odAOMO’s Dr. Sophia Aomo Omoro on her Calling to Lead & Pave a Path
When you’re raising six girls on a tight budget the way Dr. Sophia Aomo Omoro’s mother did, you have to be resourceful – especially if you don’t want to compromise on your children’s style and their boding taste in fashion. Seeing how her mother – a professional seamstress – managed to allow her and her sisters to hone their own styles using just one piece of large fabric and various designs, played a big role in Sophia’s own love for and understanding of fashion. In fact, one might say it is what inspired her to found her own brand, odAOMO, and design all its unique, carefully considered pieces using typical Kenyan materials. “When I grew up and moved on to the western environment, I realized that custom clothing was actually very expensive. I continued designing, however, I would have the clothes made back at home whenever I got a chance to go. I therefore made the collections piecemeal. This allowed me to amass a large amount of product comfortably, before I officially launched a brand,” she told Fashionomics Africa.
Sophia was sixteen when she moved to North America on a scholarship. At this age, the cultural differences – language being the most obvious – were significant to her. “Habits, ways of dressing, the way of thinking, culture, tradition – these were all the polar opposite of what I knew. My whole identity was challenged as these differences were made apparent,” she explains. Fortunately, she found comfort in her own personal style, a piece of home that reflected Kenya. “In Kenya, people always dress up. Even if you just stay at home, you dress up. Most men are in a dress jacket regardless of socioeconomic status. Women always have their hair done up, always have a beautiful outfit on. I brought all of this with me.” Sophia quickly realized that custom clothing wasn’t easily affordable in the US, so she started creating her own. “Most of the time, people around me would buy the clothing from me. A trunk show confirmed that, indeed there was a market. This led me to then formalize a brand. I gathered the team I had inadvertently been working with in a scattered manner. We came together in 2014, with a vision and a plan, and we have been operating as a team since then.”
It is very important to Sophia that her small team makes an impact on themselves first, then their immediate nuclear families and, finally the community. “My promise to them was that I would support their wages in a fair equitable manner, with growth and stability. They have lived up to their charge. I have always told my team that their purpose in life was not to further my own, or sacrifice theirs for mine but, rather, to use mine as a platform for themselves. Every year, we sit down and talk about their goals, visions, and dreams in life, and then forge a path within odAOMO to realize that. In a way, they make their own career growth pattern, and my job is to see that through, by holding them accountable and providing the needs to achieve this.” This attitude and working philosophy ties in perfectly with her approach to her own life and calling, which she describes as being “three-pronged”: not only is she the CEO and designer behind the odAOMO brand, she also works as an otolaryngologist, and is the founder of the Blooming Lily Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering people – especially young women – to positively fulfil their destiny and give back.
“Approach to life, in my opinion is a decision. With that decision may come sacrifices as each of our situations are different. For me, that decision came with hyper-focused time management. This does include some leisurely and downtime of course, but I can account for each minute of my life. I am very mindful. I allocate my daily time to each of my three prong obligations. I am very fortunate in that; I am able to work as an otolaryngologist for three days. During this time, this is all I do. The rest of the time is then dedicated to my other obligations, with allocated time for each. On the surface, most people think that these three careers are different, but they all intersect in my passion and what I call my calling to, not only be successful but lead and pave a path,” she explains. “Blooming Lily provides a way to lead and create a path for those coming behind me. My fashion brand creates a path to lead and give opportunity to those who might otherwise get none. In medicine, yes, we do provide relief from diseases and conditions, but it also is a form of leadership. You lead another human being through a troublesome part of their life. These careers are just platforms to allow me to serve in different ways. The common denominator is me and my calling.”
When it comes to odAOMO, Sophia’s goal is to create amazing and unique work that is ultimately designed to educate: to open one’s mind to new cultures. “With the time you put in a piece, there is much more to it than just the physical. Therefore, I do not overtly lead with a cultural aspect, but rather nuance this in the product. The whole collection is named to also make the wearer think of the thought process behind it, to evoke curiosity.” As such, the Desert Rose collection is described to have been inspired by “endurance, resilience and beyond recovery, successful blossom,” much like its name’s sake which, in itself is an oxymoron: “for one of the most beautiful plants to bloom in one of the most ruthless climates on earth is nothing short of a miracle.” The odAOMO brand offers designs that are inclusive to all genders and physical attributes, which is mainly achieved through keeping all channels of communication with clients open. “Listening to my customers for feedback has been the biggest educating platform. Most designers make products that reflect themselves and them alone, and hope to convert customers. I have learned, and I'm learning to approach it in the opposite way. I listen to feedback and try to accommodate this, while staying within the brand’s core values.”
odAOMO recently launched a whole new arm of the brand, namely odBRIDAL, which is quickly establishing itself as an inclusive bridal label that challenges socio-economic and societal boundaries. “As a younger child, I always wondered why all brides are dressed in white, regardless of culture, tribe, race or creed. I've always wanted to make something that captures the elegance, regal and tribal nature of a bride (we all belong to a tribe), but ultimately is able to capture her spirit, whatever it may be. The spirit is an extension of her culture. I wanted to offer something that is outside of the traditional but still very appropriate and acceptable”, Sophia shares. “As with my other products, I wanted to bring to limelight the every-day that can be transformed to an amazing ceremonial adornment. I therefore still incorporate beading, leathers, ostrich egg shells, antique brass, and of course beautiful African-based fabrics. Regular materials, just constructed differently. These pieces are over the top in luxurious feel, with no apology to silhouettes and volumes, hyper-focused on the bride, and although very affordable, scream of extreme couture luxury. Just like my tribe!”
Having only just kickstarted the odBRIDAL label, Sophia is determined to get the word out about this fabulous collection. “We have already sold pieces to a non-bride! This is validating, as I am looking to create pieces that are inclusive and span occasions.” So, whether you are currently planning your perfect summer wedding, or need that special something to sparkle at an important, formal dress occasion, be sure to check out the odBRIDAL collection – you might just meet your unconventional match.