How We Got Started
Fatima grew up in Cote
D’Ivoire in West Africa where clothing is a strong expression of cultural
identity. When she moved to the U.S. in 2003, Fatima felt home sick, had a hard
time acculturating and was unable to communicate because she didn't speak
English. She spoke only Mandingo and French. To cope with the stress of living
in a new country and being unable to navigate on her own, Fatima started using
her creativity and fashion sense by mixing original African prints with
western materials to create outfits and accessories. This helped her feel more
relaxed and closer to Africa. Friends and complete strangers started to ask
Fatima for both fashion advice and to buy her designs. Fatima turned her
"coping mechanism" and knowledge of African clothing into a business
which she named MAHYELI. MAHYELI is named after Fatima's daughter YELI. It’s a
combination of "Mah" which means mother in Dioula and Yeli, a
name usually given to first born daughter (Yele) by the Senoufo's tribe
Northern in Cote d'Ivoire.
MAHYELI is a blend of African prints with a modern flare creating a unique, chic look that caters to all women and sizes. The vision is to create fashion that makes a statement while being socially responsible. Each item sold indeed contributes to the empowerment of those producing it (using African tailors).
MAHYELI is developing a partnership with African artisans who make the fabric as well as young African seamstresses to supply MAHYELI’s fashion items. The vision is to develop a market for fashion items and generate sustainable revenues for both the artisans and seamstresses to help combat poverty, unemployment and social inequality.
Fatima’s ultimate goal is to use her experience to help immigrants and refugees who are also struggling with acculturation to feel good, confident, and be able to function in their new home. In addition to her passion for fashion, she is also a professional in the social service field. She has worked with African and Caribbean immigrants providing case management, academic support and counseling both in the United States and in Africa. Her field of expertise is child welfare, domestic violence and trauma.
Fatima is also the founder of African Children Opportunities (ACO). ACO is a New York based nonprofit organization dedicated to providing culturally-specific academic, emotional and social support to African children who have experienced trauma including children with special needs and disabilities in the U.S. and Africa. ACO’s mission is to help African children succeed through education regardless of the challenges they might be facing. ACO supports youth with a particular focus on young female victims of abuse and exploitation with the understanding that their traumatic experience can impede on their ability to succeed at school.
Fatima's passion for fashion and her love for community empowerment inspired her to be a fashion designer and social service provider. By combining the two, Fatima now is doing what she loves while simultaneously expressing her creativity and giving back to her community. MAHYELI was presented in many fashion shows and beauty pageants. The proceeds of the sales is used to benefit ACO. MAHYELI and ACO create jobs and help many disenfranchised African immigrants and refugees cope with the pain of acculturation and trauma.
Fatima Kourouma holds a Bachelor's and a Master's degree in Public Administration from Fairleigh Dickinson University. She also attended the Global Mental Health: Trauma and Recovery Certificate Program from Harvard Medical School.