Meet the 3 Kenyan Women in fashion collaborating for the culture

By Ruth Mbugua

In 2009, Nelly Tuikong was a nurse in America but there was something tugging at her heart about makeup for the African woman.

Her entrepreneurial instincts kicked in after looking around stores for makeup that suited her African skin and didn’t find any.

With no prior knowledge in manufacturing makeup, but armed with a passion, Nelly started her journey that birthed Pauline Cosmetics (named after her mother) after three years of learning, research, and trials.

Nelly Tuikong

Pauline Cosmetics is a makeup brand that designs, develops and manufactures makeup products with the African woman in mind.

The brand has now grown to become an established makeup brand with a line of lipstick, lip-gloss, eye shadow, and mascara.

Enter Caroline Mutoko, a celebrated renowned media personality, a woman of her own caliber.

With more than 20 years of experience in the media, her name speaks for her in the Kenyan entertainment industry. Caroline Mutoko also has a YouTube channel where she takes the spotlight that is on her and shines it on you.

 In 2017, she was featuring Kenyan women who were making strides and shattering glass ceilings on her YouTube channel. One of these women happened to be Nelly Tuikong of Pauline Cosmetics.

In November 2018, Caroline Mutoko challenged Nelly to work with her to come up with a lipstick line for all the women who are ‘becoming, women in different spaces and phases of their lives and for every woman in you. This brought about the I AM limited edition lipstick.

Caroline Mutoko

To add more synergy to this powerful collaboration, these two amazing women, Pauline, and Caroline Mutoko, didn’t just stop there.

They collaborated with Wandia Gichuru of Vivo Woman to distribute the limited edition lipstick in 8 of the Vivo Woman stores in Nairobi. Wandia Gichuru has rewritten the narrative of modern day fashion.

She founded Vivo active wear in 2011 to offer comfortable casual wear for the sporty woman and official clothing for the professional woman.

Wandia Gichuru

Here are the 5 things I have learned from the partnership of these three glamorous women.

1. Collaborate instead of compete

An African proverb says “If you want to go fast if you want to go far, go together”.

Nothing is better than working with other women who get your perspective and challenges you face as a woman in business.  

2. Have a defined purpose and vision

When you have every partner pulling in different directions, there is bound to be no progress. To collaborate, you need to have a clear and shared vision and an agreed direction on how to achieve it.

3. Bring a unique value

Each partner should bring a differentiating factor into the equation. This helps to ensure that you do not view each other as competition.

4. Have mutual benefits

The partnership should be beneficial to all partners. This removes the perception that one person is bearing a bigger load than the other.

5. There is room for more than one queen

There is no winner takes all award in entrepreneurship. As women, we need to get over this attitude and view women as a community to help each other grow and not competition.

“My advice to girls is always this: Be supportive of each other. I can’t say this enough. We have to be our best friends, each other.  That means we cannot be catty, we cannot compete and see one person’s failure as our success.

We can all rise together, we can all win!

We’re sometimes taught in our societies that we have to compete and we have to hold each other back in order for one of us to succeed.

That is not true. We need each other.

And all over the world, we have to be a team of women and girls who love each other and value each other and cherish one another.

Because if we don’t cherish each other, no one else will,” – Michelle Obama

Anita Benson: The Anti-Skin Lightening Activist

Anita Oghenekome Benson is a Medical Doctor specializing in Dermatology. She is also a Public Health Specialist with a Masters in Public Health from the University of Sheffield.

Anita is a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow and a Fellow of the Center for Global Business Studies at Howard University. She is an award-winning blogger and the founder of the Embrace Melanin Initiative, an NGO that focuses on eradicating colorism and harmful skin-lightening practices from Africa.

Anita is raising a generation of young Africans who embrace their melanin and are empowered, educated and self-aware.

The Embrace Melanin Initiative is quite a unique project, what led you to start it?

I was starting my final year as a Dermatology resident and I had to choose a topic for my thesis. I had always considered myself an anti-skin lightening activist because I had seen too many patients pay the price for their skin lightening practices.
Being a very dark skinned woman, I was constantly offered the option to lighten my skin by cosmetologists and well-meaning friends.

This motivated me to do a community survey to find out why people lightened their skin. I wanted to know what products they used and if they were aware of the side effects which included obesity, hypertension, diabetes, liver and kidney disease, skin cancer, premature aging, fragile skin, stretch marks, body odor, skin infections, and discolored skin.
A young woman is content with her skin color until the first time someone points out that it is 'too dark', 'dirty', 'less attractive than fair skin' - Anita Benson Click To Tweet
In a few months, I had interacted with more than 400 people and I realized that the magnitude of the problem and the level of ignorance surrounding the possible complications of skin lightening was way beyond the scope of my thesis.

The Embrace Melanin Initiative was established to address this problem.

What would you say are the major reasons African women engage in this trend?

Colorism is the major reason African women engage in skin lightening practices. It is a silent problem that exists in our communities and is simply defined as the discrimination of a person because of her darker skin tone by members of her own race/tribe/community/family.

A young woman is content with her skin color until the first time someone points out that it is ‘too dark’, ‘dirty’, ‘less attractive than fair skin’. Or she begins to notice the affiliation of some males and the media for lighter skinned women.
Kicking colorism out of Africa is the only way skin-lightening practices will ever be truly eradicated - Anita Benson Click To Tweet
She may even face discrimination at her job or a reduction in marriage suitors. Whatever the case may be, this silent discrimination leads to poor self-esteem and an unshakeable belief that lighter skin is the answer to all of her problems regardless of the potential dangers of skin lightening practices.

Men are not left out and some women even bleach their children. Pregnant women have also been reported to take certain pills to lighten their babies in the womb which can lead to all sorts of potential complications.

What can we as well as the government do to reduce this problem? 

We can stop the discrimination. It happens in the marketplaces, in the home, in church, at social events, in the media, at work.

Africa has been freed from slavery for hundreds of years yet we still mentally attribute more beauty and importance to anything or person that looks more foreign than native African. We need our women to know that they are beautiful not in spite of their dark skin but because of their dark skin.

The government can provide tighter regulations on the sale of skin lightening agents in the open market and ensure that the ones that have been banned by NAFDAC are not still freely available for sale.

Another very important role the government can play is to ensure that the side effects of every skin lightening agent are boldly printed on the bottle so that consumers can make an informed decision.

Too many women are suffering due to their ignorance. One of my patients died of kidney disease a couple of years ago due to chronic use of mercury-containing skin lightening agents.

What would you say has been your key learning points on this journey?

These have been my key learning points:

1. You can’t change the practice till you change the perception about black skin.

2. Kicking colorism out of Africa is the only way skin-lightening practices will ever be truly eradicated.

3. There’s a need to change the narrative on what it means to be black which goes past our perception of our skin color to dissociating being black from words like corruption, self-hate, crime, ignorance, illiteracy, and mental slavery.

4. Do not judge a person till you have heard their story. So many women who chose to bleach did not feel like they had any other viable option at the time.
Colorism is the major reason African women engage in skin lightening practices - Anita Benson Click To Tweet

What are the possible business ideas/solutions that can arise from solving this problem?

African skin-friendly products. Not the ones that promise to tone the skin but those that make the dark skin shine and keep it healthy and protected from the UV rays of the sun.

The cosmetic industry is a billion dollar industry however right now the focus of the majority is on skin lightening agents and solving this problem will create a vacuum for healthy skin care products suitable for the African skin.

What is your advice to women seeking to advance their career while getting involved in personal passion projects?

 

Women are amazing multitaskers and what makes us really special is that there’s no limit to the number of caps we can wear as long as we are able to manage our time effectively.

The best way to juggle a career with personal projects is simply to maximize the number of hours you have each day. Every morning I write a to-do list and try to get through each one before the end of the day.

Whatever your passion is, let it connect with your purpose - Anita Benson Click To Tweet

So many hours are spent doing things that are either distraction with high urgency or activities with little or no value. A to-do list will guide you toward achieving important deadlines with high urgency and give enough time for long-term development and strategizing.

You are allowed to slip from time to time and just do nothing because that’s what makes us human. Take it as an opportunity to get re-energized and come back better, stronger and more motivated!

Final words for our motherland moguls?

Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

When I started this project, all I had was my passion to make a difference and my experience as a skin doctor. So many people tried to talk me out of it, even fellow colleagues because they felt it was a problem too great to tackle, too entrenched in our culture to ever be eradicated.

Whatever your passion is, let it connect with your purpose so that on the days when you feel down, you can draw from the inner strength that comes from actually making a difference in the world.

That inner strength will keep you moving till the sun comes out again.

  Interested in contributing for She Leads Africa? Click here.

Philomena Kwao: When I started, I was different from anything that existed in mainstream fashion

Philomena Kwao is a plus-sized British-Ghanaian model who has many philanthropic interests.

Her meteoric rise came from working on multiple major campaigns for Torrid, MAC Cosmetics, Lane Bryant, Evans UK, Nordstrom and she has been highlighted on Huff Post UK, Guest blogger Metro UK, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Essence Magazine, among others.

This British-Ghanaian beauty is the perfect canvas and model for the fashion industry! Her regal unapologetic natural beauty is one to behold.

Philomena is also the Global Ambassador for Women For Women International Charity. She preaches the need for open dialogue and real inclusivity in the movement towards equal rights for women.

SLA interviewed Philomena during her recent visit to Nigeria to celebrate with the women who are graduating this year’s program and have achieved access to life-changing skills to move from crisis and poverty to stability and economic self-sufficiency.


 To pursue modeling, be yourself! - @PhilomenaKwao Click To Tweet

You bagged a degree in Economics, and a Masters’ degree in International Health Management, how did you make the career switch to fashion and style?

My original career choice was very different and my journey into modeling began by chance as I had planned out a career in health management and policy after completing my masters degree.

A friend of mine entered my details online into a modeling competition in which Evans and Cosmopolitan in conjunction with Models1 were looking for a new plus-size model to front their shape campaign and to also become the Face of Style 369.

I eventually won the competition and hence my career began.

I was going to take a career break anyway after my masters as I had continued through school and work with no break. 

So when the opportunity came for me to move to NYC a new adventure made perfect sense. I could make money and travel which were two of the things I wanted to do most at the time. It was a huge blessing.

I originally set out to try modeling out for a year. One year turned into seven and here I am today. It’s been an incredible journey so far. I am now signed to JAG Models and I am living and working in NYC.

Tell us about how you got your modeling debut

When I first got to NYC I didn’t work at all. It was hard! My look was new. I was everything you weren’t supposed to be rolled into one. Dark skin, plus and a shaved head. What would brands do with me?

It took a while for me to find my place in the industry but when a few brands like Lane Bryant, Landsend and Torrid took the plunge to try something new and widen the definition of beautiful my career really took off. 

My beauty is common in Africa but in the West its what defines me and sets me apart - @PhilomenaKwao Click To Tweet

As an African plus-sized model, what was your biggest challenge breaking into the fashion industry, and how did you overcome them?  

For so long, in the West, the standard of African Beauty was (and arguably is) very very narrow.

Extremely tall, extremely thin and extremely dark. Most of the African models hailed from East Africa and the west fetishized their beauty as exotic and a true representation of The African woman. There are many problems with this.

Africa is a vast continent with hundreds of thousands of ethnicities each with their own beauty. To homogenize the African woman is limiting and dangerous. 

My beauty is common in Africa but in the West its what defines me and sets me apart. When I first started I was different from anything that existed in mainstream fashion. I had a shaved head, my features are more commercial and I am a plus sized woman. It was very hard for people to get their head around it. 

Typically plus-size models are white and hourglass, and when they are black they are of a fair complexion with an acceptable hair texture. If they were slightly darker they had a long weave. The typical American girl next door look. 

African models were typically slim tall and dark. And yet here I was a mixture of everything; too ‘exotic’ for commercial modeling, too big for mainstream high fashion modeling. 

My biggest challenge was getting people to understand that black beauty exists in an infinite number of forms. This wasn’t easy, a big push for my career was definitely when Lupita was recognized as a world-class beauty because then I became the plus size Lupita. 

My biggest challenge in the industry was getting people to understand that black beauty exists in an infinite number of forms - @PhilomenaKwao Click To Tweet

What prompted you to get involved in the movement towards equal rights for women around the world?

As a woman, it’s hard to exist and live in this world without being affected by what’s happening to women around you. I was born in London, in the UK to a mother who immigrated from Ghana.

I will never forget my first visit back home to Ghana. The disparity between my cousins and I simply because of where we were born was staggering. Even at such a young age it just felt so unfair and I was determined to make a change in any way possible. 

How did you become a Global Ambassador for Women For Women International Charity?

Modeling is fun. It’s been an incredible blessing in my life, and I’m so grateful for every opportunity that I’ve been given but it isn’t enough. It isn’t enough for me.

I’m still very much interested in my first love and passion, the advancement of women around the world. Whether through health, economic empowerment or social empowerment, women around the world need advancement.

For too long we have been globally oppressed. The time for change is now and everyone can create change, firstly within themselves and then in their wider community. Social media has become such a powerful tool for this. 

One of the many blessings that my modeling career has given me is a platform and when I heard about the work women for women were doing I felt compelled to support. 

Women for women empower the women they work with by teaching them how to make a change within themselves and in their community 

The year-long social and economic empowerment program provides marginalized women with the opportunity, often for the first time in their lives, to come together in classes of 25 women to build support networks, to share experiences, to learn critical skills, and to access new resources.

.@womenforwomen empower the women they work with by teaching them how to make a change within themselves and in their community - @PhilomenaKwao Click To Tweet

Women for Women International supports the most marginalized women in countries affected by conflict and war. Their programs enable them to earn and save money, improve health and well-being, influence decisions in their home and community and connect to networks for support.

By utilizing skills, knowledge, and resources, women are able to create sustainable change for themselves, their family, and community. This is something I truly believe in. 

From your experience, what does it take to build a career in the fashion and entertainment industry?

Patience and resilience. Patience and resilience. I’ve said it Twice because I can’t stress how important these two things are.

I have an academic background and in that setting, one plus one plus equals two. The same can’t be said for the fashion and entertainment industry. A huge amount of luck is involved. Right time, right place. This can often leave hopefuls feeling very frustrated.

I often feel frustrated myself. But it’s something that has become easier over time. The best advice is to stay ready, so when your opportunity comes you’re ready to take it. Unfortunately, you just don’t know when opportunity will come knocking. And that’s where patience comes in.

Most things are entirely out of your control and you can’t always judge how people will receive you. That’s the resilience, for every yes there will be a thousand nos. You just have to keep going. 

What four skills have you found yourself using/learning frequently?

Leading on from the earlier question my four frequently used skills are:

  • Patience
  • Resilience
  • Communication
  • Adaptability

 You just don’t know when opportunity will come knocking. That’s where patience comes in - @PhilomenaKwao Click To Tweet

What’s your ONE advice for curvy girls who would like to model but do not have the confidence?

I’ll start with confidence, we all have down days, and honestly that ok. But it’s not ok to not be your own best friend and cheerleader. Whenever anyone says their feeling down about their looks I always remind them of the beauty in individuality.

There is no one on the planet that looks like you or has your unique features so you just celebrate them and not put it down. I’m a big advocate of the extraordinary and I believe everyone is inspiring because we are all different.

Confidence comes from understanding that you only have this one body and one life so make the most of it! You can’t compare yourself to anyone! Not anyone in fashion or on TV because most of what you see isn’t real. 

And to pursue modeling, be yourself!

Always stay true to you no matter how hard it gets! And don’t let criticism get to you because what works for one may not work for another. Be lucky to find a great Agent that believes in you. I was very lucky due to the competition I entered.

All reputable Agencies do have open calls where you can have an informal chat about modeling and the possibility of becoming one. 

Also, don’t take things personally. It all depends what the Agency is looking for and what suits all markets around the globe. Edgy editorial clients may get you instantly but the commercial ones may take longer to get that look if at all.

This industry is super competitive and you need a thick skin and determination and professionalism to make it.

For representation I would stick to Agencies that have great reputations, do your research, take a look who else is represented by them, go and meet them, it is all about feeling comfortable and trusting your agent. You will develop a very close relationship, and trust and communication are key.

What’s your morning ritual?

I’m trying to find one. Morning rituals are so important they center your day and help organize your thoughts.

I used to have one which included completing my five-minute journal, drinking water and meditating. However, the more I travel the harder it gets. 

For all our melanin Motherland Moguls, how do you keep your skin glowing?

I owe a huge part of my skin to genetics. You think my skin is glowing? You should see the rest of my family.  Genetics plays such a massive part in the health of your skin but there are definitely things that can help.

Inside out is my mantra. Eat well, make sure you eat your greens and veggies and try and eat as wholesomely as possible. Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water, hydrated skin is a good skin. And lastly, find what works for you and stick to it. 

For me, I love products from the body shop as well as my natural staples of Shea butter, black soap, and baobab oil. Keep your eyes peeled for something special. 


 Interested in contributing for She Leads Africa? Click here.

How I Became a Social Media Influencer

I started my Instagram page back in 2015 as a fitness inspiration account to keep me accountable while I was doing Kayla Itsines Bikini Body Guide also known as BBG.

There were a whole bunch of girls around the world who started their guide around the same time as me so I gained followers relatively quickly because my page was a source of motivation for all the new girls starting.

My page grew as BBG grew in popularity, and it eventually grew to where it is now. I became an ambassador for BBG Cape Town in 2016 and we hosted regular BBG workout events until the end of 2017.

Over the years I continued to document my fitness journey and post relatable content. Workout memes, inspirational quotes, and transformation pictures really motivated me and seemed to connect well with people on similar journeys.

I got into fitness to empower myself because I had no confidence in myself before I started working out regularly, even though I played sport throughout my life.

I started my fitness page in 2015 but my health and fitness journey started in 2013 back when I used to use Twitter for workout motivation.

If you’re a blogger, photographer, fashion stylist, makeup artist. Read this...we're spilling the tea Click To Tweet

Before you go on this influencer journey, follow these steps:

1. Decide your niche and stick to it

 

It’s easier to grow a page if you specialize in one or a few things so people will know what to expect from you.

Think about it, when you follow an account that’s not a friend or celebrity it’s usually because they post something specific that you like eg. make-up tutorials, fitness or fashion inspiration, food recipes etc.

2. Think of yourself as a brand

If you’re building a brand, there has to be some level of self-reflection your page needs to be an honest extension of you.

What do you stand for? What’s your vibe? Make sure your feed represents your personal brand.

3. Figure out your why

What’s the purpose/aim of your account?

Is it purely for fun or is it business? And then decide how much time you want to invest in it to match what you expect to gain from it.

4. Have a theme for your pictures

Everybody likes things, make sure you have a flow going on your page. There are so many categories to pick from. You can use a consistent color theme or even have a particular object in all your photos to test your creativity.

Even if it’s just the same filter, aesthetically planned feeds are nice to look at.

5. Work, Work, Work

Put relative time and effort into your posts and try to be as creative as possible. Try having “content creation” sessions once or multiple times a week like you have study sessions.

And/or take down any ideas that pop in your mind in your memo pad so you can use them for post and caption ideas later.

6. Socialize

That’s the whole point of social media! Respond to your comments and engage with the accounts you follow so they are encouraged to engage with you too.

The more engagement you have the greater the chances are of your page being discovered by people and brands.

7. Use hashtags

The hashtag game is always changing but it doesn’t hurt to experiment with a few and see how it affects the engagement of your posts.

Also, try to use less popular hashtags so ones that have less than 1M posts. You’ll have to search for hashtags in your niche and find the ones that people use but don’t abuse like #fitness or #love

8. Collaborate with people in your niche

Follow and engage with accounts in your niche to let other people interested in your niche see your profile, the more your account has seen the greater chances you have of gaining new followers.

You can also do story shoutouts with people in your niche for more exposure or even try to ask them out for coffee.

9. Track your engagement

Pay attention to what posts people respond to best. Figure out what content your followers enjoy viewing. Track the times you get the best engagement, that usually helps get followers.

10. Have fun

It’s really not that deep unless you see it as a business, then different rules apply but don’t let social media get to you.

Remember, Instagram isn’t real life and real life has so much more to offer than aesthetics. That doesn’t mean I don’t love a pretty bowl of oats, just remember to keep everything in context.

The Bottom Line

Relax!

When you focus less on structure after you’ve done your content planning, more ideas tend to come your way. If you are someone takes their own photos.

I would recommend walking around with a portable camera or learn some tricks with your phone. People really do gravitate to someone they sense is genuine or can add value. I think you need to stay up to date with all the changes and continuously adapt your content (Try to think of ways you can make yourself invaluable) if you really want to slay the game.

For more on Shalom’s fitness journey and amazing fitspo, find her on the gram.


  Interested in contributing for She Leads Africa? Click here.

 

Chioma Ezekwesili highlights the Essentials to Building and Growing Your Blog

“The main essential for starting a blog is to first have a passion for something”. – Chioma Ezekwesili

Blogging is a great platform to express yourself, build a brand, and even make a source of income. Due to the diverse benefits of blogging, there is an influx of blogs and bloggers.

This can make the process of building and growing your blog daunting. You might question whether it is worth it and how do you go about building this presence online?

In this interview with fashion and lifestyle blogger Chioma Ezekwesili, she provides inspiration for prospective and current bloggers on her experience of starting and building her blog and brand.


 When and why did you decide to start your fashion and lifestyle blog and what were the essentials to beginning it?

 

The main essential for starting a blog is to first have a passion for something. It could be cooking, fashion,  gossip, politics, and other topics. You don’t have to be an English guru but you should always endeavor to read something new about your passion.

This is significant because you can then provide your readers with new insights into your niche. In addition, you will be able to come up with new and diverse ways to relate to your readers.

Secondly, you should draft a consistent timetable. It’s hard at the beginning but once you start, keep at it. Every day, have a topic you can write on. What will help you is approaching each day with an open mind? Also, make sure the photos, write up or videos are original because it allows your readers to connect with your originality.

As for myself, I started my fashion and lifestyle blog in 2015 but I couldn’t keep up with it. This was because I started the previous blog with the sole purpose of making money. The blog was just alive for about three months and that was it.

Then, I officially started www.yhitschioma.com in July 2016. This blog is out of my love for fashion. I also felt the need to express my opinion on lifestyle tips. I try to make my posts inspirational. I merge fashion styles to relatable inspirational quotes. I want to let people know that fashion is more than wearing designer clothes. Fashion is also a way of passing a positive message to the people around you.

I grew my 7k followers on Instagram by posting my Sunday bests every Sunday and tagged it #fashionforchurch - @Yh_ItsChioma Click To Tweet

What is the best platform for intending media influencers to be on and why?

Instagram and Twitter are the best platforms, dependent on the type of influencer you are. Instagram is mainly for fashion, lifestyle, and style. It’s best for visual appeal through photos and videos. Then, Twitter is good for sports lovers, especially soccer.

The discussions on Twitter around the leagues is something that anybody building his/her brand around soccer needs to be on. Twitter is also a good platform for having discussions about politics, sports, music, health tips and more.

I advise that you be linked on both platforms. That way, whatever you post on one can reflect on the other. However, more attention should be placed on the social media platform primarily for your type of brand.

Social media metrics are ever changing and for those looking to make an impact online, the competition is increasing. Is it possible to grow one’s social media organically?

 

Yes, you can grow organic followers and I am a testimony to it. I grew my 7k followers on Instagram by posting my Sunday bests every Sunday and tagged it #fashionforchurch. Every Sunday, people were looking forward to what I wore to church. Once you find out what your followers like, stick to it and be consistent.

Do not buy followers because interactions on your post will not match your followership. That matters because people and brand will immediately see through that.

The first year might not be easy but keep posting. Also, make sure you use hashtags because they work like magic.

What is your process of growing your brand presence?

 

Building your brand starts with a conscious effort to actually build the brand.

  • Find the social media platform that suits what you are trying to build
  • Try to make your followership on any social media platform that you are on organic. If you are on Instagram, never miss relevant hashtags like #MCM #MondayMotivation #WCW #TBT #FBF or things like that.

You can even come up with your own personal hashtag that people can follow through your post. For me, it’s #LifeOfAStartingEntrepreneur and #yhitschioma.

If Twitter is your platform, be sure to check the trending hashtags and draft your tweets around it.

  • Finally, you have to be consistent your post on social media. Be sure to have your contact details available for people to reach you. Reply and like comments so that there is a discussion around your post.

How can one stand out and be unique online?

You stand out by being real. Don’t try to be in competition with anyone. Rather, you should strive to be a better version of yourself.

Keep doing what you love and don’t copy others. Be original with your posts.

What steps should an aspiring media influencer take to attract opportunities to work with organizations, brands, and collaborations?

 

Keep your profile open not private. Make sure you give credit to other brands you are wearing or using on your page. Then, you get other brands to notice that you are promoting other brands. They will then want to work with you.

For blog collaborations, if you never reach out to people, you might not have anyone reach out to you. Last year, I sent about 5-6 messages to other bloggers like myself for collaboration.

However, I got turned down by about 4 and I didn’t mind. I did a collaboration with the bloggers that wanted to. The result is that other bloggers saw it and then reached out to me for collaboration. That’s why you have to make sure you put yourself out there.

Then, you have to keep doing what you have been doing using hashtags to get noticed. In time, the right brands will find you.

You can also send DMs to them by telling them you will like to work with them. Give them an offer they can’t resist. An offer that will help both parties build their brand.

You stand out by being real. Don’t try to be in competition with anyone - @Yh_ItsChioma Click To Tweet

How does one stay motivated to be able to produce and create?

 

The main way to stay motivated is to remember why you started your blog. Remember the vision you had for your brand and hold on to it. Sometimes, it might not pay off immediately but with consistency and determination, it will supersede your expectation.

Lastly, reach out to longtime brands and know how they were able to stay motivated. Do not beat yourself up, especially when you see other influencers “doing” better.

Take that as a push and initiative to work harder. Always celebrate the big and small victories you might have because that will motivate you to keep at it.


 Interested in contributing for She Leads Africa? Click here.

Eyitemi Popo: How I turned my media brand into a lifestyle brand

If you're an entrepreneur who feels stuck with your business, I hope you find this article at the perfect time and it encourages you to keep pushing. Click To Tweet

After five years of building my online magazine, painstakingly growing a social media following, and nurturing relationships with global brands, I had found a comfortable niche in the media landscape.

The night after my magazine’s 5th-anniversary party, I quietly reflected on the journey. I read the congratulatory messages I had received, some reminding me that many online sites and magazines that started with – or even after – Ayiba no longer existed.

But was survival enough of an achievement?

Making my dream my reality was significant. Building a team to drive that vision forward had significance. I mean, I had gone from shooting the first cover of Ayiba Magazine on my college campus to having celebrity photographers shoot the cover with Hollywood actresses.

The growth was undeniable, that had to count for something. And perhaps it did. However, my side hustle was still a side hustle bringing in side hustle revenue. Was that the best I could do? And more importantly, what was next?

Almost a year to the date of my quiet contemplation, I have built Girls Trip Tours, a social venture that is a direct manifestation of my magazine’s mission. It leverages Ayiba’s readership, brand equity, and professional network to design unique travel experiences across Africa with a focus on female empowerment.

Our trips have the goal of empowering future female leaders through mentorship, while taking in the sites and dining around town in the company of high profile business women and local industry leaders. I like to think of it as ‘Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants’ with less soul-searching and more self-actualization.

Where once you could read about Lagos’ nightlife, Nairobi’s startup ecosystem, or Rwandese artisans in the pages of Ayiba, now we can arrange for you to experience these things first-hand through group or solo travel with Girls Trip Tours.

The idea came from the opportunity I observed for digital brands to bring online experiences offline and create deeper more meaningful connections with their virtual communities in real life. The concept of Girls Trip Tours emerged from a perceived customer need. Ayiba readers were emailing to ask for travel advice.

Our articles had inspired our readers in the diaspora to want to visit the continent and they were looking to us as an expert resource. My mission with Ayiba is to connect Africans in the diaspora with those on the continent through storytelling. I have consistently done this through online and print mediums, but now I have the opportunity to create those connections in real life.

Lifestyle brands thrive when they figure out what their customers end goal and design their brand around the experiences that their customers desire - @AyibaMagazine Click To Tweet

Figure out your customers desire, along with the people, places, things, and ideas that inspire them to action.

After surveying 100 plus women in Ayiba’s online community, I decided to organize trips to Kenya and Nigeria in 2019. As per their feedback, there are a mix of experiences to satisfy those seeking ancestral travel experiences to West Africa, wildlife and adventure in National Parks, as well as urban exploration in Africa’s most vibrant cities.

In addition to satisfying a customer need, by expanding my media brand to include travel experiences, I now have a new avenue for creating content. On each trip, there are multiple opportunities to connect with new talents to feature or more contributors to write.

I also will be creatively inspired by my surroundings to shoot video series, photography campaigns, and write OP-EDS on social issues I am confronted with. In the long run, I believe it makes sense for Ayiba to become a lifestyle brand.

I am creating a customer journey that can start with exploring content online, which may lead to booking a travel experience or vice versa. The magazine and the trips will feed into one another. In this next phase of my entrepreneurial journey, I look forward to listening to my customers, as well as looking to broader industry trends for my continued evolution.

For any entrepreneur that may feel stuck with their businesses, I hope you find this article at the perfect time and it encourages you to keep pushing.

If your growth has become stagnant and you are looking for a new direction to go in, observe customer behavior, look to the industry for inspiration, and most importantly, ask your audience what they want/need, then test it out.

I did a soft-launch with a Girls Trip to Ghana in July. It was that small group trip, the women I met, and the girls I mentored that gave me the confidence to do more.My advice

  • Consider what other verticals may be profitable before you give up on a business you have put time, money, sweat, and tears into.
  • As tough as it may be, if you have a good foundation: reputable brand and loyal audience, there are many ways you can consider monetizing and scaling up.

 Interested in contributing for She Leads Africa? Click here.

JESSICA NAA ADJELEY KONNEY: I TURNED MY BOREDOM INTO PASSION FOR FASHION BLOGGING

Jessica Naa Adjeley Konney found living alone quite boring so she chose to stay on campus after lectures to while away time.

As spending time on campus meant more time on the internet, she discovered blogging and entertainment blogs in Ghana like Ameyaw Debrah. This led to her decision to turn her boredom into a passion to keep her busy after school hours.

Even though she knew nothing about blogging, she took a bold step and her experience in journalism/writing to set up a blog called Fashion 101 which later turned to Trendsnblendsgh as she saw the need to rebrand once her blog began to grow.

She chose fashion blogging because there was no platform specifically dedicated to fashion in Ghana especially Ghanaian fashion. Over time, her blog has grown to become one of the best in Ghana and the Harper’s Bazaar of Africa called Trendsnblendsgh the go-to online hub for everything African Fashion starting with Ghana.

Jessica now covers fashion events, features fashion entrepreneurs, offers style tips, offers professional advice to young fashion brands etc.


 Describe how you first got into blogging

 

Blogging for me started as a hobby to while away time during my days at the Ghana Institute of Journalism. I used to spend so much time on campus after school back in the day because I had nowhere to go as I lived alone, so being at home was quite boring.

While on campus, I surfed the internet a lot and that was when I realized that there were entertainment websites like Ameyaw Debrah, Ghana gist blogging about entertainment and there were fewer blogs on fashion so that was the moment I decided to turn my boredom into a passion to keep me busy after school hours.

Interestingly, I had no clue about blogging whatsoever but I took the bold step to set up my blog using blogger.com and called it Fashion 101.

With no direction whatsoever I set out to start fashion blogging. I thought to myself that once I had experience in journalism and writing I could definitely put together some content for this blog and I guess I did.

How do you keep your social media pages lit and drive traffic to your blog?

 

I see myself as a fashion journalist because I’m always on the lookout for contents that will make the news.

After every post, I made sure to share the link to my blog on all my social media platforms (back then it was just Facebook and Twitter) and I consistently kept sharing.

I also attended fashion events and introduced myself as a fashion blogger because it was the most common term people could understand. This wasn’t easy initially because it was new to event organizers but consistency and relevant content got me where I am today.

With regards to keeping the social media pages lit, we take a lot of time to curate images from different sources.

We are always looking out for the best photos that will not only engage our audience but keep our timeline clean as well. We sometimes collaborate with photographers for some of the stunning images but quite often we source these photos from other pages or brands.

How do you get clients and generate revenue/income?

 

For a long time, I felt the numbers or traffic wasn’t enough for me to monetize so I explored other ways to raise revenue or income.  

I started offering digital marketing services to clients for as low as about 100Ghc back then. Then, I also charged brands who promoted their lookbooks on my blog and platforms and that’s basically been how I make money.

Trendsnblendsgh has gone into brand consultation services and helping young brands establish themselves all at a small fee. Monetization is however on our to-do list for the year.

People don't see your dream as big as you do so don't rely on them for validation - @dje_djelyn Click To Tweet

Would you say fashion blogging is a great financial plan? Do you see a future with this career path?

 

To be honest it’s not a great financial plan unless you’re determined to make it one. It’s new and fresh to people, especially in Ghana.

Fashion entrepreneurs here don’t understand why you need to be paid for your services and it’s quite difficult and frustrating trying to get them to understand. I’d say have a financial backing, extra sources of income so it sustains the passion.

At this point, I see it as a great career path for me. To be an editor-in-chief of one of Africa’s most renowned fashion website and some more career opportunities in this same field.

Did you encounter any challenges when you started Trendsandblendgh? What did you learn from it?

 

Always waiting for approval or validation/support. When I started trendsandblendsgh, I wasn’t so confident as an individual and also in what I was doing.  

I was seeking validation from others to tell me if this post was good enough or this idea was great. What this did was to slow me down entirely because until I had gotten approval or even support from someone I wouldn’t move. It’s one thing I have learned to fight and rise from.

People don’t see your dream as big as you do so if you want to rely on them for validation, approval or support you might as well not start anything at all.

Other than you, which 3 fashion bloggers are your absolute favorite and why?

 

For style bloggers I love Irony of Ashi, her style is simply elegant.

I dote on Afua Rida, I love her uniqueness in styling.

I also love my friend Nuel Bans of debonair Afrik, I love his creative issues and admire his passion.

Who is your number one fashion inspiration, favorite fashion magazine, and designer?

 

With the rise of style influencers, it’s becoming extremely difficult to stick to one fashion icon or style icon. I tend to pick up inspiration from different people.

Elle Magazine is my favorite, but from Africa, it’ll be Glitz Magazine.

I love Christie Brown certainly a wish to own more CB pieces in my closet.

If you could be any fashion icon for a day, who will you be and which local or international celebrities closet would you like to raid?

 

I’d definitely be Anna Wintour. There’s so much I’d love to influence in the fashion industry even if it’s for a day and doing it in the perfect bob cut and dark shades definitely a yes!

I could spend the entire day in Tracee Ellis Ross and Bonang Matheba’s closets trying out their clothes, shoes etc. I would practically sleep in there.

What has been your proudest achievement?

 

There has been so many but I’d say my interview with BBC Africa – Lerato Mbele remains my proudest. I grew up watching BBC and secretly wanting to be on BBC.

So, to have been on BBC Africa talking fashion was definitely a winner for me and anyone who’s believed in me as well.

I want trendsandblendsgh to become one of the largest online fashion news site in Africa with its hub in Ghana- @dje_djelyn Click To Tweet

What is your endgame with trendsandblendsgh? Are you close to achieving it?

 

I’m nowhere near the endgame I must say, I want trendsandblendsgh to become one of the largest online fashion news site in Africa with its hub in Ghana, a team of writers, creatives and all that is needed to make it work.

What are some of your current fashion obsessions and beauty essentials?

 

I’m obsessed with jumpsuits, black outfits, and nude shoes.

Current Beauty essentials: matte lipstick in red and burgundy. Hand cream, a pack of tissues and face powder.


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Smangele Nicolette Ngwenya: I am Enough

Born in the east of Johannesburg in Ekurhuleni, Smangele Nicolette Ngwenya is a self-motivated, systematic and confident woman.

Having grown up in her grandmother’s green shack, she sums up her background as colorful and supportive. 

This background inspired her to start the WomenYouAreEnough organization. Through her organization, Smangele hopes to empower and inspire women. 


What was the motivation behind your organization? 

I’ve always wanted to be involved in meaningful & fruitful things. My prayer has always been, God helps me to give more than I can receive. Being raised by a giving grandmother made it natural to me.

When the organization started, I only wanted to help take a disadvantaged girl child to school. Then suddenly, I also wanted to collect sanitary towels so that no girl child could miss class because of something that occurs involuntarily.

The organization has since become a movement with a hashtag #WomanYouAreEnough which reminds all women that it’s okay to be imperfect, that it’s okay to help other women without taking the glory once they reach to the top. WomanYouAreEnough means that when Queens(Women) gather, wonderful things happen.

What does confidence mean to you?

Personally, confidence means complimenting another woman’s beauty & understating that their beauty is not in the absence of mine. It means recognizing the strength of another woman & knowing but also knowing that I too am enough.

So confidence is about being happy in my own skin and also appreciating the strength of those around me. 

Has your confidence ever been compromised? 

Women have often compromised my confidence every now and then. I have had a very strong personality which has often mistaken for being a miss know it all.

I was teased for my body weight and facial features. However, despite all these negative comments, I have never felt any less confident. In fact, I have been fortunate enough to attract confident women who see each other as Queens and not threats.

What is your mantra?

My daily mantra is reminding myself that I am enough. Even on my worst day, I wake up and dress up knowing that without any reasonable doubt, I am enough. I don’t have to force what’s meant for me as it will find me.

Are women empowered today?

I have to say that women empowerment is definitely on the rise. Especially with the use of social media, we are seeing more women in the corporate world holding higher positions. Different organizations and movements are making sure that women empowerment is on the rise.

WomanYouAreEnough is one of those. We have different empowerment programs such as the matric dance campaign where we dress up disadvantaged girls for their big day. We also host seminars and share personal struggles to continue encouraging women. Therefore, females are inspired by everything we’ve done.

Where do you draw your inspiration?

My late grandmother Salamina Mafoka Molakeng Mimi truly inspires me. Though life has dealt with her, she has remained hopeful. My mother NoNhlanhla Ngwenya who from the age 18 has worked double shifts at various restaurants so that we can have a normal childhood also inspires me.

Finally, every other female who decided to go for it even though their background didn’t allow them also greatly inspires me.  

Does overconfidence cause more problems than under-confidence?

There’s nothing like being overconfident according to me. So, I’d say there are more problems caused by being under confident. Society still tries to tame females.

They tell us we are too old, too confident or too much. At the end of the day, these things make us doubt ourselves & we end up in a certain box hating each other as females.


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Brief essentials: The solution to Nigeria’s untapped online lingerie and underwear marketplace

As at 2010, Nigeria’s growing online landscape was missing a lingerie and underwear destination with a variety of options, which will also educate Nigerians on their appropriate sizes.

It was also important that more women begin to see their lingerie as a fashion statement, and also have easy access to great underwear, lingerie and shapewear without breaking the bank.

Brief Essentials was that solution we were all waiting for. It was the solution to Nigeria’s untapped online lingerie and underwear marketplace.

Seun Tayo-Balogun – the CEO of Brief Essentials and Lead Consultant at Techmonks Limited (a business solutions provider leveraging technology recounts how she maximized her experience in e-commerce and digital ventures, strategy, research, media and communication, and web authoring, to change Nigeria’s online landscape.

Until January 2015, Seun was the Head, Research and Strategy at Kakawa Discount House (now FBN Merchant Bank).


 

How did Brief Essentials come about?

There was a time in Nigeria when many retailers focused on electronics, fashion merchandising, shoes etc, but lingerie was not given the attention it deserved. Lingerie was mostly sold in brick and mortar stores, as well as the second-hand market.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, lingerie options at this time were limited and mostly overpriced, or of questionable quality.

We’re here to change how women view themselves and restore confidence to many homes - @briefessentials Click To Tweet

Equipped with this knowledge and the determination to make a difference and meet the needs of the Nigerian market, Brief Essentials set out as an online lingerie store to cater to the needs of everyone, in addition to providing lingerie education and highlighting the importance of fit, style, and function of undergarments using digital platforms.

Brief Essentials launched in April 2011 and since then have revolutionized lingerie and underwear shopping in Nigeria’s budding online marketplace.

As an industry pioneer, Brief Essentials delivers unparalleled and top range products that fit your specific body shape and that’s right for any kind of fashion ensemble (featuring up to 50 world’s best brands, over 5000 SKUs) at the best prices you can find in Nigeria.

Brief Essentials has successfully helped other lingerie stores get started – by providing merchandise, branding, store set-up, insider training and 360 degrees consulting to new lingerie startups in Nigeria.

Aside retailing other brands, brief essentials launched it’s shapewear and active line in 2017 with a goal to continuously combine its ethos of function, fit and affordability.

What makes Brief Essentials stand out?

Brief Essentials was founded on the belief that:

  • Great lingerie should not only be affordable but accessible.
  • Brief Essentials offers lots of options for everyone. This way you won’t have to settle for what you can find, but what you truly want.
  • The fit is always more important than the fashion. Our promise is to blend fit, function, and fashion.
  • Our lingerie pieces are affordable and our quality continues to be top notch.
  • We give loads of lingerie education in addition to using our platforms to empower and inspire. We recently concluded a campaign in March 2018, with the theme #PowerWithin which focused on the need for women to pay attention to who they are. The inspiring and powerful messages from the women we featured can be found on our blog.

Tell us 5 things women need to know and understand about their undergarments and lingerie.

  • You should wash your bra more often than you think.
  • There is a lingerie piece for every shape, every need and occasion and one Bra doesn’t do all the job.
  • Hand washing is still the best way to care for your lingerie and undergarments.
  • Most bra issues are from the band when your band size is wrong, everything will be wrong. The band provides 80% of support in a bra and not the straps.
  • You would not wear a shoe that does not fit, same should apply to undergarments. Buying a bra especially is a very important purchase, we owe it to ourselves as women to find bras that fit, and to get lots of them. Finding a bra that fits, for me, is part of knowing our bodies and embracing the totality of who we are.

Sponsored post.

FACEBOOK LIVE WITH THANDO’S: TRANSFORMING THE WORLD WITH AFRICAN FASHION (APR 25)

African innovators are capturing the world’s attention through their unique designs –particularly in the fashion industry!

Examples include African designers like Mimi Plange, whose works have caught the eyes of Michelle Obama and Rihanna or Kisua, a luxury African brand that Queen Bey is a fan of!  

Amazing shoe brands like Thando’s, are revolutionizing the fashion scene with Africa’s first fashionable, comfortable and foldable ballerina flat that can fit inside a small handbag, office drawer or the glove compartment of a car!

Talk about convenience with style!

That being said, if you are looking to break into the fashion industry or want to harness your passion for fashion – this is one is for you!

Join us on Wednesday, April 25th, for a Facebook Live with Jibolu Ayodele – co-founder, Thando’s, and Chioma Okonkwo – Winner of 2017 Thando’s Design competition, as they share with us all a fashion innovator needs to know about changing the fashion scene through innovative designs.  

Change the fashion scene through innovative #AfricanFashion, with @ThandosShoes on, April 25th! More info at: http://bit.ly/Thandos Click To Tweet

Some of the topics we’ll cover

  • The art of designing for social impact
  • How crowdsourcing/collaborative consumption can work for Fashionpreneurs
  • Disrupting Africa’s fashion landscape
  • What you need to know about manufacturing in Africa

Webinar Details:

Date: Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

Time: 12PM Lagos // 1PM Johannesburg // 2PM Nairobi

Location: Register below to get access to this opportunity

Watch here:

She Leads Africa Facebook Live with Jibolu Adeyole, co-founder of @ThandosShoes and Chioma Okonkwo, winner of 2017 Thando’s design competition sharing insights on Transforming the world with African fashion. Join the She Leads Africa community by visiting SheLeadsAfrica.org/join!

Posted by She Leads Africa on Wednesday, April 25, 2018

About our experts:

Jibolu “J.G.” Ayodele is the co-founder of Thando’s, a Lagos and NY based fashion company that provides a platform for African artists to design for a global audience. 

Before co-founding Thando’s, Jibolu led the business development efforts of Viacom International Media Networks in Nigeria, where he co-created partnerships with brands such as Hewlett Packard and Lufthansa. He has also worked with Deloitte, Bank of America and GE Capital.

Mr. Ayodele holds an MBA in Finance, Entertainment, Media, and Technology from NYU – Stern School of Business. He received a Masters in Accounting from NC State University, and a Bachelors in Business Administration from the Kenan-Flagler School of Business at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.

Jibolu is married to his co-founder, Taffi Ayodele.

Chioma Okonkwo, is a graduate of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, with a passion for illustration and animation. She recently participated in Thando’s inaugural print design competition, where she won with her unique design – The Akonmi Print.

She used this design to interpret how heavy rains result in flooding that displaces hundreds of thousands of people. Chioma was inspired to illustrate after her internship at an imaging company in Port-Harcourt.

When she is not working at her 9 to 5 call centre job or illustrating, Chioma is busy experiencing new places, cultures and foods.