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Nay Secka brings African-influenced face masks to San Diego

Nay Secka, founder of TEGAA clothing and accessories, based in San Diego.
Nay Secka, founder of TEGAA clothing and accessories, based in San Diego.
(Courtesy photo)

Designer Nay Secka’s journey to San Diego wasn’t typical.

Originally born in New York as the daughter of a diplomat, Secka’s childhood was far from the norm. At four years old, her family relocated back to The Gambia, where they were originally from. Her unconventional childhood included stops in Nigeria as well, and after high school, she did a brief stint in London and then found herself back in New York.

But Secka’s worldly background has served her well since creating TEGAA, her clothing and accessories line. Originally founded in 2015, with a brief break during her move to San Diego, TEGAA is a way for Secka to honor her history through a modern product line of jewelry, accessories, clothing and now, face masks (which are currently required in San Diego when outdoors to slow the spread of Covid-19).

Even the name of the company bears some significance.

“TEGAA is actually from the Wolof language, which is the local language in Gambia, or the most widely-spoken tongue in Gambia … it means ‘artisan’,” Secka explains.

She adds that Tegaa is also the name of the social class of artisans in The Gambia, and she sources most of her materials from the Tegaa. She describes the process of working with them as an honor, one that she is grateful she has the opportunity for.

“In Gambia, we have the caste system. The artisans are not considered socially equal to the other social classes. It’s kind of like a social hierarchy. They’re not allowed to integrate with other social classes in terms of getting married. Some people don’t even want them in their home because they feel like they bring bad luck, some really stupid stuff. Yet they’re creating unbelievable art. And I just never understood that growing up.

I just don’t understand human inequality. It’s never been something I’ve been able to comprehend. So when I started the company, I was like, I’m going to name it after them. No one knows about them, which is why they only survive off the little money they make off the local Gambians. And even those local Gambians don’t consider them equal. And I just have a lot of respect for [the Tegaa]. There’s so many things that they make, I don’t even comprehend how to begin. I wish I could go into their schools and learn everything about what they’re making.”

Secka currently lives in Bankers Hill and she produces her line from her apartment with the help of one employee, a seamstress she recently hired to help her manage the high demand for her face masks.

Secka never planned to make masks, but of course, nobody could have foreseen the global pandemic. Back in March, Secka shifted her business to produce masks, especially because she already faced issues with shipments coming from Africa.

“I had a shipment that’s been stuck in Gambia since March. I had no idea that was going to happen during the pandemic. I was like, ‘Oh, that shouldn’t be an issue,’ and next thing you know, it’s shut down. And here we are in July. So I got really lucky in that I pivoted. I made accessories anyway. So I was like, well, everyone needs a face mask.”

TEGAA's face masks in Maroon Swirl (above) and Royal Blue (below).

Secka’s masks are made from four layers of pure, 100% cotton sourced from The Gambia.

In between the layers are lighter weight muslin, which Secka says makes them more breathable. “Because it gets hot in San Diego, so if you have four layers of thick cotton, it’s just miserable.” The masks also have an adjustable nose wire that conforms to each face. The nose wire, Secka says, allows the wearer to adjust the fit and width. It makes the mask contour to the wearers’ face. Masks also have a little dip at the bottom, so it fits the wearer’s chin.

Masks are available for $15 each and are available only on Secka’s website (other TEGAA products are available at Modern Market in Grossmont Center). They come in colorful, African-tinged patterns with names like Maroon Swirl, Royal Blue, Laced Triangles and Blue Lattice.

And Secka makes sure that giving back to the community is a big part of TEGAA’s business model.

Normally, she donates 5% of proceeds each month to Power Up Gambia, an organization that provides solar-powered clean water and electricity to hospitals in The Gambia. “They’re changing the mortality rate of my entire country. It’s amazing,” she says. And for each face mask sold, Secka donates a medical-grade N95 mask to local hospitals and clinics in San Diego.

And for the month of June, 5% of all proceeds were donated to a Black Lives Matter organization.

For more information on Secka and TEGAA and to purchase products, visit tegaa.com or find them on Facebook and Instagram at @ATribeCalledTegaa.


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