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Kenyan fashion coming to York

Jason Addy
York Dispatch
  • Gusa by Victoria opens downtown on Dec. 9 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and celebration.

Downtown York is about to get a bit of Kenyan flair.

Gusa by Victoria, featuring handmade clothing, gifts and fine art pieces from local artists, is slated to open Dec. 9 at 252 W. Philadelphia St.

Owner and Kenya native Victoria Kageni-Woodard will throw Gusa’s doors wide open  Friday night for a launch party, where Kenya’s ambassador to America will make a special guest appearance.

Ambassador Robinson Njeru Githae accepted Kageni-Woodard’s invitation to the bash and will be on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4 p.m. The ceremony will be followed by a celebration into the night, complete with local artists, jewelry designers, vendors, live jazz and even a gourd craftsman.

Kageni-Woodard has lived with her husband in the city for four years and is sinking her roots. This follows a journey that saw her leave Kenya to study creative arts and textile design at Savannah College in Georgia before moving to Pennsylvania to join her extended family.

Gusa by Victoria owner Victoria Kageni-Woodard is officially opening her store at 252 W. Philadelphia St.with a ribbon cutting, Friday, Dec. 9 that will be attended by the Kenyan Ambassador to the US. John A. Pavoncello photo

Even with her creative arts degree, Kageni-Woodard started out working in construction, but she said she knew since the day she started college that she wanted to open her own fashion store one day.

“This has been something that I’ve always wanted to do — share who I am and where I come from,” Kageni-Woodard said.

More than two decades after starting college in America, Kageni-Woodard will fulfill that dream to share her culture with her community — and her four children, who “have not been able to be immersed in my culture as much as I want them to be.”

In the coming months, Kageni-Woodard plans to turn the store into more than just a business, hosting galleries for local artists and classes where people can learn Swahili, as well as inviting guests to share their cultures and stories. She said she also is  planning children’s summer camps for next year.

Though she still misses her family and friends from her childhood in Kenya, Kageni-Woodard said the ambassador’s presence at the ceremony will make it feel as though her deceased father is coming to help her start a new journey.

“It’ll be very, very surreal for me,” Kageni-Woodard said. “Even though I haven’t lived in Kenya for a long period of time, it’ll feel like my family is coming to help me into this new home.”

Gusa by Victoria owner Victoria Kageni-Woodard works in her sewing room where she creates the clothing for her store. Gusa by Victoria is officially opening at 252 W. Philadelphia St.with a ribbon cutting, Friday, Dec. 9 that will be attended by the Kenyan Ambassador to the US. John A. Pavoncello photo

Leap of faith: Opening the store will be quite an accomplishment, Kageni said, and she is happy that she “simply chose to take a leap of faith to do it,” instead of over-analyzing  the decision. The restructuring and growth of new businesses in downtown York means she couldn’t have picked a better time to start Gusa, Kageni-Woodard said.

“It goes a long way to have people around you, people who are supportive and cheering you on,” Kageni-Woodard said, thanking her neighbors at I-ron-ic and others for helping her get the store ready to open on time, even though it needed a lot of work.

Kageni-Woodard likened the process of opening the business to a wedding — where “you plan, plan, plan, and then it’s over in a blink of an eye” — while also comparing it to a mother going through pregnancy.

With the planning and preparations almost complete, it is now time for Kageni-Woodard to  bring her store to life.