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Black History Month Spotlight: Maya and Teta Gorgoni

by Grace Bonney

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There are few things in the world of business that delight me more than a mother-daughter team. There’s something so special about intergenerational duos that are able to bring so many different layers and levels of wisdom and creativity to the table. And when it comes to Maya and Teta Gorgoni of Royal Jelly Harlem (above left and right, respectively), the wells of creativity and wisdom run deep.

Inspired by the richness and diversity of African design and prints, Maya decided to launch her own collection of fashion and home designs in 2011. Working with her mother, Teta, Maya launched her first series of designs from her home neighborhood of Harlem, New York City. The vivid colors and bold patterns in her work have created a devoted following of fans across the country, including some well known names in entertainment. Maya and Teta’s loyal customers come back time and again to support their eye-catching work, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they’ll continue to expand into the home furnishings world, too. I’d love to see more of these amazing patterns on chairs, sofas and more. Until then, read on after the jump to learn more about Maya and Teta and catch an excerpt of their interview from In the Company of Women! xo, grace

Photography by Sasha Israel for In the Company of Women

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What did you want to be when you were a child?

Maya: I wanted to be a ballerina or an equestrian horse rider.

Teta: As a child, I built a grocery store in my backyard out of cardboard boxes, shelves and all, using empty cans of various can goods, cereal and rice boxes, etc. I used soda bottles to create soda pop with water dyed to look like strawberry, grape, orange and cola. My siblings and neighborhood friends were my “customers.”  I was eight years old. So, I’ve always wanted to be the owner of my own business, that is, a businesswoman.

What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off? (Or a piece you’re glad you ignored?)

Maya: I was advised to grow the business no faster than I could sustain it physically, emotionally and financially. Five years later, we are debt-free and have minimized the risks associated with start-ups in an industry that’s very competitive.

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What does the world need more of? Less of?

Maya: Less reality TV and more reality.

What is the characteristic about yourself you’re proudest of?

Maya: My determination and that I seldom take no for an answer.

Who is another woman (living or throughout history) that you admire or look up to?

Teta: There are several women I admire and look up to and who have influenced me over the years –Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Dorothy Dandridge, to name a few, but if I had to choose one now, it would be Michelle Obama.

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