Ampersand: Sophia Omoro: Surgeon, Designer & Social Entrepreneur
Sophia Aomo Omoro (M ’00, ’02) always knew she wanted to be a surgeon. However, her passion for science and her dedication to becoming a top-notch surgeon didn’t lessen her desire to pursue other interests that are close to her heart, including fashion design, entrepreneurship and mentorship of young women.
“We all have a purpose, and it is not defined by our job or our title,” she said. “People get lost in this, and the world wants to put us in little boxes, but we must break out and live in a wider, fuller way.”
HOUSE OF AOMO
Omoro’s journey took her from her home in Nairobi, Kenya, to Canada and ultimately to New Orleans and Tulane, where she earned a PhD in physiology and an MD.
She eventually completed a residency in otolaryngology surgery, also at Tulane School of Medicine, and is now a surgeon and department chief at Midwest Surgical Specialists in Lima, Ohio.
As a female surgeon, Omoro felt that she had to prove herself in a male-dominated field, but she also wanted to express her artistic side. One vehicle of expression came in the form of fashion design.
Omoro’s mother was a seamstress, so the appreciation for craft and the beauty of fabric was natural for her. The sixth child of eight, she began designing clothes in childhood in order to set herself apart from her similarly dressed siblings.
This desire to present a unique face to the world continued into adulthood. On visits to Kenya she would bring her designs and commission talented seamstresses to make the clothing. Over the years she accumulated a large collection and was often asked, “Where do you get your clothes?” In 2014, when her friend and medical colleague Amy Trainor learned that she designed her own clothing, Trainor challenged Omoro to show her line in a fashion show. It was a huge success and odAOMO (“House of Aomo”) was born.
Soon after the fashion show, the first odAOMO store opened on Chartres Street in New Orleans’ French Quarter, and in 2017 another store opened in Nairobi, Kenya. All the materials for the clothing and accessories are environmentally sourced in Africa and produced in Kenya and Ghana. The Nairobi store is operated by three Kenyan women who are heads of households, and Omoro’s entire team, including craftspeople, receive generous wages and have opportunities for career growth. In this way odAOMO directly supports communities in Kenya.
“The inner circle ripples out to others all around them. One of the beaders and handbag makers was able to open a school in his village,” Omoro said of the impact the business is having on Kenyan communities.
Just like other business owners, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought many challenges for Omoro, but her resilience and the dedication of her team are making it possible to plan for the future. The French Quarter shop remains strategically closed for the time being; however, the store in Kenya has reopened with heightened safety and health protocols in place. New ventures, such as a virtual fashion show and an outdoor fashion show in Nairobi, as well as exploring social media, have provided new ways for Omoro to reach out and engage with her customers in a meaningful way.
IDENTIFYING ONE’S PURPOSE
Another project of Omoro’s that directly affects lives is the Blooming Lily Foundation. The foundation, which was named in honor of her sister Lily, who passed away before she had the opportunity to “bloom,” empowers girls to identify their purpose, overcome obstacles and develop the resilience to pick themselves up if they stumble.
Blooming Lily supports programs in Kenya and also St. Tammany Parish in Louisiana, where each year 20-25 girls are selected to participate in a four-day, all-expense-paid retreat. Since the foundation’s beginning in 2014, 125 girls have completed the program.
Though Omoro has already pursued so many endeavors she is not content to sit with her accomplishments — she is already working on another project. Her humility and wisdom are as inspiring as her work.
“I’m not special,” she said. “It’s a decision one makes, to find and define your purpose and move toward that. We all have the same amount of time in a day, so we simply must reclaim wasted time, purposely use it, be present and aware and then we can accomplish anything.”