“I Learnt Perseverance After My Fire Accident” Meet Eco-friendly Entrepreneur, Chidiebere Nnorom

If there’s one thing Chidiebere Nnorom wants us to know, it is that she’s a typical Igbo girl with a never die attitude, never ever wanting to give up! Even after going through a rough patch, she refused to succumb and found her way back up.

Chidiebere Nnorom is the Co-founder of Paperbag by Ebees. She has a strong passion for the environment, social impact and business.  

Watch this space as Chidiebere is determined to change norms and make waves as an entrepreneur, environmentalist and a young global leader. Scroll down to read more of her story.

What’s your background story?

Before my business grew to the stage it is at now, I went through a lot! I was involved in a fire accident which kept me indoors for a while. I had to stop business operations and lay off staff. It was unbelievable. Imagine being at a point in life where you are clueless about what to do next. Well, that was me then.

It took me almost a year to heal. I couldn’t work or do anything. My savings had been zapped and I kept wondering how I’d scale through. There was a personal instinct to do something, I knew it wasn’t the time to give up but to breakthrough! I needed to turn the light on in my heart and that I did. 

To cut the long story short, the accident was a validation to move on. Months later, I picked up my business and started building up gradually. Next thing I knew, business calls were coming in! People said they saw the paper bag and wanted to order. Some of the paper bags they saw were made way before the accident. The referral rate was massive! I was so elated and grateful I didn’t give up back then.

What ignited the spark to start Paperbag by Ebees?

In 2016, we started off as a food delivery business but one of the problems we faced was the packaging, we just couldn’t find the right packaging. With a background in geography and my love for the environment, we decided to start creating eco-friendly packages.

There were a lot of “buts!” That was the year the foreign exchange was high, fuel scarcity and other things kept creeping in. We had to take a step back to think of how we could make it. My team and I carried out some research, tried out different products, monitored what was moving and what wasn’t. Everything was coming up gradually.

Before I knew it, we made it official!


What business challenges have you faced and how have those challenges shaped your mindset?

At the early stages, our major challenge was accessing raw materials in Nigeria. It meant having to buy in large quantities and also importing from China. We had other expenses to run the business and couldn’t afford it.

This caused a setback. We had to think of how to make it ourselves. We carried out some research and found alternative ways to come up with the resources. That was when we started the business for real!

Business development was our second challenge, it took us a while to see that the market was ready. We had to try out different products to see if the market will accept us. It was quite hard, to be honest. After a series of experiments and market research, we were able to count a milestone. Finally! We achieved growth.

These experiences really shaped our mindset as a company. To every business owner out there, celebrate your little wins! We count every little effort we make as a win and an opportunity to do better. I’m learning to take joy in the little things, every small success is a validation. I say to myself, “Chidiebere well done!” It tells me that every step I took at the time was worth it.


How do you come up with the designs on your paper bags?

I won’t take all the credit, I have a really good team. My own inspiration came from purpose. The point is, if we chase our real purpose there are things we won’t struggle to do. I found my passion, and everything fell into place.

Finding the right people who know what they are doing is key. I also took some time to learn product design. It’s a combination of all these things.


What have you learned so far from running this business?

I was in paid employment and transitioning was quite drastic.

Take your time and plan! If you’re transitioning from paid employment to business, have enough money to cover up for your expenses. Make sure that the business can take care of your bills. There is no need to go through stress because you’re an entrepreneur, life can be easy!

Kagiso Madibana: Our generation desperately needs hope

Our SLA community knows Kagiso Madibana as the founder/ chairperson of Nayang Association, a social venture that she founded in 2014. She is also an entrepreneur who owns a communications company called MD Africa Communications.

Kagiso is also a self-published author of the book ‘Tales from the heart of Botswana: Baareng’s journey’. She is currently working on finishing her second book which will be centered on her traveling adventures and actual journey to self-discovery.

Her passion for telling stories has also pushed her to seek partners in the theatre world to try and turn her first novel into a play. In this chat, we look into Kagiso’s writing journey, and the successes she has encountered. 

What influenced your decision to become a writer?

Over the years, I have learned that I can communicate and express myself better through writing. I also have an obsession with sharing and creating stories about experiences that could change lives or make an impact.

What was the inspiration behind ‘Tales from the heart of Botswana: Baareng’s journey’?

I grew up reading a lot of books and I learned a lot about the world these books. However, I never found characters that I could relate to. None of them sounded like my story or that of my neighbor.

So, I wanted to write a book that the ordinary Motswana/African could relate to. I also wanted to write inspirational stories about hope because our generation desperately needs it.

Your book examines relatable topics. Why was it important for you to write about these issues? 

The work we do at Nayang Association exposes us to a lot of poverty and people who give up on life because they have no hope for the future.

Through our mantra of “community building“, we want to change the mindset that one has to rich in order to help build their communities. We seek to inspire kids and help them believe that they can become whoever they want to be and also be involved in community building.

Through the book, I was able to bring to life characters that have the same challenges that people in our country face and show how they were able to overcome their obstacles despite their environment.

How did your debut novel end up being adopted for the Botswana standard four class syllabus? 

From the early age of 8, children begin discovering things that develop their personalities and form who they will be. When I wrote the book, I made the decision to use English in its simplest form so that anybody from the ages of 8-60 could read the story. 

My breakthrough came a year after I had traveled to different government schools (primary to senior). During these trips, I would give talks and donate books to outstanding students at prize-giving ceremonies.

I would also be reaching out to different schools to see if the novel would be a suitable read for the children.

Bathoen I House in Orapa, a Debswana private school was the first school to order the book as part of their syllabus for standard fours. Thereafter, other schools and Bridge Books Bookstore,  in Maboneng and Commissioner Street in Johannesburg, bought the novel for their libraries.

How did you get nominated for the Social Entrepreneur of the Year at the Africa Youth Awards? What did you gain from this experience? 

I believe in sharing the activities of Nayang Association with our network because it helps us remain relevant. Through our Facebook page, we update our network and reach out to more people to help us attain our goal of touching lives. 

One day, I received an email from the Africa Youth Awards Committee, notifying me that 5 social entrepreneurs from across Africa along with members of the Committee had nominated us.

The process was then open to public voting. Competing against very deserving and inspirational individuals was quite an honor. In the end, I didn’t lose anything, I gained a continental network.

How was your journey as a Batswana literary artist/creative? 

Leaving an 8-5 job to focus on writing in a country that doesn’t have much of a reading culture was a gamble. However, I knew I had to take this path. 

My challenging journey often made me think of giving up. There is a popular saying that “passion doesn’t pay the bills”. However, faith and the confidence in what I was doing guided my experience. Eventually, doors started to open.

During my journey, I had nobody to look up to or guide me. Don’t get me wrong, there are amazing writers in this country but I didn’t know their story. I choose to share mine to aspire young writers and help them learn and improve from what I did.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Learn as much as you can and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Search for entrepreneurship workshops in your area and online but most importantly NETWORK.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.

Chellie Clarkson-Brown: Designing for women of color and overcoming the #icebergsyndrome

Chellie Clarkson-Brown wants to make African-inspired apparel an everyday staple in Western Europe Click To Tweet

No one ever tells you about the amount of work that goes on underneath the surface of the water- #icebergsyndrome… but keep keeping on and eventually the tip of your iceberg will emerge.

Enter entrepreneur Chellie Clarkson-Brown the Founder and Creative Director of Afro Couture Designs LDN, a fashion brand focusing on sizes and designs for women of colour. With SLA contributor Neo Cheda, Chellie shares her entrepreneurship journey and what has pushed to her to success.


Tell us about you and how Afro Couture Designs come about?

I studied Pattern Cutting and Tailoring at London College of Fashion but left this to work within the retail industry. Well, it wasn’t for me so I returned to university at University College of the Arts. My time there was traumatic, to say the least. I was often denied the opportunity to express myself based on what I felt represented me. Everything I designed in reflection of my African heritage and life experiences, was, in my opinion, belittled and rubbished.

I lost so much confidence in my abilities and myself, that I became depressed. To add insult to injury, I wasn’t even able to get any real retail therapy without having to break the bank. Come on now, we all know that the only way to make a girl feel good about herself in circumstances like these, is a good old shopping trip. The only items I could get on the high street were ill fitting for my body shape. As almost any woman of colour will know, it may fit everywhere else, but it “sho’ ain’t gone fit” around your hips, rear and thighs. Or you would go up or down a size to alleviate the problem above and guess what, it would fit everywhere else, but not your waist #BlackGirlIssues.

So I did some extensive market research in order to collate a sizing criteria for women, particularly focusing on women of colour, as our primary target market. This has allowed us at Afro Couture Designs to create a more inclusive sizing range which is a better reflection of the modern day woman. Most importantly, it incorporates the proportions of women of colour too. As part of our initiative, we are committed to being environmentally friendly by being as sustainable as we are practical.


Tell us about your vision for Western European Demographics.

At Afro Couture Designs LDN, we design and create on trend contemporary African-inspired apparel and products and our intention is to make these products an everyday design staple within the Western European demographic. Our products are not intended to exclude or to be divisive, rather our products are primarily intended to celebrate and embrace all things African and showcase the beauty within the continent and how it can compliment European fashion trends.

We use high end design techniques, pattern cutting, and production techniques and source the highest quality fabrics. At Afro Couture Designs LDN, we fuse and mix together an eclectic range of fabrics from the both the Western European and African Hemispheres to bring you our AfroEurocentric collections.

The collections within these ranges are African inspired with a contemporary twist and are intended for those who not only think outside of the box but actually go one step further and throw it away altogether. Afro Couture Designs LDN, provides a multi-faceted design and production service from fashion, products, and interior design to delivering fashion workshops and property development.

Afro Couture Designs LDN’s business objective, is to be the one-stop shop or boutique for all your design requirements. Akin to the likes of the Selfridges of London or Macy’s of New York- for all things Afrocentric.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

Getting it all together again from being homeless after my home was repossessed and I lost my job. The struggle was harder as I was a single mother at the time.

But all things are possible through God. “Everything is possible for one who believes” Mark 9:23. #Ifyoucanconceiveit- #youcanachiveit

What challenges have you faced that are unique to your business?

Trying to blend Afrocentric influences harmoniously with the Eurocentric to create the AfroEurocentric brand.

Additionally, trying to secure financial support for such a new concept with the intention of making the brand available to the mass market.

Afro Couture Designs aims to give exposure to established & emerging African artisans Click To Tweet

Which 3 African women that inspire you and why?

My Grandmother, the late great Madam Margaret Ntiamoah

For her determination, her tenacity and most importantly how resourceful she was. I remember growing up in Ghana during the coup d’état of 1979. Food was rationed and money was tight. There were so many of us living in one room and my Nana, would create gourmet dishes for all of us from one tin of baked beans, or even crack 2 eggs in a spinach stew and manage to make that stretch around 6-8 of us, with some left over for the next day.

On the days we had money for coal, in the morning before school, Nana would set the coals in the coal pot (which I’d fan) to make the morning porridge, the smouldering coals would then be put into a cast iron, hence the name, to iron our uniforms.  After that, the hot cast iron would then be dipped into the cold bucket of water to warm it up for our morning baths. Talk about resourceful!

She got up at the crack of dawn every morning well into her later years to go set up her market stall at Mokola market without fail. Her work ethic has stuck with me till this day. God rest her beautiful soul.

Ghanaian designer, Christie Brown

For being self-taught and still managing to make it into the mainstream fashion world. I’m inspired by her style and the fact that she has slowly over the years managed to place herself firmly within the Western fashion demographic, paving the way for emerging African designers.

Whilst I know I’m supposed to select 3 African women, I do have to say that I am truly inspired by Edward Enninful, currently the new Ghanaian Editor in chief for British Vogue. He has inspired me even more with what’s described as his intention to end the “white-out that dominates the catwalks and magazines”- what a statement.

Lupita Nyong’o

For setting the tone and also breaking the mould. I love the fact that she embraces her beautiful dark chocolate skin tone and short Afro hair, with ease and pride.

Lupita elevates her beauty just as she is, despite the misconceptions of “light is right”, making it all the more beautiful and easier for other young black women to embrace the beauty within themselves along with the mainstream media too.


What advice would you give to start-up entrepreneurs?

• Think of every encounter as a potential opportunity.
• Never stop when you’re tired, only when the task is done.
Never lose sight of your vision, as that will be your instruction manual with which to guide you when you lose heart, and most importantly always pray, about everything.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.