Mena Mode is a women’s fashion brand founded by Melissa Issa-Boube when she was an undergrad. Now, she’s in graduate school majoring in Biology and hoping to eventually go to medical school while still designing clothes for her brand. I was really fascinated by her passion and of course curious about how she has managed to become such a talented fashion designer with a cool brand and still have time for her studies not to talk of her plan to go to medical school. So, I had a pre-interview with her to discuss more about her Superwoman skills 🙂 before we started the main interview about Mena Mode.
Medical school is busy and tough how do you plan on doing both?
My plan is to have my business self running before I am in medical school. I have faced the challenges of managing both passions in undergrad, and the task was far from easy. I have had to continue this balancing act in graduate school as well. I have to attend shows, debug the site, organize events, advertise, and make the clothes while studying for classes. However, having experienced these challenges has further prepared me for what is to come in medical school. I understand that undergrad and a professional school are vastly different, and for these reasons, I want to ensure that Mena Mode can run efficiently.
Do you think you will have time to make your designs?
Fortunately, the designing is the easy part! I love having this creative outlet, and I find it integral for my mental health. I mean that if I was not a fashion designer, I do not know how I can be happy simply working in a lab or studying for classes. This journey has taught me a lot about myself, and although I am extremely busy and tired, I have never felt more fulfilled. I encourage everyone to have a hobby that requires creative energy. There are limits to what I can do in the sciences and with medicine, because of common practices, laws, etc. However, with fashion, there are no boundaries.
Honestly, I barely have time to sew anymore. I realized that I cannot scale my business without help and a reliable team. For this reason, I have hired a team in Niger to help me meet the demand.
Do you have a team that will do some of the work while you focus on med school?
Yes! My parents are originally from Niger, and I have taught someone there to make my best selling designs. She is also teaching three other girls how to sew my designs to help me meet demand and focus on school. I want to use Mena Mode to help bring jobs to Niger. When people think of Niger (if they do), clothing manufacturing does not come to mind. I am going to change that. I am also really thankful to have the support of my family and friends.
Are you fascinated yet? I told you she’s a Superwoman. She’s Black Girl Magic! If you ever had doubts about black girls being magic Melissa is your evidence 🙂 Anyway, let’s get down to the main interview and learn more about Mena Mode.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you to be a designer.
I graduated from Emory University in 2015, and I double majored in neuroscience and French Studies. I am currently a master’s student in biology at Georgia State University. I am also receiving a graduate certificate in Public Health. I plan to work in healthcare and use my fluency in French to improve global health, particularly in West Africa. Mena Mode serves as my break from the sciences. I like the autonomy I have over fabric options, hemlines, fits, etc. I plan to use this empowerment to inspire others to pursue alternative passions that may or may not align with their studies. I have always had an artsy and creative side, but before Mena Mode, I did not have a productive outlet. My notebooks are filled with random doodles that finally came to life after a boring summer at home. I gabbed some Ankara fabric laying around the house and made a skirt. Afterwards, I made a matching top. As I became more comfortable with my skills, I took more risks with the patternmaking. After great feedback online, I went to city hall and applied for a business license.
Tell us more about Mena Mode and past collections.
“Mena” is Hausa for gazelle and “Mode” is French for fashion. Hausa is the second most spoken language in Africa. People from around the continent are able to understand each other based on this common denominator. I want this idea of a “universal language” to represent my line. Mena Mode juxtaposes contemporary designs with traditional African fabrics. Mena Mode is edgy and elegant, because there are pieces you can wear to a gala and also items appropriate for a festival or concert. I love the versatility in my line, because it also matches my personal style that my sister describes as, “glam street.”
Where do you get inspirations for your designs?
BALMAIN. Although this brand does not use Ankara fabrics and prints, the style of the clothing and its construction has an element that I like to incorporate in Mena Mode. I love the cinched waistlines and structures shoulders that Balmain dresses often have.
Have you faced any challenges since launching Mena Mode? If yes, how did you handle them?
Yes. Every day is a challenge, because I am also a full-time student. Once I finish my schoolwork, then I have to focus on advertising, the website, orders, accounting, fabrics, designs, and sponsorships. I handle these challenges by managing my time and eliminating distractions. There have been times where I have had to put Mena Mode on hold while I study for a test or prepare a presentation. However, at this point, I cannot see my life without Mena Mode. This brand has become a significant part of my identity and growth as a young adult.
What should we expect from Mena Mode in the future?
You should expect to see many designs without Ankara fabric as we plan to expand to a broader audience base.
Below are some photos of her collection! If you like what you see, you should go to her Etsy store to shop the collection.