A predominantly white, affluent beach community may seem like an unlikely place for an African art and clothing store, but the owners of Fara Fina Collection, Fily and Madeline Keita, both 39, found success locating their shop in Marina del Rey, California.
The multiracial clientele who flock to the movie theaters and trendy restaurants of the west Los Angeles neighborhood often stumble upon the store by accident and become regular customers. Others are African art collectors who want first dibs on the eclectic imports from Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Mali and Tanzania.
About three times a year, Fily travels to Africa to purchase the art, jewelry, trinkets, furniture, music and fabrics that fill the 1,200-square-foot store from village craftspeople who bring their wares to the larger cities to sell. Traveling abroad is a considerable expense-$17,000 to $20,000 annually-but the Keitas believe that buying directly is the easiest way to get the best merchandise at the lowest price, “I know many of the craftsmen through word-of-mouth and referrals,” says Fily.
Madeline sews and designs most of the retail clothing, but they also carry other designers’ creations on consignment. “Some people are surprised that we would carry someone else’s clothing,” says Madeline. “But doing so means we can offer a larger selection.”
Both Fily and Madeline were entrepreneurs at heart before starting their business five years ago. Fily, a native of Mali, had been importing African art and sculptures from the motherland for nine years. Madeline, who has training in fashion design, designed and sewed African clothing at home. Opening a retail store seemed like the right move.
Operation Hope, a local organization that establishes a liaison between minority entrepreneurs and banks, helped the Keitas secure a $35,000 loan to purchase inventory and design their store-if they could find an acceptable location.
“We had to locate in an exclusive community as a requirement of obtaining the loan,” recalls Fily. A new shopping center opening in Marina del Rey was the perfect opportunity: they could reach the many African Americans who came to the marina on the weekend, as well as other ethnic clientele who might not venture into a predominantly black neighborhood. First, the Keitas had to overcome the landlord’s reluctance to lease to a black-owned business, especially one that specialized in African art. But their persistence and professionalism ultimately won out.
However, the scheduled opening was delayed by construction setbacks. Fara Fina didn’t open until March 1995, well after the holiday season.
Last year, the firm’s sales reached $370,000. Christmas, Kwanzaa and black history month make November through February the busiest time of the year. During the slower periods, the Keitas run ads in the community paper and periodically hold artist showings or open houses to attract new customers. “The community is constantly growing, and I hope our shop will continue to grow with it,” says Madeline. “I believe our love for what we do and hard work have been keys to our success.”
Fara Fina Collection, 13455 Maxella Ave., Suite 248, Marina del Rey, CA 90202; 310-305-1390