Bikram yoga class and a trip to West Africa led Tomara Watkins to start Loza Tam, her luxury headwear brand that has gained notice among celebs and recently introduced two new collections. The Alexandria resident was attending a sweaty yoga sesh and needed something to hold back her “big, kinky, curly” hair, she recalls. “If you have a lot of it, there’s a battle, and your hair’s going to win.” So when she discovered beautiful fabrics—with eye-catching patterns and colors—created by women in Ghana, a light bulb went off. “I call Loza Tam my accidental business,” says Watkins, a former e-commerce marketing executive. “I always knew I was going to start my own company. I just didn’t know what it was going to be.”
That desire took root early. Growing up in Florida, the Howard University alum was surrounded by entrepreneurs, including her grandmothers. She followed in their footsteps in 2016 with Loza Tam. Her goal: “to create something that was easy and chic that you could put on like a hat but still have the [style] of a turban,” she says. Headbands came first, with three must-haves: to handle high-volume hair, to protect it with a satin lining instead of a silicone strip and to transition from big to little. She tested her prototype on yogis at studios in Del Ray and Alexandria—downward dog posed a problem. So Watkins tweaked the sizing.
Pre-tied turbans followed two years later; they were the hardest to perfect, she says. One of the latest collections, Loza Luxe, features a streamlined design with a pleated back; it’s crafted from four-way stretch cotton-jersey fabric or satin in colors like mulberry. Watkins dreamed it up because she needed something to wear for her recent microwedding in Carlyle Square; she affixed a crystal brooch to the Champagne satin wrap.
But that’s the beauty of these pieces. You can dress them up or down and pop one on for the now-requisite Zoom meeting. (Watkins has three at her desk.) “When I was coming up with the new colors, I wanted to make sure they weren’t too over-the-top so women would feel comfortable wearing it to a job on K Street,” she says.
Each product is a collaboration between Watkins and the four to six makers. Before COVID-19, she visited Ghana a few times a year. January would have been her longest trip. She’d have spent about a month going over concepts based on the women’s expertise and naturally available materials or what’s available to be imported. Her trips end with a team dinner.
“They’re like my extended family,” says Watkins. She believes in their spirit. “West African society can be patriarchal. Men hold the purse strings … But women can do more with a dollar while also making sure their kids are fed, clothed, educated and, most importantly, loved. I understand how influential women are.”
That mantra carries through back home. She’s friends with Black female entrepreneurs Kimberly Smith and Amaya Smith of Brown Beauty Co-op in Dupont Circle (which carries Loza Tam) and Kristian Henderson of BLK+GRN. “We share an experience of running a business as Black women. We bond over that.”
She also is working with Fairfax-based model Britt Noelle, one of the 15-plus ambassadors for the brand who spread the word. In addition to Watkins’ local following, she has shipped to Saudi Arabia, Japan, Italy—and to celebs like Ava DuVernay. “I always include a handwritten note with the orders,” says Watkins. “I was shaking when I wrote it.” Oprah’s team even put in a request. “What do you say to Oprah? She has every product she could ever want!”
It’s a testament to her pieces, which also recently expanded to include silk masks and kimonos, the latter of which Watkins hopes will be fully available by the spring. “I’m always in a kimono and turban, to be honest,” admits Watkins, who frequents Current Boutique in Old Town for the rest of her apparel. “I wanted something that was just comfy.” Effortlessly sophisticated, indeed.