Risks lead to big rewards for engineer-turned-fashion designer Emefa Kuadey

Fashion alumna Emefa Kuadey

Fashion entrepreneur and George Brown College graduate Emefa Kuadey embraces change, and her career path embodies her “no regrets” approach to taking on new challenges. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she took a risk and completely changed the business plan for her newly launched fashion brand.  

Spoiler alert: it worked! 

Emefa graduated from the Fashion Techniques and Design program in 2019, and later the same year launched her brand israella KOBLA during Vancouver Fashion Week. In early spring 2020, she was connecting with wholesalers to get her pieces in stores when COVID-19 hit. As distribution opportunities dried up due to the pandemic, she decided to shift to a made-to-order operation with a focus on high-quality construction and timeless design. 

“I never want the reason you get rid of a piece to be because it wasn’t made well or because it’s irrelevant. If your style has evolved and you want to give a piece to a friend, or donate it I’m totally fine with that, but never because it was made poorly. That’s not the brand I’m trying to build,” she said. 

“My first collection was based on something I made in 2018, and the fact that I’m able to launch, sell it right now and still be relevant is a testament to the timelessness of my designs.” 

She describes israella KOBLA as a luxury clothing and accessories brand that “redefines minimalism through structure and bold femininity.” 

Emefa’s success in the fashion industry is the result of other risks. She landed a job at a Toronto fashion house right after her George Brown graduation, but quickly realized it wasn’t the right fit and decided to focus instead on launching her own business. And before she arrived at George Brown, she earned a degree in civil engineering and landed a job in Calgary. A few unsatisfied years in the industry solidified her desire to pursue an education and career in fashion. 

“I’m ok with this not working out, but I need to know I gave it 110 per cent,” she said of her decision to pursue fashion full-time. 

She applied to George Brown College, moved to Toronto and didn’t look back. 

“The 18 months at George Brown was a life-changing experience for me, and the standard of what they teach is very high,” she said, adding that she still keeps in touch with her instructors.

“As a mature student, I came in very focused and did everything possible, including internships and competitions, to get as much out of the learning experience as I could.”  

From civil engineer to fashion engineer  

Emefa enjoyed sewing as a child and rediscovered her passion for it when she visited her family in Ghana during a break from her university studies. Her aunt taught her the fundamentals of sewing and drafting — instruction that gave her a solid foundation going into her program at George Brown. A few years later her passion for sewing overtook her plans for pursuing engineering and architecture. But she didn’t abandon her past career altogether. Now her engineering experience plays a significant role in her clothing design. 

“I have a deep love for structure. I love clean lines. I think that comes from my appreciation of contemporary architecture,” she said. “There’s a print I had custom designed for my collection on the site now and the inspiration for that was a high-rise building, looking from the ground up.” 

“People may not see it from the beginning, but when I tell them I worked as an engineer they’re like, ah, it all makes sense.” 

Update: A big step for Emefa's brand came at the end of March 2021, when HBC started selling israella KOBLA pieces on its website