The name itself is intriguing–Royal Jelly Harlem. But the products are even more so–clothing for men, women and babies crafted into using fabulous African fabric.
The idea for Royal Jelly Harlem (RJH) came to Maya Gorgoni after a visit to West Africa. She loved the fabrics and decided to create a line using the prints to her own designs. New York-based Gorgoni, who has traveled to Cameroon, Nigeria and South Africa multiple times, approached her mother, Teta Gorgoni, about partnering with her. Teta, who had years of experience in the fashion world, came onboard immediately.
“From the beginning I was very lucky and fortunate to convince my family to help out with my vision. My mother understood immediately and soon was onboard both creatively and financially as primary CFO,” says Gorgoni, who was busy prepping the line’s Resort/Holiday collection–the busiest season for the company.
Now the unique name. “Growing up I was always referred to as ‘Maya the Bee’, after the international cartoon based on a bee and her bumblebee sidekick and her fabulous adventures! I always knew a bee would be in the logo and Royal Jelly is fun and catchy as well as good for you,” explains Gorgoni. “It is also what is fed primarily to the chosen Queen Bee of the Hive and what makes her big and also fertile. Harlem was added since it has been my new neighborhood and where I found my creativity and inspiration for the last four years.”
To create her designs, Gorgoni works closely with African importers in NYC and buys fabric in bulk to keep the cost of yardage down. RJH’s design team is made up solely of Maya and Teta Gorgoni. “Mom studied fashion design and merchandising at the Fashion Institute of Technology and ran her own boutique, This Time Around, for several years,” says Gorgoni. RJH products are sold out of its NYC showroom and online. “Our goal from inception was to use local contractors in New York City and we are proud to promote our ‘Made in USA’ labeling for the brand,” says Gorgoni. RJH accessories start at $24 and items for women and men start at around $95 and go up to $400 and higher for custom bespoke pieces.
And Gorgoni is looking to expand RJH. “In addition to the men’s and women’s lines, we hope to venture further into expanding our current children’s clothing and home goods lines,” she says. “We want to eventually do custom pieces for people’s homes. There’s always inspiration right around the corner.”
According to Gorgoni, people are fascinated with the African prints, particularly the fashion world at present. “It helps that fashion as a whole is focusing a lot of attention to prints and in general, African and African-inspired prints,” says Gorgoni. This new love of African design has lured people into RJH. And so has online marketing. “The Internet, all social media and e-commerce obviously help make us more accessible to everyone as well,” Gorgoni points out. “Also, we’ve been very lucky in the almost three years since launching the line to have people of interest wear and promote our brand, giving us major exposure in the process.”
Through building the RJH brand, Gorgoni says she has learned many business lessons. “Have a vision and follow it. You won’t be able to do it alone! Ask for help and share the journey with friends, loved ones and family,” she advises. “They will be the ones to help you chase that vision. I am still lucky to have them all running alongside me.”