Xiomara Rosa-Tedla: There are benefits to starting a business with family

Xiomara Rosa-Tedla Unoeth

Many people ask how and why my father and I started our business. And to be honest, it was by accident.

About two years ago, my father returned home from a trip visiting family in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. After picking him up from the airport and unloading luggage, he handed me a gifta custom, handmade leather messenger bag. Xiomara Rosa-Tedla Unoeth Immediately, I fell in love with my new gift and sported it everywhere. From work to dinner to weekend trips, I toted my new bag all around the world. And soon after, friends, family members, and strangers started asking, Where did you get your bag? I love it! Can your dad get me one as well?” For months the questions and requests kept coming. Even my father told me he had been getting the same questions, and suggested, Hey, I think we have a business here. Lets start a leather bag business!Shortly after, the birth of UnoEth began.

Starting a business from scratch is a fun creative process, where brainstorming sessions let your mind run free with ideas and opportunities for your business to grow exponentially. Xiomara Rosa-Tedla UnoethBut as with any business, the road to success is never a straight line up. There are dips, curves and encounters with the unknown. In addition, it can be a lot of work. On the bright side, there are benefits to running a business with family.

A family member as a business partner can be extremely beneficialespecially my dad. Having an equal partner with a long history (my whole life) and blood ties helps solidify communication, trust, and dedication to succeed. Neither partner wants to let the other down. From day one of creating our new business, I felt unbelievably confident in our new venture because my dad and I shared the same vision and passion for our budding brand.Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 1.42.31 PM

In addition to trust, communication, and dedication, working with family also means splitting responsibilities. As we both grow our business around our full-time jobs, we wish there was more time in the day to juggle responsibilities. We split outstanding tasks, which alleviates the stress and workload on both of us.

Communication is key to maintaining strong relationships with each other, our vendors, shipping counterparts, business partnerships and most importantly, our customers. In the development of UnoEth, weve learned to communicate promptly to avoid creating a bottleneck in our business. Thanks to apps like Viber, were able to communicate easily internationally via wifi and all stay on the same pagejust in different time zones.Xiomara Rosa-Tedla UnoethIts incredibly important to maintain a positive, can-do attitude with a goal always in sight. As mentioned before, the road to success is never a straight line. Every business experiences road blocks and obstacles, which can deter most individuals from starting a business in the first place.

But with an optimistic, focused, and goal-oriented outlook, one can overcome the temporary downfalls, cross the finish line and push on to the next stage. At the end of day, one must ask, How bad do I really want to be successful?And then simply just go for it!

What are your thoughts on starting a business with a family member? Enjoyed Xiomara’s story ? Share the UnoEth story with your network.

Archel Bernard kickstarts her Liberian ethical fashion factory

Archel Bernard - Bombchel Factory

Archel Bernard is a Liberian fashion designer and entrepreneur. She successfully raised more than $40,000 on Kickstarter  for her company’s growth and shares with us how someone stealing her ideas got her started in fashion, her ambitions to build a global brand and why crowdfunding was the way to go to raise much needed cash. 

Why did you choose fashion as your avenue to make a difference in Liberia and how has your business made an impact on the local community?

I wanted to be the West African Oprah Winfrey when I moved to Liberia. I would go to communities and shoot and edit videos of exciting things happening around Monrovia, and of course the West African Oprah had to wear West African clothing! I made my dresses at a trendy boutique in town, and the seamstress would take FOREVER to get my clothes to me. I was doing my own designing because traditional African clothes aren’t typically my taste.

Conor Beary for The New York Times

One time I went to pick up a dress the boutique had been working on for about a month, and when I saw her, she was wearing a copy she made for herself, another customer was wearing a copy she just purchased, and another tailor was sewing one for her to sell on her racks! I still had to pay top dollar for a dress she was taking credit for designing. At that point I realized I could figure out a way to do everything I was paying her to do for me, AND possibly make a profit from it if people liked my styles.

I made 8 different styles, found two tailors, and paid them a small fee to make my first line. I didn’t even know I was creating a line, much less a company. I just thought I could make a little money around Christmas. I sold out of everything and used the feedback (and money) to make more styles. Two of those same looks are still our top sellers today!

Bombchel Factory

I was never inspired to create until I came to Liberia. I loved the bold colors and patterns. The chaos in the markets and streets, and always the women wore bright lappa to navigate it. Seeing and wearing African cloth made me feel at home. I was thrilled by the design possibilities because from where I sat, we could do much more than tie lappa around our waist.

Two months after selling my first dress, my government contract ended and I was unemployed. My mom hired me to be her driver on a visit to Liberia, and my dad gave me his pick up truck, so I bought cloth with the money and sold dresses from the back of the truck. Slowly, I saved enough money to open a shop. I’ve worked all kinds of jobs to make this happen.

Now our business has grown so much, our tailors get sad when I leave town, not because they will miss me but because when I’m in town there’s always a ton of money to be made!

What are your ambitions for your company and The Bombchel Factory?

I want to build a large factory that staffs and trains hundreds of Liberian women, and offers classes on the side for literacy and business skills. This is about community building and industry changing.

Bombchel Factory - 2

I want our factory to rival not only rival China for quality, but be the best in the world for human development. I want clothes made in The Bombchel Factory to be sold everywhere from Nasty Gal to Bergdorf on Fifth Ave soon, to prove that there is space for quality, ethical fashion in the most exciting shopping districts of the world.

Why did you choose crowdfunding as a fundraising strategy for your business?

I chose to crowd fund our company because we had hit a point where we couldn’t grow anymore doing the same thing we were doing: small custom orders for under $100 a client. We wanted to reach the everyday girl, but customer acquisition was expensive and there wasn’t much profit in a few custom orders a month.

I’m incredibly scared of loans, after having already signed my life over to Sallie Mae years ago, and I don’t think we are big enough to start including investors with equity. Since all we needed was a strong following to preorder our goods, crowdfunding was perfect for people like us.

Everyone who backs our campaign knows to expect a wait before receiving their goods, so that gives us a chance to perfect our items and plan our website and New York Fashion Week launch party. We are using Kickstarter to literally explode onto the market, and Kickstarter is good for helping you build a loyal following.

What factors did you take into consideration before starting the crowdfunding campaign and how did you prepare to make sure it was a success?

I had a friend, Chid Liberty of Liberty & Justice factory, also do a Kickstarter for his t-shirt line. He was actually the person who recommended crowdfunding to me.

When his campaign launched it was flawlessly executed. They met their goal in a few hours and even got endorsements from several celebrities. I knew I didn’t have that kind of reach, but I also knew I had a lot of things going for me that I could package. I read every article and watched every video on having a successful crowdfunding campaign and applied what I could.

My best friend in Atlanta offered a great photo shoot deal, and my sisters have been known to work long hours for clothes, so I knew my packaging would be spot on. I had a ton of people interested in ordering my designs, but I needed to streamline the ordering process and show the need for my product would gain the same results as having a large network. Crowdfunding has proven I have a market, not just cousins and friends who want to support me.

What message would you share with other young African women who have big dreams but limited funding to make them happen?

I would ask you the same questions Chid asked me:

  • You need more money? Yes
  • You don’t want a loan? No
  • You don’t want equity partners? How much is your business worth? Not enough
  • You ever thought of crowdfunding?

You can ONLY use Kickstarter if you have a product. I would also make sure you have thoroughly tested the market, as you don’t want to pre-sell items and not be able to fulfill quality orders. Reputation is everything and that would kill yours. Just prepare, and prepare some more, and keep going because your (company’s) life really depends on it.

Want to support Archel and her Kickstarter campaign? Make a donation by March 11.


Photos courtesy of the New York Times and Archel Bernard.

Kambili Ngozi Ofili-Okonkwo: We want to make sure the average person looks good

Kambili Kamokini

A personal need for interestingly stylish, practical and affordable swimsuits led Kambili Ngozi Ofili-Okonkwo to start KAMOKINI. The Nigeria-based brand, which officially launched in September 2014, merges fancy designs with an understanding of the average woman’s body consciousness and sensuality to create swimwear that makes women feel and look good.

Prior to taking the leap into KAMOKINI full time, Kambili worked in the oil industry and in the fast-moving consumer goods industry. She has a Bachelors and Masters degree in Engineering from Imperial College London, as well as a Masters in Supply Chain and Logistics Management from Cranfield University. I spoke with the swimwear designer about her entrepreneurial experience.

Starting out

In 2012, Kambili found herself struggling to find appropriate swimsuits for herself. “I don’t consider myself to be a model size,” she said. “I was looking for something that was not too revealing, fashionable and inexpensive.” Unable to find a swimsuit that met her criteria, she decided to design what she had in mind for herself, then reached out to manufacturers in China. Her first order of business was to send them a detailed list of specifications for the swim suits. The factory also had to be willing to sign a confidentiality agreement with her. “When I found one that was happy to sign and work with me, I started sharing my designs with them,” Kambili said.


When her friends complimented the swimsuits that she had made for herself, she made some in similar styles for them and received overwhelming positive feedback. “It made me think, ‘OK, I can do this commercially’. Why don’t I try to make these kinds of swimsuits available?”she said.

With her savings and investment from family and friends, Kambili embarked on her entrepreneurial journey. “From the get-go, I was working with an experienced production facility so it was easy to move from making sample sizes to making larger quantities,” she added.

Kambili’s spending priority with this initial capital has been on the quality and cost of the product. “I want it to be as close to perfect as possible but also affordable,” she said. She wants to ensure that her clients don’t have to break the bank in order to access her products, and wants to ensure they enjoy the KAMOKINI experience. “I feel like if it’s not adding value to my customers, then I don’t spend money on it. If I can find a way to do it without spending money, then I go for it.”

From design to delivery

Drawings and sketches of the swimwear are done by Kambili. These are then turned into computer-aided designs. She writes down specifications for the print or color that she wants to use for each item, and the material and textures that will be put together to produce it. “We have the standard elastane fabric for swimwear but I may want to play with textures,” Kambili said. “For example, you might see that some of our swimsuits have lace on them. I like playing with textures, maybe it is the engineer in me,” she added. The manufacturers she works with do the dying and printing of the fabric.

The product sample making is a three step process. First, Kambili receives swatches so that she can choose the exact color of fabric that she wants. The sample is then made and pictures are taken from different angles. After this, the sample is washed to make sure that it doesn’t run or fray, the elastic remains taut, and that the zippers, if any, work well. This testing is carried out by the technicians in the factory. Once they are satisfied with the test results, they deliver the samples to Kambili.

At this stage, Kambili analyzes the samples. She works with models who try them on to see if they fit well, the bust sizes that can fit into each, and if any adjustments are needed. And on completion of the analysis, she either sends the samples back for amendment, in which case the three step process is repeated, or she confirms for production, and the factory manufactures and labels the products to be sold. Kambili and her team, which comprises of a photographer, graphic designer, accounts manager and models, also use the samples for creating campaign marketing material and promotional content. An added advantage of doing this is that it allows the team to see how the colors look on film.

The key element for KAMOKINI in this entire design and production process is the desire to create stylish swimsuits that are practical for average people. “We are listening to what our target customers want. They want things that are pretty and can hide aspects that they don’t want to show,” she said.

For example, the company has swimsuits that have short sleeves for people who are uncomfortable with showing their arms. It also has swimsuits with inserts for padding for people with smaller busts who may want a little bit of enhancement. “That’s what sets us apart,” she said. “We want to ensure that the average person looks as good as she wants while physically exposed. It is really about meeting people’s desires,” she added.


Challenges and opportunities

Like every entrepreneur who is starting out, Kambili has dealt with her fair share of challenges. For one, people in Nigeria are relatively conservative when it comes to exposing themselves. As such, they don’t take advantage of the numerous beaches and pools in the country. They are also not used to decent, well-designed swimwear being sold next door. Additionally, KAMOKINI is a luxury brand that also creates awareness. “There is a real threat to spend more money than you intended on educating people and creating that experience so that they want to buy swimsuits.”

To tackle this, she has established business partnerships with alcoholic beverage brands that host beach and pool events. “We are working with them to create that world class experience that you find in places like Miami or Cannes – places with developed beach and pool activations,” Kambili said. “This will be an avenue for the target market to interact with the brand directly.” In addition, the company has invested in marketing. It has an active presence on social media, particularly Instagram. Spice TV recently did a documentary about KAMOKINI which has helped the business reach some of its target market. The brand has participated in fashion shows such as Runway Fiesta and Copa Lagos. Kambili’s products have also been featured in music videos and been endorsed by celebrities and media personalities.

Manufacturing KAMOKINI products in China as opposed to Nigeria or somewhere else in Africa has also come with its own set of challenges. There have been several timing related delays. In addition, the minimum order quantities required by the factory are very high. “I would rather spend that money on a variety of styles as opposed to producing one style in bulk,” she said. She is hoping to be able to have her own factory in the future. “It would be nice to have a vertically integrated supply network. It helps in making quicker decisions from idea to production.”

Staying the course

As much as the challenges are tough to deal with, she sees the opportunities they provide and is determined to explore them. Her resolve is further strengthened by the support she gets from her family, partner, friends and customers. “I am grateful and blessed to be surrounded by people who encourage me and understand my vision,” she said. Her customers encourage her every time they send her pictures enjoying themselves in KAMOKINI products. “It is the most amazing feeling. It means that we are adding value to people’s lives. It’s not world peace but we take it for granted that to wear a swimsuit you are literally going out in your underwear,” she added. “It takes a lot of confidence to do that.”

Kambili, who was 2015 SLA pitch competition 2nd place winner wanted to expand the product line with her cash award. At the time of this interview, the brand had only released eight pieces and was looking to launch a full collection. “I want to produce an extensive range of samples for current and potential wholesalers to order from. I want to give them a good range to choose from depending on their clientele,” she said.

Kambili’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is this: “Understand the money you have. It doesn’t matter how small you are starting, if finance and accounting is not your specialty, get an expert to help you. You need to know how much money you have to play with and how to plan it. As much as you want to make a difference, it all comes down to money.”

See more of Kambili’s designs on KOMOKINI’S Instagram page.

Rayana Edwards: I had to figure out a different model

Rayana Edwards fuses culture and clothing to empower women through her business Harem Clothing and her project Sari for Change. Harem Clothing focuses on creating modern modest dressing for women of all ages. Sari for Change trains unemployed women to reproduce new garments from donated saris. Upon completion of the Sari for Change training, the women are encouraged to launch their own businesses. They also continue to receive mentorship and have the opportunity to partner with Harem Clothing. Through both endeavours, Rayana not only dresses women but creates employment opportunities for them.

Rayana aims to promote sustainability within needlecraft and manufacturing industries, and incorporates the ethos of sacred economy into her business and her project. She is currently exploring the concept and process of township economies, which she is excited about  introducing all over Africa.

I caught up with the South Africa-based entrepreneur and life coach via email to talk about her work.

Tell us about yourself

I am a mother to 5 daughters ranging from age 6 to 26. I have this absolute love affair with culture and travel. My fashion story started when I was living in Kenya; I was so inspired by the raw talent there.

People were curious about me and my sense of style, as I often fused items from various cultures. I could wear a scarf from Ethiopia, sandals from Kenya, and a jalabar from Morocco, and blend it all in a way that made it effortlessly stylish and interesting.

This was not new to me as being from Cape Town, we enjoy a heritage of rich cultures fusing into each other. I would travel and often shop for 20 different people, working with endless lists. Soon, I opened my first boutique in Westlands, Nairobi called Cape Connections.

Tell us a bit more about Harem Clothing – what is it and why did you decide to start it?

Harem Clothing literally means a sacred space for women. I started Harem Clothing in Johannesburg after having my last and most unplanned daughter. I was studying for my life coaching diploma while waiting for her to arrive, and really became so obsessed with our inner realities.

Questions like: why the need for retail therapy? what makes us happy? and why are we here? seemed to be topmost on my mind. This journey allowed me to give birth to Harem. I needed a space where I could dress women but also give them the tools to feel good inside.

Harem was that space where you could come in for floaty feminine clothing, coaching on the self and emotions, and a bit of culture in terms of décor and artifacts that I sourced on my many travels globally.

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 1.45.36 PM

What steps did you take in starting Harem Clothing – in terms of fundraising, production, marketing and distribution strategies?

Harem was 100% self-funded. I sold my property and the proceeds of the sale allowed me to start Harem.

Most of the production was sourced in India and Vietnam at the time, and I focused on a niche market, namely modern modest.

Starting out as an entrepreneur is difficult. You are faced with challenges ranging from breaking into the market to having a constant stream of revenue. What key challenges did you face when you started out, and how did you deal with them?

When sourcing stock, the bulk of your money lies in what does not sell as eventually it ends up on a sale rail at cost price. The biggest challenge was making purchases based on clients needs.

It so easy to get distracted by a ‘must have’ only to find out it might not be appropriate for your client. The point here is to know your clients and their needs really well.

As a serial entrepreneur who has also failed, I learnt to build and improve and always redefine by going back to the drawing board. Looking back now, I see it all as a stepping-stone and preparation to start digging into the more meaningful and relevant issues we are challenged by today.

What kept you going in those early days?

Exactly on the point above. I literally personalized each purchase overseas as I knew it had to be sold the minute it landed. Once the stock arrived, it was the greatest joy to see the correct design to client matches.

I am also blessed to have a very supportive family, and my daughter Mishka, shortened her gap year overseas to assist in the business. She has been one of my first mentees and today she owns a successful store catering to her age group called Me and You Clothing Boutique.

Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when Harem Clothing was starting out?

Financial planning was my weakness at the time so I would often ignore what I least liked. I now know to work on converting a weakness to a strength.

I also have an exercise I do with everything, and that is the SWOT analysis. What are the strengths, where are the weaknesses, and I identify the opportunities and threats.

You are also the founder of Sari for Change, what inspired this project?

I started to source production locally and realized what a difficult process it was both in terms of skill and costs of fabric. I am a very tactile person and my idea of having fun is to be able to walk through a fabric store or market, and feel and smell the fabric.

This was mainly how I learnt fabrics in the early days. With a sari, I realized there was all of 6 metres that could be used for fabulous garments as saris came in rich colours and silks, crepes and satins.

As entrepreneurs, we are very close to our businesses and the business depicts what we are feeling. For me, it was about giving back, and wanting to work with women who mattered around me.

Paying homage to an old adage…charity begins at home. With this is mind, I had to now had to figure out a model. I believe you have to do something different for a different result.

Sari for Change newspapers
Sari for Change newspaper bags

How do you select the women that participate in it?

They must be motivated and aware of what they are doing and why they are doing it. Passion and commitment are the qualities we look for and they must really want the change for themselves, holistically.

I surround myself with women that understand that we are more process driven than outcome-based. Selection processes normally start with a creative workshop I call “tapping into the inner creativity.” It is an all day workshop with many processes systematically in place that allows someone to really hone in on all of their senses.

What kind of support in terms of training, design, equipment, production and marketing, do you offer the women when they join Sari for Change and after they start their own businesses ?

They are able to train or continue their internship with Harem. Once they start up on their own, we ensure they become one of our suppliers in production. Basically, we try to create a diverse structure in sourcing for every part of needlecraft.

We further expose them to our networks and allow them to scale their products to market. We also raise funds for equipment needed as a startup. Our intern fashion designer assists in the patternmaking processes.

They are expected to come up with their own marketing plan which we then support. I often profile them on our networks and social media pages.

Afro Amour, A Sari for Change partner
Afro Amour, A Sari for Change partner

What difficulties have you have faced in the Sari for Change journey? How have you tackled them?

The difficulties were mainly with funding or the lack thereof. However, after a bit of self-funding and many attempts at crowdfunding, the value came when I started working with good networks.

For instance, The Art of Living initially endorsed our project as a charity or service project. This means that their members were able to donate these saris and allow for unemployed women to get skills.

I am a director of Meaningful Change, an NPO that focuses on bridging the gaps in society. This collaboration was needed to ensure that Sari for Change became a reality.

You are working towards building a model within the needlecraft industry that aims for sustainability. You had mentioned that Sari for Change speaks to this. Could you tell us about this?

Sustainability in this sense means increasing the capacity and well-being of the people and communities behind fashion. The first concern was around women traveling far distances, leaving their homes at very early hours, to get to their workplace; transport costs would be where the bigger part of their wages would go to, and the infringement on the family and quality of life is huge.

Thus, we started the township economy and encourage our entrepreneurs-in-training to open up businesses nearer to where they stay. We also provide a meal to our trainees as we realize that most of them would come to work hungry.

We encourage them to make clothing for themselves first as this gives them a better sense of what they are producing. The main vision though, is for us to be significant contributors in this industry and for the women to be able to pay it forward in both skill and entrepreneurship learning.

Could you please tell us what a sacred economy is?

A sacred economy is where you have like-minded people supporting a common purpose. We all do our part in ensuring we all succeed. It’s not about accumulation of wealth but rather sharing in it, and ensuring that we are building a community of ambassadors for each other.

Sacred is anything that is of God, and we are working with our talents and creativity which is God-given.

How have you been able to incorporate the ethos of a sacred economy into Sari for Change?

One of our fashion designers is currently on a UN youth leadership programme. The seamstress she employs is filling in for her so we ensure that she is able to understand what is done on a production line.

We share the learning and when we outsource our bigger orders, it goes right back to our entrepreneurs. When there is an urgent need amongst our mentees, we rally together to ensure a solution. We recognize each other as a resource and work together.

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 2.26.14 PM
The women of Siri for Change

How does Harem Clothing fit into this economy?

My own modest modern line is produced in-house but most importantly, each entrepreneur has a chance to work and produce for Harem. Our new website will include all entrepreneurs and Harem will become the central online marketing platform.

They also have the opportunity to work at Harem exhibitions, events and stores, and are often left to their own design and direction.

What steps can aspiring and current entrepreneurs take in order to contribute to a sacred economy?

Share resources or space – often this is the biggest challenge. Consider the power of collaborations. Promote each other and talk about your products on social media. Buy local and appreciate the products being made.

The African narrative is so essential at this level as our focus is on slow fashion rather than mass-produced goods that are continuously dumped in Africa, enslaving yet more consumers.

Become conscious of who made your clothes and what their conditions were. Surround yourself with like-minded people and form little groups of interest.

You had said that you are currently exploring a township economy. Could you please define what that means? What does it entail?

By township economy, I refer to a need that is filled by a community-based enterprise. At present, we have street vending, taverns, spaza shops, hair salons and child-minding. The closest to what we do would be the traditional tailoring shop.

In South Africa, we have huge shopping malls which have also crept into our townships – Maponya Mall, Cosmo City Mall – to name a few. They have seen the gap and yet entrepreneurship has been alive in our townships forever.

Why are we not offering new solutions? If we are able to shift consciousness to support each other in business, we can be part of building each others businesses to this level.

So we encourage entrepreneurs to start producing what they sell and to build a better capital base within their own communities. My challenge to our boutique owners in Cosmo City is – if there are 40,000 women living in this area and should 1000 of them spend R50 each month at your store, that means a turnover of R50000?

What do you need to do? It’s as simple as this – you can achieve sustainability and profitability with a good plan as the masses are based in the townships.

How can entrepreneurs and people invested in empowering women, in particular, contribute to this?

I would really like for this grow out of South Africa and would love to hear from fashion designers and creatives in this industry to start up more groups in Africa.

A synergy between entrepreneurship, emotional wellness, and skill development is needed. We need to develop key partnerships that ensure holistic growth from the ground up.

What is your ultimate vision for both Harem Clothing and Sari for Change?

For Harem Clothing, our vision is to be able to mentor and coach more women into sustainable and profitable businesses, and to collectively build a proudly African brand that depicts all of our cultures and diversity, creating an identity that we are proud of.

At Sari for Change, the notion of creating beautiful garments, accessories and décor items made from recyclable elements becomes a stronger reality in a consumer-driven world. We also have a vision of seeing our products in European and American markets, rather than stripping ourselves of our creative talent by buying secondhand garments from them.

Let’s reverse it! So right now our store in the township of Cosmo City is busy producing a kaftan range using the saris for a new online store in Gothenburg, Sweden. Our ultimate vision here is to replicate our township model throughout Africa.

Lastly, where can our readers find Harem Clothing and Sari for Change products?

On our new website. We are also in stores in Naivasha Avenue, Cosmo City; Northcliff Corner Shopping Centre, Johannesburg; and Ravats Persian Carpet Gallery, Pretoria.

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

Diarra Bousso: It’s hard to be taken seriously in the beginning

Diarra Bousso

Diarra Bousso is making significant waves in the global fashion industry with her bespoke luxury brand Dakar Boutique Group. The brand houses DIARRABLU and Diarra Bousso target swanky and contemporary consumers. Her work has been featured in The New York Times and The Huffington Post among others., and was showcased at New York Fashion Week.

Diarra has gained recognition and acclaim from the global business community. She was a panelist at Harvard’s Africa Business Conference last year where she discussed the evolution of Africa’s consumer growth story. We caught up with her to talk about her journey.

Tell us a bit about yourself

I was born and raised in Dakar, Senegal and moved to Norway at 16 to finish high school. Upon graduation, I moved to the States where I attended Macalester in Minnesota for a B.A. in Maths, Economics, and Statistics., before moving to New York and starting a career on Wall Street.

Two years later, I resigned and returned to Senegal to found Dakar Boutique Group, a luxury holding company that celebrates ‘Made in Africa’ through my various brands: Diarra Bousso and DIARRABLU.

The Dakar Boutique Group – what does it do and why did you decide to start it?

I always knew I was going to end up in fashion and for me. And it only made sense to do it in Africa, because I wanted to also focus on development and rebranding the continent.

Dakar Boutique Group is a luxury holding company and basically owns other companies such as Diarra Bousso and DIARRABLU. Each subsidiary has a particular focus but they all share the ‘Made in Africa’ signature.

Diarra Bousso focuses on premium leather goods whereas DIARRABLU focuses on womenswear in geometric cut. Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 10.52.16 AM

Coming up with an idea is the first step. What did you do next?

My next step was to raise awareness. We launched at a big party on a private island and followed it up with a traveling fashion show in June 2013 titled African Voyage.

This allowed us to get a lot of attention, both in Senegal and abroad. It also marked our first appearance in the media.

Talk us through the first 6 months of starting up DB. What were your priorities and how did you determine them?

My main priority was visibility. I was focused on the African Voyage event production and PR and put all our energy on it. I have no background in fashion but I definitely knew that I needed to set a high standard for the brand’s image.

For me, the best way to achieve that was through a high profile original event.

What were the key challenges you faced when you first started? How have they evolved over time?

I think it’s always hard to be taken seriously in the beginning, especially when you are not trained in the industry. I was always confident about my vision and so I didn’t let anything discourage me.

I focused a lot on communicating aggressively on social media and sharing the essence of my brands in a very transparent manner. I believe this makes you more credible and engages your audience.

You’re a fashion designer but you also run a fashion business. How do these roles interact? Is there ever a conflict?

The two roles compliment each other very well actually. My background is in finance so business comes naturally.

That said, I spent all my free time growing up daydreaming, drawing, painting and designing. This job now allows me to align what I learned in school and what I am naturally good at, which creates the perfect balance.

In the fashion business, making beautiful clothes is one thing, getting them to your customer is another. Tell us about your distribution strategy

We are available online on the main website, www.dakarboutique.com, where customers all over the world can shop at their convenience.

We are currently working on a few in store placements, especially in New York, and will be announcing that very soon. Our strategy focuses on distributing to areas we have customers.

You created two lines DIARRABLU and DB . What was the business rationale of creating two separate labels?

I wanted to reach two different demographics:

DIARRABLU is a very trendy womenswear brand priced under $500. The brand focuses on daydreams which is something accessible to everyone and suits the bold, fun and modern shopper in major cities such as New York, Lagos, Paris, Rio etc. It is therefore only natural for us to aim for distribution in such places.

Diarra Bousso is more exclusive and focuses solely on leather accessories. Everything is limited edition, so the customer has to find us, create a relationship, live the experience and then get their bags made to order. It’s a completely different business model as well as a different customer.

How have you funded your business growth and what was the fundraising process like for you? Any specific tips and tricks for startups out there?

We have been self-funded so far which has been challenging and rewarding at the same time. I think it is important for startups to first try on their own and show what they can deliver before approaching investors.

It’s a good test of the viability of your business and definitely makes you more credible when it’s time to raise capital.

Can you talk to us about some of the specific marketing strategies that you have used?

We have a very strong marketing team that’s very focused on the digital space. Our customer is modern and online, thus it is important to focus on high quality images alongside strong social media fluency and transparency.

Lifestyle marketing has also played an important role, and we achieve this with the African Voyage concept which we share on social media through photographs and videos.

You’ve managed to get over 12,000 followers on Instagram. What role does social media play in your overall strategy? How have you grown your following?

We have grown our following in a very organic manner. I think our audience likes to see our progress and feel like part of a movement. They like to tag their friends, use our hashtags and share our posts which creates a channel for more followers.

Instagram is a major tool today for brands and plays a very important role in our strategy. It has allowed us to find great partners, sponsors and influencers to work with.

Finally, your clothes are absolutely beautiful. How can people from our community get their hands on them?

You can order online at www.dakarboutique.com and in stores in New York at Bene Rialto starting April 1st – 13 W 38th St, New York, NY 10018.

Tell us what amazing entrepreneurial things women are doing in your communities here

How I got 10,000 real and engaged followers on Instagram

With a reported 300 million users and 70 million photos shared each day, Instagram has become a key marketing and social engagement tool for businesses. It is also a great platform for testing out new business ideas.

To leverage Instagram as a marketing tool, some marketers have resorted to buying followers and using automated liking or commenting programs to increase their reach. Buying followers might make your page and product look popular. However, you will have no real insight as to who is actually interested in your brand or who will buy your products or services. What’s more, you risk getting banned by Instagram for violating its Terms of Service.

In this quick guide, I’ll show you how to gain real followers by walking you through the steps I used to grow my Instagram page @MakeupforMelaninGirls to 17,000+ in just two months.

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 11.41.24 AM

Here are some tips for engaging your target audience:

1. Upload Quality Photos

Instagram is a photo-sharing app after all, and people want to be inspired by the photos you share. Think of a colour scheme and/or theme for your photos.  White is a popular background colour and for good reason. It helps keep focus on your image and is less distracting. If your products are in fashion or beauty, consider showcasing your products with the flat-lay style.


Flat lay photo on Instagram by Beauty Blogger @thatigbochick

2. Use Web Apps that make managing your account a breeze

Since Instagram is primarily an app for mobile phones, it can be tricky managing all your tasks on a small screen. Crowdfire is a social media management desktop & mobile app that grows your Instagram following by letting you copy followers of accounts in a similar niche as you. You can also see who follows or unfollows you. You can perform following and unfollowing tasks very quickly via desktop without violating Instagram’s terms of service. Crowdfire is free to use for one account but costs $9.99 per month for more than account.

Another great web app is Iconosquare, which allows you manage your Instagram page on the web (comment, like photos, view feed etc). And though its popular optimization feature (shows you the best time to interact with your followers) is now a paid feature, you can see several other statistics about your page, including most commented posts.makeupformelaningirls                        Crowdfire Homepage

3. Use hashtags relevant to your target audience

Most people are already aware that using hashtags attracts more likes and interest. However, using popular hashtags that are searched by your target audience is the difference between getting engaged followers and just getting likes. For example, if your brand focuses on African fashion, use Websta (an Instagram Web Viewer) to look up related tags in order of popularity.       makeupformelaningirls

Secondly, create a list of 30 hashtags and save it to any Notes app you use.

Looking up #Africanfashion not only helped me find other popular hashtags within that niche, but it also helped me find similar accounts. Using the Crowdfire app in step 2, can also be used to follow people on those similar accounts you just found. There is no guarantee that these people will follow you back, but if you are uploading quality and interesting photos relevant to your target audience, you increase your chances of them liking in your page.

When we looked up #Africanfashion, 260,000 posts is the highest number of uploads related to this niche. 

#Fashion also has a lot of visibility of Instagram, so adding it to your list of hashtags is a good strategy. The audience in your niche are those most likely to engage with your page.

Create your list of hashtags by combining very popular hashtags with those most related to your niche.

To create a list of hashtags for our #AfricanFashion example, Instagram has a limit of 30 hashtags so we can divide it into 15 popular #Africanfashion and 15 popular #fashion hashtags.


4. Post at the Right Times and Days

Putting some thought into the days of the week and times of the week will also help  your follower base and visibility. Iconosquare’s popular Optimization feature displays a graph of the best times for you to post is now a paid feature, but don’t despair. I’ve got you covered.

Lunch time and 5 pm when people are getting off work are examples of optimal times to post. Keep in mind that these work better if your audience is in the same timezone as you.    

makeupformelaningirls                       A view of the Iconosquare Optimization section

5. Engage with your audience

Completing the steps above, should build a group of connected followers. Do not forget to have fun with your followers by liking and commenting on their photos, sending them messages if necessary, and answering their questions. Instagram is a social media page, so connect with your followers! They want to know that there are real people behind the brand and that you care about the same things they care about. Many people log onto Instagram to take a break or pass the time so make sure browsing your page is an enjoyable experience.

Finally, below are some extra tips below did not make the cut because they cost money. However, if you have the money, they are great tools to use to grow your follower base.

  • Host an Instagram contest or Promotion
  • Negotiate with an Instagram Influencer or personality for a promotional shout out of your product. (Caveat: Some Influencers are known to receive products but do not promote it. Research influencers before finalizing any payments.)
  • Pay a Popular shoutout page in your niche to promote your page (This could be risky as some of this pages buy followers. Browse their page to see if they have users that comment and engage with the page).
  •  Find a friend or hire someone with an aesthetic eye that will showcase your page in the best light


Don’t vex: 10 must do’s for using social media for business

There is so much hype on using social media for business. Yet, many brands are not using it at all or many of those who are, are not getting it right. We’ve complied the basic must dos for all of us to revisit once more.

Thousands of businesses have taken to platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus to build a brand that’s accessible, lovable, and profitable. Instagram has proved to be an especially viable means of building a customer base for fashion brands. Think Orange Culture, Eve and Tribe, Shop Zuvaa, Iconola, Tzar Studios, and so on.

Social media gives you access to an enormous audience that could be converted to loyal customers if you play your cards right. Below are 10 steps that will help you dominate social media and harness its potential.

1. Know your why

Explore why your business is on social media and why you are on each specific platform. While social media allows you to build a relationship your audience, the nature of the relationship you have with your consumers is completely up to you.

Are you on social media to share relevant information to your industry, showcase your business products, establish yourself/business as an expert or some mix of them all? Whatever it is, knowing your ‘why’ is an imperative first step.


2. Decide the best platforms for your business 

Use your why to inform the social media platforms you choose for your business. There are over 400 social media platforms currently active and it is impossible to be them all. What platforms do you think would be more beneficial for your business? Let’s dive into the benefits of a few: Instagram and Pinterest allow you to connect with audience on a visual and emotional level.

Google Plus helps with search engine rankings. LinkedIn is great for publicizing your company profile page or business resume. Ryze is a social network for businesses, may especially helpful for business to business (B2B) companies. Twitter, Facebook, Talkbizniw, Affluence, and Quora; the list is exhaustive.

Take time to study the benefits of each of these platforms then pick at most 3 of the those platforms for your business.

3. Develop a strategy

Wondering why 100 fashion bloggers are talking about the same shirt from a particular fashion brand at the same time? Well, it’s no coincidence. Welcome to the world of strategy – the ultimate key that unlocks opportunities for businesses.

To start, your key strategies must align with your company’s mission. While all of the elements listed below are part and parcel of doing the strategic work, it is important to understand that setting time aside to write our your overall social media strategy is a vital actionable step that stands alone.

Having a good social media strategy is essential for growth. Your strategy should include all of the elements listed below as well as data and feedback metrics. With a clear metrics for examining progress and growth, this work will be for naught.

maya-rudolph-thinking gif4. Get the timing right

Preparation + opportunity = success.

Opportunity is a function of time, and posting the right content at the right time makes a difference. On Facebook, post from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m any day for the highest average click through rate; 3 p.m. on Wednesdays is the peak time.

For Twitter, post from 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. from Monday to Thursday. The peak times for LinkedIn, Pinterest and Google Plus are 5 p.m. daily, 3 p.m. on Fridays, and 9 a.m. on Wednesdays respectively.

5. Be human

Think of developing a well rounded person as you develop your brand on social media. You must clearly articulate your mission and choose consistent brand colors, style, and tone for all of your social media accounts.

Remember to show empathy in your branding, after all, there is a person on the end of the screen.

nicki-minaj-human-being6. Know what your audience wants and give it to them

As you begin to build your followers and audience, take the time to listen to them. Study the kind of posts they react to; which posts get the most comments? Which ones get the most likes?

Which of your social media pages does your audience constantly engage on? Are they creating content and visuals related to your product that you can repost. Social listening and data collection is crucial: once you provide your audience with what they want, they’ll stick around and tell others about you.

7. Use hashtags

As distracting as they appear to you, hashtags go a long way on social media. People are constantly searching for things, and correctly hashtag-ing your posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, will put you on the radar and increase your visibility on search engines.

Use hashtags reasonably and strategically, and soon enough you’ll see the benefits.

8. Offer promotions, contests and discounts 

Everyone likes freebies in every shape and form. Giveaways, special offers, and discounts will get people to notice your brand.

Be clear on how every giveaway you host improves your business, helps you grow, or increases audience interaction and participation. In order to create a win-win situation, everything you do must also be beneficial to your brand.


9. Link back to your website

Many people forget this step: don’t forget that social media is there to help improve your business and as such, people must know where to find you off social media.

Connect everything to your website so that your followers can actually make the purchase after you’ve done the work of building the relationship and converting them to loyal fans. Don’t just add your website link to your social media profiles; share that link with your audience intermittently as reminder.

10. Stick to the plan

Finally, it is so easy to fall off on social media as a tool to grow your business if you are not consistent with steps 1-9. But there only way to win in the long run is to be consistent.

As famous entrepreneur Jim Rohn accurately described: “Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic principles”.

We would love to know – what are some social media tips that you apply to your brand?

Abai Schulze: Your initial purpose has to be strong

Abai Shulze - ZAAF Collection

Abai Schulze moved to to Addis Ababa in 2013 to start ZAAF – a company that specializes in handcrafted luxury leather handbags and accessories produced by Ethiopian artisans. The Ethiopian-American entrepreneur has been able to combine her background in economic development and love for fine arts and creativity into a successful brand. Through ZAAF, she seeks to create unique products, open up avenues of opportunity for talented local artisans, and promote brand Ethiopia.

Schulze graduated from George Washington University where she majored in Economics and minored in Fine Arts. At the core of her entrepreneurial journey, which she terms as an exciting adventure, is to be able to impact people on an individual level. She spoke to me about how she has been able to grow and market her brand.

Taking advantage of learning opportunities

Schulze, who was born in Ethiopia and adopted by an American family at age 11, remained connected to her culture. She travelled to Ethiopia during her summer breaks to do volunteer work. It was during one of these trips that she interned with USAID where she worked with artisans and designers, and helped them to create websites to market their products internationally.

This enabled her to see how businesses work in Ethiopia. Frequently visiting the country also gave her the opportunity to witness its economic transformation firsthand and ignited the desire to return in her.

Her senior thesis analyzed Ethiopia’s potential for exporting textile. “I wanted to go into that field but it didn’t make sense because the initial capital is huge and you have to have actual hands on experience,” Schulze said.

She later found out that Ethiopia has the finest leather in the world which it exports to European countries to be used as raw material by famous brands.

“I wanted to tap into that,” she said. “Why not make it at home, by our own people, add value to it, export it, and market and rebrand Ethiopia?” “That was my initial take on it,” she added.

245f7c_84bce64e62b54c219c0d9393cc7e3b33Schulze’s plan was to get some work experience in the US and go to business school before starting her own company. After graduation she interned at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and later worked at Ashoka. It was while there that she met many entrepreneurs who inspired her to start her own company.

“I changed the timeline and decided to jump in,” she said. “I told myself, ‘If it fails, I am still young, I can start over.’” She then made the physical move to Ethiopia. “You can’t do this type of business from a distance,” she said. “I had to leave everything behind and focus on ZAAF.”

Branding and marketing ZAAF

In trying to figure out how to brand and market ZAAF, Schulze kept in mind the different connotations that come with products made in Africa. “A lot of it has that NGO feeling,” she said. “The language used is often, ‘It is made by poor people. Buy it otherwise they won’t have a job.”

She wanted to reject this guilt-driven purchase angle. “I wanted to show that we are talented, we just need to invest in our own people and we can produce something beautiful,” said Schulze. “You are buying the product because you like the product, not because you are feeling guilty.”

“Otherwise you are not going to have loyal customers who come back,” she added. “If they feel like they have done their good deed of the day, then they will move on to the next company.”


Schulze and her team were careful and deliberate about the language that they used in branding the company. Its products are made by talented Ethiopian artisans who went to school to sharpen their craft.

“They are not people who you just tell to piece two items together,” she said. Working with skilled artisans also ensures that the products are high quality. “We are trying to compete with international brands,” she said. “We want people to buy based on that.” The language they use to talk about the brand reflects all this.

“Our products stand out,” said Schulze. “When we produce them, we really want our customers to feel a sense of where the products are made.” ZAAF integrates ageless geometric patterns created on traditional looms with leather.

“Talented weavers meticulously count knots to produce patterns of fantastic combination of color and style,” she said. The unique aspects of the handbags and accessories has attracted media attention. “That organic attraction has helped us grow,” she added.

Abai Schulze - ZAAF CollectionCustomer engagement is critical to the brand. They engage with customers primarily through social media. They are committed to providing excellent customer service. “If a customer is not happy with a product then we will redo it,” Schulze said. They also work to ensure that products are delivered in a timely fashion.

Another way that Schulze keeps her customers happy is by investing in her team. She creates incentives for them based on their desires and needs. “That way they are loyal and create high quality products,” she said. “When you have a high turnover of employees, you can’t be consistent and your customers won’t be happy.”

Her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs:

Your initial purpose has to be strong. You have to be passionate about what you are creating because you will face a lot of challenges over time. This passion will help you find a way to solve them. Surround yourself with people who challenge you because sometimes you will be in your own bubble and you won’t know how far you are going.

Sharon Mundia: I want a fantastic, mindblowing life

Sharon Mundia - This Is Ess

Sharon Mundia started blogging regularly three years ago, right after graduating from Monash University in South Africa with a degree in Marketing and Management. She had always had a passion for literature, even receiving a high school literary award, but practicality won out when it came to choosing an academic major.

Luckily for her, the background in marketing came in handy when she started to think of her blog, This is Ess, – which started as an online avenue for sharing little pieces of her life – as a platform on which to build her brand.

As her community of readers grew, companies sought her out to advertise their products. Initially, she would feature the free products she received from them without asking for anything in return. Blogging, however, took up time and energy.

She realized she would burnout if she couldn’t make it profitable. Her parents, who were concerned about her, gave her a time frame to figure it out. The resulting sense of urgency compelled Sharon to rethink her approach to her blog and to start viewing it as a business.

Turning the blog into a business

Sharon Mundia - This Is Ess

Sharon had to first stop accepting freebies as payment for featuring products on her blog. “Imagine Company X chose to advertise at a media house– would they tell the media house: ‘Can we give you five pairs of shoes to run this on your platform?’” she said. “They would never, so I started to think of myself as a platform for companies to share their product.”

However, she is aware that a “don’t accept freebies” policy might not work for every blogger. “It depends on where you are,” she said. “If you’re just beginning then you need some flexibility.”

She then came up with a rate card for potential clients. The card clearly spells out the cost of featuring on her blog and social media accounts. As a rule, she gives this rate card to anyone she works with – including pro-bono clients – as a way of communicating the monetary value of her work.

In order to give her site a more clean and professional look, she started working with Victor Peace, a skillful photographer who now takes most of the pictures for This is Ess. For special projects, she also partners with Corrine Munyumoo, a hairstylist, and Muthoni Njoba, a makeup artist, who both ensure that she is camera-ready.

For the most part though, This is Ess is a one woman show. Each post that successfully goes up requires a multistep process that Sharon runs on her own. First, she drafts proposals and budgets to send out to potential clients. Since This is Ess is a lifestyle and fashion blog, she approaches companies that are in those industries and that are a good fit.

Once she has received a yes from a client, it is then up to Sharon to communicate with them, organize meetings, and send invoices and post-shoot receipts. Sometimes companies approach her to work with them. She then has to assess whether the products that they are offering align with her brand.

As the creative director for the photo shoots, Sharon scouts for locations, picks themes and directs Victor Peace on the specific details she wishes to capture. After Victor has edited the pictures and selected the final ones, Sharon then adds the necessary captions or graphics, writes a piece to go with the photos and finally uploads them to This is Ess.

The entire process can take up to several days and a lot of emailing back and forth, yet the final product can be consumed by readers in less than a minute “Sometimes people think you just show up and take a picture,” she said. “But you don’t know how much time – how many emails, proposals, time for the shoot – went into making that product.”

Investing in the blog has also presented Sharon with several other opportunities. It has opened the door to endorsement deals, for example. Sharon is currently a brand ambassador for Store 66 – a Kenyan clothing store, and for the Samsung A Series.

Last year, her blogging caught the eye of Capital FM, a leading Nairobi-based radio station that was getting into online content creation. She now shoots videos and writes articles for the station.

To prioritize, Sharon divides her day into neat chunks for each activity. During her most productive morning hours she is working on content for Capital FM. Afternoons are saved for emails, planning photo shoots and attending meetings.

In the evening, she might have an interview or take photos for her blog. She doesn’t party, after discovering early on that partying on Friday night meant that she’d be recovering on Saturday morning instead of taking pictures for her blog. That is one of the sacrifices that she has to make as a mediapreneur in order to achieve her goals.