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IN HER OWN STYLE—A long way from home, 28-year-old Alice Abiya brings Cameroon to Pittsburgh.

Since December 2017 Kahila Miller has been showcasing and selling items representative of her and other Caribbean countries in the Monroeville Mall. And since the latter part of November of this year, Alice Abiya, also in the mall, has been selling items which, she says, revokes the beauty of the African continent.

Caribbean Village and Abiya’s Art—the places to go for the culturally-conscious consumer.

Located at the lower level near Macy’s, Caribbean Village carries clothing, flags from most Caribbean countries, artifacts, novelties, Bob Marley items, spices, teas and incense. “Think of it as if you visited a Caribbean Island and you were unable to or forgot a souvenir—we are here for everything you left behind,” describes Miller.

On the first floor, located across from Forever 21, Abiya sells her handmade wears consisting of jewelry made from coconut beans, wood, crystals, beads, oil paintings, greeting cards, coffee mugs, T-shirts and hats.

“My pieces are reflective of my East Cameroon homeland,” she says.

IT TAKES A VILLAGE—Known for her Caribbean cooking, Kahila Miller is sharing her culture in a broader fashion. (Photos by Diane I. Daniels)

Originally from Antigua and Barbuda in the West Indies, Miller is no stranger to entrepreneurship. Her business ventures started at the age of 12 while selling items as a child. While living in Brooklyn, she says she was the first vender to sell roasted corn. Considering herself a chef by trade, upon relocating to Pittsburgh she operated a food booth at the Farmers Market in Homewood before relocating to a storefront in Homestead in 1993 called Take it Easy with Love. She later relocated to Penn Avenue in Wilkinsburg, to the Public Market in the Strip District and then to Craig Street in Oakland. She also has participated with the Ujamaa Collective in their market endeavors on Centre Avenue in the Hill District.

Expanding her market from just introducing her culture through food, Miller’s aim also is to educate. “Soon we will be incorporating health and wellness through our teas and spices and hope to have a juice bar before spring,” she says.

Miller is pleased with the reception she’s received since initially operating from a kiosk on the first floor of the mall. “People are curious and those from Caribbean countries are happy to see flags and products that represent their nationality.”

Stressing the importance for people to know their culture, Miller is working on building her inventory for Black History Month and in 2019 she plans to continue sponsoring and organizing the Gastro Caribbean Festival. The festival, which was held this summer, derived from her experiences at the mall. “The concept is to educate Americans about the culture of West Indies and that it consists of many islands.”

Also exposing her customers to her homeland, Abiya’s merchandise is very unique. Each handmade product has a story behind it, particularly her painting and greeting cards. Each depicts a memory from her past, something she rarely discusses. “My works’ subject matter focuses on African roots and life style utilizing African instruments, woods, and maps as references.”

Gaining her determination and entrepreneurial spirit from her grandmother who sold sawwod fruit throughout the village, Abiya says her athletic abilities is what brought her to the United States. In 2006 she landed in Charlottesville, Va., on a scholarship to play basketball. She transferred to and graduated from St. Francis Academy in Baltimore, all while dealing with many obstacles, missing her family and having a language barrier. Upon graduation from high school, she went on to attend Garrett College in Maryland, continuing to use her athletic ability but fell in love with art and the colors of black and gold. In 2011 she graduated and received a scholarship to play basketball at California University of Pennsylvania where she also played volleyball. She graduated with a degree in International Studies and a concentration in International Business. Trips with the basketball team often brought her to the Strip District where she says she fell in love with Pittsburgh. Leaning on her passion for art, three years ago she started Abiya’s Art. “I woke up one day, took some boxes to the Strip, set them up on the ground and started selling my artwork.” Those who viewed her as a “beggar” in the Strip District motivated her to work even harder, and she soon advanced to selling her wears from tables. These days, she’s selling them from a kiosk at Monroeville Mall, and, weather permitting, in the Strip District.

Abiya, who also sells items on her website, abiyasart.com, says business in the mall is slow, but her determination to succeed remains strong.

“I’m getting my feet wet here (at the mall) as people get to know me,” she said.

 

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