Celebrating Giving Tuesday With Tegaa
If you're looking for a way to make a difference — whether as an entrepreneur or as a conscientious shopper this holiday season — take a look at the inspiring work of Nay Secka, the New York-born founder of jewelry brand Tegaa. Here, she explains how her incredible business lifts the economy in her home country while supporting advancements to its medical infrastructure — and why even smaller companies can, and should, give back.
BIKINI: Can you introduce us to Tegaa?
NAY SECKA: We're an ethical luxury fashion brand that makes one-of-a-kind pieces. We are the first and only company making authentic Gambian fashion available outside Gambia, and the first international Gambian brand.
BIKINI: Aside from running Tegaa, I hear you work elsewhere full-time. Is that true?
NS: I’ve been running the company 100 percent full-time since 2015 and just recently went back into corporate work because I’m expanding and adding more products to the line. I need to build that capital.
BIKINI: How do you achieve the balance between owning your own business and working another job?
NS: I relocated from New York to California, and the life here is much better; I have a lot more time to work on Tegaa. I’ve found a balance. I’m in San Diego — it's the perfect beach town and the ideal backdrop for the line, too. I’m really excited about all the future shoots here, and all the inspiration I’m going to get being close to the ocean.
BIKINI: How do you give back and why is it important to you?
NS: It's important for me to give back because the most significant challenge I have with my country [of Gambia] and my culture is the fact that they have the caste system. I believe humans are equal all across the board. The inequality that exists in the caste system is something that I want to shine a light on.
I also just want to put my country on the map. It motivates me because no one knows much about Gambia. I explain Gambia every day. People don’t even know where it is or that it exists. We’re a poor country; our main export is peanuts. We don’t have oil, so countries aren’t looking to invest in us, and there’s not a lot of aid.
My dad was a Gambian ambassador for years, and I’m inspired by his [work]. I want to bring awareness to Gambia as much as I can without being a diplomat. Ever since I left home and people couldn’t figure where I was from, I realized I had to expose Gambia. We have so much to offer, and we work hard, but no one knows who we are.
BIKINI: Can you explain the caste system in your country?
NS: It's essentially a social class system. If you’re from a particular profession or carry a specific last name, you’re classified on a social level. India has something similar — they have "the untouchables." For us, it’s not like they are "the untouchables." The caste system considers people to carry bad luck — like people who work with metal or jewelry. Supposedly, they are bad luck because they're [falsely believed to be] always heating up their blood or their blood isn’t as "clean." This is carried from centuries ago, but it is still relevant to today’s time. People will still not intermarry, or even intermingle. I luckily had parents that were very open-minded and were in the West for a long time, so they never forbade me from having certain friends. But that does exist.
BIKINI: Can you talk about the artisans you work with?
NS: The pieces are super special and very precious. I always wanted a line that was handmade. The designs that they are making are so unique — these are items that no one else can copy. I want things that have a story behind it; someone actually cared to construct it with their bare hands. It’s not something that pops out of a machine. It's an actual craft. I’m enamored by the detail in this jewelry. If I get a piece that is damaged, there’s no fixing it because it is so intricate. The skill they have has been passed down to younger generations.
BIKINI: How is placing Gambian products in the western market helping these artisans?
NS: Artisans can be anyone; it can be your next-door neighbor or someone way out in the village. Local Gambians can’t afford to buy from these artisans because they mostly work with silver. They’re really expensive pieces because of the materials used and the time put into the making. They are so adamant about the reputation and the quality because they don’t want a bad word out there [about Gambian craftsmanship]. I really admire that about them; they don’t care how much time it takes to create. If they have a piece in mind they want to create, they will do it. That’s why sometimes I don’t have certain things because we have to be patient and wait around for them. I find these special pieces and pay them a fair price — no discounts or cutting their value in half. I’m not making them overwork by pumping one hundred pieces at a time; this is still their craft. I want this business to be profitable, but more importantly, I want to be the destination for people who want authentic, one-of-a-kind jewelry. I believe in their craft and paying them up front. I'm doing everything I can to push this product so they can sustain themselves.
BIKINI: You also give back a percentage of your profits to a charity in Gambia? Can you talk more about this?
NS: The charity I work with is called Power Up Gambia. They provide solar-powered water and electricity to all the hospitals and clinics in Gambia. It was started in Philadelphia by a foreign exchange student who was in Gambia and realized how high the mortality rate was for premature babies and pregnant women. The mortality rate, in general, is high because they can’t afford to keep [power] generators running. The founder was able to get this charity going and train locals to operate the solar panels and troubleshoot in case they go down. They are fully equipped, so they don’t rely on other countries for this help. Power Up Gambia has wholly changed the mortality rate in my country. That’s incredible! It was a real problem. Power in Gambia goes out for hours at a time regularly; it is a daily thing. I’m so grateful for them and will continue to support them.
Shop Tegaa products here to make an impact.