Discovering Delasie and Creating a Ripple

by Sarah Anderson • photography by Two Eagles Marcus • product photography by Jamie Lynn Cheeks 

For reasons unbeknownst to her, Rhoda Klomega, 15 at the time, found herself standing in front of Ms. Freeburn with one question.

“I had never spoken to this teacher a day in my life,” Klomega, 22,  explained. “I had never thought about sewing. I still consider myself one of the least fashionable people ever. I just walked into her room and asked for the school sewing machine.”

Ms. Freeburn told her that since it was school property, it wasn’t allowed to leave the premises. Klomega walked away and didn’t think much of it until the next day when she was summoned to Ms. Freeburn’s classroom. There, she found her teacher waiting to give Klomega her personal sewing machine.

“She never wanted anything in return,” Klomega recalled.

Rhonda Klomega, her first sewing machine and her Delasie projects.

She didn’t know it yet, but this simple act of kindness would change her future. Born in Ghana, Klomega came to America with her missionary parents at the age of 11.

“I desperately wanted to move here, but the transition was very difficult… I came to a primarily white place and realized I was black,” she explained. “I was very depressed and missed home. I didn’t fit in, I didn’t have clothes that looked like what everyone would wear, I would bring food to school and everyone would be asking about it.”

Klomega had been stuck in a state of high functioning depression. That all began to change when she took home Ms. Freeburn’s old sewing machine, and she quickly immersed herself in learning how to sew.

“I had never threaded a needle a day in my life, so I just went and bought fabric,” she laughed. “I laid on the floor and told my brother to trace me out.”

Learning by mimicking the sewing on her own clothes, Klomega looked to sewing as the place she went when she wanted to dig a little deeper and challenge herself. It became her solace, and soon after, she was able to emerge from her depression. By senior year, her friends were marveling at her transformation into a happy person, embracing growth.

“I just thought to myself, ‘Delasie,’” Klomega recalled.

Delasie means, “the savior has heard me.” It was the word that her father uttered with relief when she was born after a tumultuous labor. It also became her middle name.

Klomega rocks a vibrant Delasie dress.

In the Fall of 2013, she began attending Grand Valley State University, joining the Padnos College of Engineering and Computing to study information systems. At GVSU, she continued sewing in her dorm room with the vibrant fabric she got from Ghana. People would take notice of her unique clothing and offer her money to make garments for them.

The following Fall, she was invited to enter her designs for a campus fashion show. Suddenly scrambling for a name for her growing business, she called her mom and sister. The answer was clear. She would name her business Delasie.

Delasie earrings

Klomega started realizing the power of her clothing when she dressed Toni Waddell for an event she was emceeing.

“When I went to the event, people were asking me for the clothes, and I mentioned I had some in my car,” she said. “People followed me out there, and I made $1,300 that night.”

From there, the progression of Delasie seemed serendipitous. Thirty minutes before meeting with a soon-to-be business mentor and friend, Kyra Crandol of the namesake styling blog Kyra Danaya, Klomega was laid off from her summer job. Crandol was insistent that this was a sign to go all in on Delasie. Faced with an open summer, Klomega went to Ghana to stock up on fabric and got to work. Every pop-up shop she did, she went home empty handed. Her designs were a hit.

Klomega has designed a line of unique Delasie handbags

 

With the urging of Crandol, Klomega signed up for a Spring GR course, where she learned about entrepreneurship and began to fully form her business. She became a SpringGR finalist and ended up winning second place with her pitch for Delasie.

“That was a big ‘aha!’ moment for me,” Klomega recalled. “So I went a little harder and became a little more out there. People started to know more about me.”

A few months later, she walked away as the victor of 5×5 Night — a monthly idea pitch held at Start Garden — with $5,000 in hand.

At first glance, what makes Delasie clothing uncommonly stunning is the beautiful Ghanaian fabric they are crafted with. However, these fabrics carry a much deeper significance than beauty; each print holds a meaning such as sunshine, joy, happiness and hope.

“With Delasie, the message that I send to people is ‘You are here for a unique reason,’” Klomega expressed. “Look good, feel good, do good. We want to create a ripple effect in people’s lives. It’s about affecting people by making them feel good. If you feel good, you’re much more likely to be good to someone else. That is the message we hold in their hearts.”

It’s Klomega’s desire that the owner of the clothing carries her wish with them as they wear the clothes.

She believes it doesn’t matter who wears the clothing, as long as they know the history behind the particular fabric. Currently, all of Klomega’s textiles come from Ghana, but she hopes to eventually branch out and find textiles from all over the world that also carry well wishes and stories.

Klomega has also created a series of bold Delasie wallets.

In the future, Klomega hopes to expand her business to monthly subscription boxes, textiles designed and made in house, and eventually be a globally recognized brand that still carries the purpose and meaning behind Delasie. As for her career in tech, Klomega has no plans of giving that up anytime. She intends to use her degree in information systems to eventually launch a second business.


“I am standing on the shoulders of other women, so I owe it to them to be better. It’s not whether I should or shouldn’t, I have to. Sisterhood is important. We move faster and further together.” 


“Who says I can’t do it all? Maybe I’ll have my own tech firm and Delasie,” Klomega mused.

Reflecting on her journey thus far, Klomega attributes everything to a ripple effect. She hopes to pay it forward to the community and to everyone wearing her designs. Each piece that Klomega creates is finished off with at least a few stitches by the original machine that Ms. Freeburn gifted her years ago.

“I am standing on the shoulders of other women, so I owe it to them to be better. It’s not whether I should or shouldn’t, I have to. Sisterhood is important. We move faster and further together.”


Sarah Anderson

Sarah shuffles between editorial support, content production and advertising at WLM. She loves her job so much, and isn’t just saying that to impress her boss.


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