can make you a success. If you don’t trust yourself, you can’t lead anyone else because they won’t trust you. Leadership was something I had to grow into & get comfortable with. It’s human nature to want to be liked by everyone but as a leader you need to know when you need to call someone out when they mess up or part ways with them. Reprimanding someone never has to be insulting & good leaders know how to communicate their needs or disappointments respectfully.
Delegate. You can never grow or scale if you want to be hands on with everything & do it all. That’s a worker’s mindset & not a leader’s mindset. This was something that was super hard for me at first because as a black woman owned brand, we are not given a lot of grace when we make mistakes, so I was always worried about delegating & being blamed for someone else’s mistake. I’ve since learned that I am human & this pressure wasn’t just stressing me out but affecting my growth. I now take the time to vet & seek out the best people to work with & communicate my needs & expectations to them & it has been a game changer!
Meditate, meditate, meditate! Did I say meditate? I cannot tell you how much having a consistent meditation practice has changed my life. Every time I have made some profound shifts in my life it was because of a download I received while meditating or just taking time to be out in nature & reconnect. I run this business on my own without the assistance of family or friends so I have to answer my own questions & I only get these answers through being still. It also gives me the ability to reset when I just want to give my brain a break. As a meditation teacher, I have a meditation for everything, lol. It varies depending on what I need at the time but it is always useful.
Have fun! I’ll be honest, I’m still a work-in-progress when it comes to this one but I am learning! I’ve given my all to TEGAA so of course I get stressed when sales are stagnant or I’m having challenges with production or cash flow, but I’m reminding myself that my energy is the currency so I like to keep my vibes all the way up! When I start to get too stuck in my head, I change course & reconnect with my body through movement. My favorite ways to do so is through dancing, whether it’s around my house, going out dancing or taking a long walk without any electronics & just being. Having fun is a great way to move from our masculine energy which focuses on doing into our feminine energy which focuses on being.
♡ You’re into giving back with every purchase, speak on that for us.
NS: I’m a true believer that we rise by lifting others. My Dad was one of 9 children & he grew up with very little but was able to build a lot of wealth in his lifetime. Due to his success, he was able to assist all of his siblings, improve their lives & supported quite a few of them till he passed & never asked for anything in return.
He saw it as his duty. Living in Gambia which was, & still is one of the poorest countries in the world, I saw first hand how hard it was for some families to get by. I remember people coming to our house to get help from my Dad to get groceries for their family or pay for a medicine prescription, or school tuition for their kids, etc. These families would not be able to afford treatment if they needed it & I know that a full life can’t be lived if you are ill which is why I donate 5% of my sales to Power Up Gambia. I’m so grateful that they are single-handedly improving the healthcare in Gambia & most importantly in an ethical & sustainable way that also brings jobs to the country.
♡ What makes your brand unique?
Being the first & only Gambian owned & run ethical brand is something I think is very special about TEGAA because it’s the first time people outside of Gambia are getting a glimpse of the talents of the indigenous artisans.
It is also the only truly sustainable brand in our niche that is accessibly priced. Sustainable brands usually all go the luxury route but I was determined to create it to be at an accessible price point. Chemical-free & toxin-free goods should be available to you despite your income level. This is something I intend to maintain when the clothing is launched as well.
It is also the only brand that: uses natural & sustainably sourced materials ( even our packaging is sustainable ), upholds fair trade practices & donates 5% of its sales & is 100% black woman-owned.
♡ What’s a book, podcast or resource you recommend?
NS: I highly recommend watching The Price of Free, The True Cost & The Story of Plastics. They are excellent documentaries that show the dangers of fast fashion & plastics & they aren’t done in a fear mongering way but in an informative way which will educate you & entertain you.
My favourite book which I recommend every woman should read is Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. I revisit it regularly because it really shows you how even a mogul on her level can benefit from getting out of her comfort zone & trust the unknown to make her life so much happier. I’ve given it as gifts to people because I think it’s essential!
Another fav is Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Joe Dispenza. It’s truly life changing & I highly recommend it to anyone who is curious about how meditation can change & improve your life.
As for podcasts, the The Skinny Confidential HIM & HER podcast, duh! It gives me everything I need & I’m always introduced to someone new & inspiring. I absolutely love it! Another fave is the Orion Podcast by A Stellar Co. It’s a gem for learning more about living consciously & sustainability. The ladies who run it have the most amazing guests on & know how to guide a conversation..
♡ What are some other small businesses you love?
NS: My favourite vegan cafe is Spoiled Vegans in San Diego & I’m so sad I live so far away from it now. I hope they open a location in Miami someday!
♡ Pimp yourself out! Where can everyone find you.
NS: You can shop the full TEGAA collection on my website at www.tegaa.com. Follow @atribecalledtegaa on IG & Facebook so you don’t miss the drop of the clothing collection & keep up with all the exciting stuff that’s going on. If you love what you see, support our crowdfunding campaign here. Every little bit helps!
Follow me on @jaamahmeditation to join my meditation classes or download pre-recorded meditations or affirmations you’ll love!
+ check out the most unexpected business tip.