For Harlem Duru, cultural identity was always a confusing subject for the first generation Nigerian-American growing up in metro Atlanta.

Through his journey to discover his roots, he was inspired to create what is now a luxury lifestyle and accessories brand called Helmh.

“Helm is really about self-love,” Duru said. “Starting Helmh was like me coming back to my culture, making it a part of my life and accepting who I am.”

With over a year under his belt, Duru launched Helmh back in 2018 with the intent establish the company as the premier destination for high quality African inspired hats, head-wraps, shirts, blankets, and other accessories.

With a major focus on producing durable, quality products, one of the most unique aspects about the brand is that it provides just as many selections for men as it does for women.

A common critique on most African-inspired apparel lines is that there are far more products offered for women, leaving men with little to nothing to choose from.

Garnering a large amount of success and recognition over a short amount of time, Duru’s products are selling out.

The son of a single Nigerian mother with four kids, Duru grew up in Cobb County, a northern suburb of metro Atlanta.

“My parents are Nigerian, and growing up I didn’t really experience the Nigerian culture besides the food because I was in a one-parent household with four kids, so my mother couldn’t do anything but provide for us,” Duru said.

“As I got older, I felt like something was missing. I went back to try to figure out my own roots.”

He says that his journey to Helmh started out as a quest to recover his culture.

Though Duru knew that he was Nigerian, his upbringing didn’t give him anything to show for it; leaving him with a sense of cultural loss.

“Yes, I’m African but what does that mean?? I don’t know. Yes, I’m from Nigerian but where do I come from. I don’t know,” Duru said. “I always wanted to know more about my culture and I was into African prints, but growing up it was like, if you don’t speak the language, you are not Nigerian.”

“I felt like I was missing a piece of me, so I started to research my culture.”

His research allowed him to uncover a lot of information involving African and Nigerian culture.

For example, he learned that the widely popular African wax prints that are primarily used in the construction of African clothing, more specifically in West Africa, is original of Dutch origin.

“The fabric that we use is called African print fabric, but it’s not really African print,” Duru said. “We adopted it from the Dutch.”

“When they first made it it wasn’t selling in Dutchland so we kind of started selling it in African culture. We adopted this fabric and put our name on it.”

Wanting to share this with the other members of the African diaspora, and the world, Duru says that he decided to marry his passion for prints and accessories with his newfound cultural inspiration.

He also crafted a unique name for his company, Helmh.

“HELMH is much more than a name,” Duru said. “It is a bold form of expression and identity.”

According to Duru, his company’s name is derived from the word “helm,” which he says means “at the top” or “a leader position.”

And while the connotation of the word does lend itself to be used in that manner, the denotation actually means to be in a position of control.

However, Duru’s products also have unique names as well.

“I pull the names from rivers, mountains, valleys, and flowers,” Duru said.

He says that his brand has helped him and others to reconnect to their African heritage, which was his number one objective.

“Its really about how self-conscious I was about myself,” Duru said.

“I want black Americans to know that Africa is home no matter what. The Asian community knows they can always go back. Mexicans can go back. I want black Americans to feel that same sense of pride.”

(Photo: courtesy of Helmh)
(Photo: Courtesy of Helmh)

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