Meet Mariatu Turay, the homeless immigrant who built a business empire in the UK

by Rachel Ogbu//

Gitas Portal Founder, Mariatu Turay opened the first Gitas (Named after an acronym for “God Is Truly Amazing,”) Portal boutique in London in 2016.  As a self-taught designer-maker, Mariatu’s goal is to set a benchmark for African inspired fashion pieces, promoting quality, beautiful and well-made designs that will challenge and balance the sometimes poor perception of ‘brand Africa’ across the world.

She has a BA in Economics, Politics and Public Administration, she also studied law and decided not to qualify for practice. Mariatu Turay is married now with 5 kids (3 biological and 2 step children). Born in London and raised in Freetown, Mariatu was forced to leave Sierra Leone at age 16 due to the civil war; her father was a government official and her family was targeted. She moved to the USA and started working as a hair braider at the age of 16 in a salon to make ends meet for her family. She then learnt secretarial and office skills as a way into corporate America. By the time Mariatu returned to the UK, her entrepreneurial spirit was fully fledged and she used her hairdressing skills to pay her way through university. After brief periods of homelessness in the US and the UK she found her way back on track.

Mariatu grew up knowing that she was beautiful. It did not matter that she was 5.2ft, small chested, lacked a small waist and the curvaceous behind that’s appreciated in West Africa but often looked upon with intrigue in Europe, beauty was hers to have and celebrate. “I grew up loving my body image and became even more so after the Sierra Leone civil war and the atrocities that followed. This doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes fantasise about areas of my body that I’d like to work on but I am at a starting place where I’m content and empowered rather than ashamed.”

“I don’t want my daughters to be at the mercy of someone’s pen and their subjective views of what they perceive to be beautiful and acceptable. I want my daughters to own their beauty and be confident in who they are. A woman that’s confident to be who she wants to be and celebrates her body image without fear or prejudice – that’s so gorgeous.”

Gitas Portal was established to burst society’s bubble of what is defined as ‘beautiful’ and wants the women who wear the label’s garments be free to stand out and celebrate themselves for who they are. The brand wants “deliciously curvy” to be used instead of plus size when referring to larger sizes.

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