Rahel Mwitula Williams was born in Tanzania. She is the lead designer at ILAVA, a socially responsible lifestyle brand that uses fashion, mainly African fashion, to empower women and create change globally. Rahel is very passionate about her roots and is an avid philanthropist, always seeking opportunities to solve problems and meet the needs of others. Immigrating with her family to Chicago was difficult for Rahel. She had a hard time transitioning, especially since she understood and spoke very little English. Moreover, she experienced vicious taunts, mockery, and bullying by her classmates for wearing second-hand clothes, nameless brands, and for bringing African food to class.
Adapting to a new system and culture wasn’t easy, but having a wonderful community and family made the transition less difficult. At such a young age, Rahel found solace in getting dressed in her African wear which were huge reminders of her roots. As her teenage years rolled into adulthood, Rahel resolved within herself to get a degree in something related to international relations or law in a bid to give back to motherland. Her not-so-pleasant experiences from high school incentivized her into starting her own fashion company.
While in college, Rahel majored in Psychology and studied abroad in Kenya for a while. In Kenya, she discovered her passion for empowering women tagged as “unskilled workers” by society and changing the narrative. The events that followed eventually gave rise to Illava and opened multiple doors to partnering with other nonprofits in Tanzania and Kenya. Based in the U.S, Rahel and her sister provide employment for Tanzanian who assist in the production of her African clothing line. Whenever both sisters are working on a clothing line in Tanzania, they strive to change the “I-am-the-boss mentality” which is very prevalent among African business owners by working alongside her employees; and also rewriting the narrative that men are superior to women in the workforce by employing both male and female workers. Rahel considers working in Tanzania a learning opportunity as she is able to incorporate her work ethnics, especially in the area of time management while learning to adopt a lifestyle of resting from her team. Moreover, Rahel donates between 10-15% of her profits to charity.
Rahel’s African fashionable clothing can be purchased on her website, and she also encourages sponsors willing to support in raising funds for her nonprofit. Some of her sponsorships go to providing bikes ($75 each) for girls who must walk long hours to get to school, while also providing sanitary pads for female students who skip school for about 7 to10 days because they lack the money to purchase sanitary pads.