Thank you so much for your time! My name is Chrisfel Jordy Ndamba. I am 20 years old and live in Moorhead, Minnesota. I am the founder and CEO of On The Leau, a clothing brand. I have been working on my brand for thirteen months now and launched my first collection in September of 2018. Today, I hope to share a little about myself, my brand, and the purpose of my brand.
Our business, On The Leau, is a clothing line headquartered in Moorhead, Minnesota. The purpose of the business is to spread a message of hope and self-discovery in the brand’s product. On The Leau Brand, ( pronounced On The Low ) means the unknown treasure. What we, as people, have to offer to the world is being different and kind. As we are On The Leau, we grow and learn to pick, choose, and feed what is good for our soul. The purpose of the brand is, “As we get to know ourselves, our strengths, and our limits, we realize that our strength is infinite and we have no limits. No matter the obstacle, you can get through it. Don’t dwell on pain, learn from it. There’s not a single person in this world who has lived up to their potential without shedding a tear. It’s a grind and that is life.
In life, we face many trials, tribulations, and many have let their hardships lead them to be bitter but only a few have let their darkest moments by being kind.” The word “Leau” means water in French; Why Leau because water is life, water is pure, and water runs forever. OTL represents the grind, sweat, and tears of humble, nameless individuals whose mission to “Be Kind” not only in high fashion, streetwear but also in life itself. Being kind is not also just another brand with a price tag, the company wants the consumer to consciously be reminded to make kindness a choice made freely.
To better understand my journey, I would like to explain to you my own origin story of adversity. I was born in Congo, Brazzaville, Africa. At nine months old, my family and I were forced out of our home to move to Moanda, Gabon due to ensuing war in Congo. These were hard time for our family, but I thank God e make it safe to Gabon. Growing up in Africa wasn’t always pretty, but there was no reason to complain because we had each other. We like to say, “On est ensemble”. This is French for, “We are together”. This assertion helped us feel connected to each other in a way that is unexplainable.
I lived in the cities and the village so I saw both sides of each living condition. This expanded my perspective of how life can be. My mom was a kindergarten teacher and my dad worked as a manual laborer. My parents split when I was young. I lived with my dad for a while in Libreville, Gabon until I was ten. I remember the countless nights when we had to cut our sleep short to walk about three miles to go refill our water supply because that was the only time there would be clean running water available. There would be times when we would get there and the water system would not work.That was what was normal at the time.
After living with my dad for awhile, my brother and I moved back to Moanda, Gabon to live with my mom. My mom has single handedly raised us ever since. I recall living with my mom was difficult again due to the water availability crisis. To get water was a difficult, long stretch. With only one pump available for everyone, the was always long. To make matter worse, the pump was overused and took a long time to pump an adequate amount of water.
At the age of ten, I learned to hustle to make any amount of money. Sometimes I would sweep the neighborhood food store and resupply their water for a little change. My mom was a teacher, but the salary still wasn’t enough to raise three children on her own. We had a small plantation business on the side, this side trade helped make ends meet. I would be sent to the market to sell what he had produced. It was through this experience that I got my first taste of running a business. My mom taught me about running a business, how to sell product, and how to bargain price. We also baked and sold snacks that I would bring to school to sell to my classmates. With the living conditions back home being what they were, I was forced to grow up at a rate higher than my peers. I learned to bring something to the table and it made the difference in my family’s life. We didn’t have a choice. We had to grind and stay together no matter what.
A year later, we took flight to the United States through immigration. Coming to America was the opportunity that I never dreamed of, but was given along with millions of others looking to find refuge. I am forever grateful for this increase in life chances. Growing up in Africa wasn’t easy, but neither was growing up in America. It was difficult to try to assimilate, adjust to the culture here, finding myself, and finding my purpose. So much has happened over the years and it has truly made me who I am today. I will not take this great opportunity to be in this country for granted. I will make a difference.
On The Leau is currently selling its products online through its online e-commerce store. The brand is currently looking to partner with local fashion boutique stores in the Fargo-Moorhead area who are focused on selling eco-friendly apparel that looks and feels good. Plans for expansion include setting up distribution and manufacturing relationships in Minneapolis, Minnesota another fashion-centric goldmine where the company aims to gain greater market penetration. Another dream of the company is to have the clothing eventually be entirely manufactured in the Republic of Congo. This would provide a much-needed increase in employment opportunities.