How A Boise Woman Is Turning African-Inspired Handbags Into A College Education

Oct 22, 2014

Rita at the sewing machine where she makes her African-fabric inspired cloth purses.
Credit Jodie Martinson / Boise State Public Radio

Rita Thara Yenga shows off two plastic boxes full of women's bags she's sewn. She's preparing inventory for her new store "Thara Fashion." It opened in October at the International Market in Boise.

"I'm so happy to show people my talent," she explains. "It makes me excited."

Rita sells clothes and accessories for American sensibilities, but with a distinctly African twist. 

"African fabric -- you can use [it] for anything," she explains. 

African fabric is thick and waxy. It comes in bold colors and patterns. Rita describes it as "crazy."

"You can just try to [make] something and [everything] looks great."

Some of Rita's handmade bags.
Credit Jodie Martinson / Boise State Public Radio

Rita credits her mom for teaching her how to sew. She and her mom have lived in Boise for about two years. They moved to Idaho as refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Rita's mom noticed right away, during a sewing class she took, how a design for a women's purse made with African fabric was a hit with the locals in the United States.

"If we make African clothes, just Africans buy," Rita explains. 

That's why Rita has adopted an approach that mixes the two cultures.

But her heart is with the continent of her birth. Her favorite bag has maps of Africa sewn on it.

"I'm so proud. Because in Africa you have good air. You have trees, you can eat the fruits," she explains.

Rita posing in some of her designs. She asks friends travelling to Africa to send her fabric.
Credit Rita Thara Yenga / Thara Fashion

Rita was 7 or 8-years-old when her family had to flee. She explains why.

"It's because my dad died," she says with tears in her eyes. "The soldier [was] looking for my family and my mom to kill."

Nowadays, Rita works full-time at a climbing gym. But she hopes her new fashion and accessory business will be a stepping stone to her next dream in life. 

"I want to go to college to learn business," she says. 

Rita's bags sell for $10 to $40 each. She plans to save up to attend the College of Western Idaho.

"I want to do better for my future and to change my story," she says. 

Find Jodie Martinson on Twitter @JodieMartinson

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