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Teaching friends open first shop selling vibrant African-inspired children’s clothes in Highgate

Teachers and clothes-makers Aika Esenalieva and Penny MacInnes open their new children's clothes shop in Archway Road, Highgate selling clothes made on the premises. Picture: Nigel Sutton Teachers and clothes-makers Aika Esenalieva and Penny MacInnes open their new children's clothes shop in Archway Road, Highgate selling clothes made on the premises. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Friday, July 25, 2014
11:00 AM

Two friends who teamed up to create bold and vibrant children’s clothes from authentic African fabrics have successfully opened their first shop in Highgate.

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Textiles schoolteachers Penny MacInnes, 62, and Aika Esenalieva, 32, travelled the world together in search of inspiration for their Leaping Lizards range of Ghanaian-inspired clothes for youngsters.

Now they have settled in Archway Road, Highgate, to open their first boutique together.

The friends met five years ago when Ms Esenalieva worked with Ms MacInnes’s daughter and the pair hit it off over their shared passion for design and travel.

After sewing together for years, they took the plunge last year to start a range of children’s clothes.

Ms MacInnes, who lives in Archway Road and teaches at Alperton Community School in Brent, said: “I think there is an interest in Africa and African style. I think if you look at the mainstream there are a lot of companies making pseudo-African clothing. There are a lot of animals and life in these fabrics, and every different pattern that you see has a different meaning.”

The business partners, who will both teach at Alperton School from September in a job-share, have moved their workshop into the shop so visitors can watch as they create unusual and colourful clothes.

The pair choose unique fabrics first-hand from Ghana and India, and colourful styles are available for children up to the age of 10.

Ms MacInnes and Ms Esenalieva, who lives in Dalston and currently teaches in Wimbledon, worked tirelessly for a year to promote their range at clothing shows and street markets before raising enough funds to open their first boutique.

In the face of fierce competition from online retailers, the pair are confident that their hand-made clothes will be a hit with Highgate parents.

Ms MacInnes added: “When you have a shop that’s different, where customers see you make the clothes there right in front of you, it makes the shop stand out.

“It’s just about diversity. You try it out and see if it’s going to sell. I think we create interest by the fact that we’re different, and that we’re doing something different.”

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