Delphine Groot had her big breakthrough into the African-inspired fashion scene in the Netherlands in 2015. That was when she had the opportunity to showcase her collection at the Locked & Loose event in Amsterdam in the summer of 2015.
Organized by The Natural Hair Club, the event exposed her unique collection to a crowd of entrepreneurs, designers, sponsors, and consumers. Many of whom were impressed and this eventually generated publicity and sales for her brand, Bobo Couture.
SLA contributor Uloma Ogba, spoke with Delphine on seeking alternatives to follow her passion and being a cultural ambassador for Africa in the Netherlands.
How did you decide on the name “Bobo Couture”?
I belong to the Bobo ethnic group, native to Mali and Burkina Faso. The Bobo people have a thousand-year-old tradition of handicrafts and textiles. When choosing a name for my fashion brand, I felt that Bobo was fitting.
Bobo captures who I am and what I want to bring to the fashion industry. I bring with me well-designed and crafted clothing, and jewelry inspired by my rich African heritage.
What was your motivation for starting your own business?
I was born in Mali but grew up in the Netherlands and in several other African countries. So, I have seen a fair bit of the world and absorbed parts of the different cultures I have been exposed to.
In university, I studied Human Geography and International Development because I wanted to understand the role of cultural exchange in global development.
However, after graduation, I quickly realized that I was not suited for office work. And so, I decided to seek alternatives to follow my passion. I came up with the idea of starting my own business. I wanted to find a way to apply my studies to something that I find both practical and engaging.
Through Bobo Couture, I am able to participate in the cultural exchange process. I do this by creating access in the West to the creations of local people in various African communities. For every item I sell and when I get a chance to tell the story behind its creation, I see myself playing a role as a cultural ambassador for Africa.
What is the process like for you as a designer and an entrepreneur?
First, I must give credit to my mother who is my business partner and provides a lot of creative input. Together, we decide on the right fabrics and designs for each collection.
The goal is to showcase different aspects of our African culture that our customer base in the Netherlands can relate to and appreciate. My culture is very vibrant, colourful, exciting, playful at times, and very focused on community. I try to make sure each collection represents that in varying degrees.
From reviews I have read and from your own accounts, your brand Bobo Couture is doing really well, exceeding even your expectations. How do you think you are contributing to the development of Africa as you say?
All the fabrics and textiles that we work with, for the clothing and jewelry, are sourced locally. We also employ tailors and craftsmen in Mali, Togo, Kenya, and Ghana.
By providing them with work on a consistent and growing basis, we contribute to their economic development and professional growth. We want our workers to take pride in the things that they produce.
We also want them to know that our goal is to ensure that their work and the meaning behind it, reaches a wider audience.
You recently expanded your business to set up a physical location. In addition you manage the online store and travel back and forth between the Netherlands and Kenya to import the clothes. How are you able to find balance in your life?
To be honest, these days it seems like all I do is work. But I love seeing the efforts of my hard work come to fruition. In the first year of Bobo Couture, I had to give up my personal life. No going out with friends or going on vacation.
Since we opened the store, even though we employ some local girls to help out, I still have to be present most of the time. The only things that keep me sane are using what little time I have to keep up with the gym and talking to my family. These provide me with the physical and moral support I need.
Given your experiences, what would be your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
If I could give one piece of advice it would be that hard work is the most important key to your success. There are going to be many challenging times ahead. But you have to try to view failures as part of the learning process to reaching your goal. Set big goals and dare to achieve them.
When I started, a lot of people tried to discourage me. I heard the market was already saturated and it would be hard to stand out. Before I got an assistant, I had to transport all my clothes to and from events by myself. But I always believed in myself and in my ideas and that is what got me here today.
Any final thoughts?
I think a big part of why my designs sell so well is because they are a true reflection of who I am. I would never sell anything that I wouldn’t proudly wear myself.
Whatever brand you choose, if it reflects you, then selling it to the public will never feel like hard work.
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