Deborah Webster-Cornell grew up on the Jersey shore, dreaming of designing swimwear. This goal led her to Widener University, where she majored in fine arts/fashion merchandising on the Delaware campus, graduating in 1988.
Although she never ventured into designing swimwear, she did get into the clothing business – making children’s hats. She developed an interest in children’s clothing in 2003, and started her company called konjono in 2009.
“Konjono is pronounced ‘kon-jon-nu,’” said Webster-Cornell, a resident of Brunswick, Ga. “It is an Amharic word (the primary language in Ethiopia ) and means ‘it’s beautiful’.”
She said after adopting her youngest daughter, Charlotte, from Ethiopia, she fell in love with the Ethiopian culture and became captivated by the plight of the working women there. (She’s pictured here with Charlotte, 5, left, and Anna Grace, 7.)
“Soon after Charlotte arrived home, I struggled to find winter hats that had satin lining to not mess up her braids,” she said. “I started to try and add satin lining to hats in our closet but that was a bit of a disaster, so then I decided to start from scratch. That is how konjono was born.”
The hats are made in the U.S., with material produced in Lawrence, Mass., but Webster-Cornell hopes to one day make the hats in Ethiopia. “It has long been my dream to figure out how to actually manufacture my hats there, and help in my small way to start change in this fascinating and endearing country that now I am so connected with,” she said.