Maxine was born in Hackney, to Trinidadian and Jamaican parents, but spent her early childhood in Couva, Trinidad, with her maternal grandparents. Since returning to the UK, Maxine has come full circle – and it has indeed been a very full circle. From growing up wishing for a career as a journalist or fashion designer, she went on to study textiles and surface design.
She became discouraged by the difficulties of making a living as a creative, and since she also excelled at the organisational side of things Maxine enrolled for a degree in Design Management. Juggling several part-time jobs, she had to leave the course before the end – but nonetheless found a job in fashion, in a children’s wear manufacturing house. The job was production and sales, but she would end up helping with an embroidery design here, an ornate dress hem there. Working her way up through the rag trade, she began to feel the burnout of a field that felt shallow, lacking meaning.
Pregnancy and maternity leave, for many a chance to take some time and space, was for Maxine an opportunity to change career. She completed an IT course at a local training college, where she also began volunteering on reception. Whilst there, her eyes were opened to the persisting low levels of adult literacy – and she decided that it was her mission to teach the world to read. So Maxine re-trained as a teacher, and has spent 14 years introducing the world of the written word to hundreds, maybe thousands of people.
But there was a void in her life, which felt it lacked creativity, and Maxine enrolled in a refresher course at Fabrications textile studio in Broadway Market. Once she’d invested in her own sewing machine, she began to make things for herself, often using African prints because she’d always loved them. Then in January 2019, following a gentle push from her sister Tricia, who urged her to follow her dreams, Maxine began to research market stalls. She decided to give herself until the end of the year to see whether a business that makes her heart sing could also feed her.
The choice of having African wax prints illustrate her dream was a no-brainer for Maxine: “I love the meanings of the Andinkra symbols on the fabric and how they communicate a message”, she says, and “The vibrant colours definitely take me back to happy memories of my early childhood growing up in Trinidad, and going to carnival with my grandmother. Even down to the colourful pot of fry rice she would cook and bring!” Her logo, a stylised Sankofa heart, is very important to her; a perfect union of a beloved heart symbol and ‘Sankofa’, meaning to learn from the past.
Kese, pronounced ‘Kessie’, means ‘great’ in Akan, a Twi language. Alongside the main line of the eponymous wax print cushions, Maxine also makes a range of unique, upcycled pieces, representing her attitude toward society’s wastefulness as well as exemplifying her creativity; she’s now added tableware to the collection, too. More recently, inspired by the intersection of an interest in natural products and essential oils and her own insomnia, Maxine has created her own pillow spray to aid restful sleep. ‘A Kese Goodnight’ is recommended by many too sleepy to raise their hands in agreement, and a teenage son whose exam nerves were calmed when he asked his mum to ‘put the sleeping gas on’ so she would switch on the diffuser.
The products are also stocked at Hair by Chi, 340 Lea Bridge Road, E10 7LD, and online at etsy (kesecushionsboutique), where there’s currently a sale on!