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. 


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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.

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The Art of Customer Service every business should adopt

As important as branding and advertising are, one of the most important elements of selling a product/service is customer service.

Excellent customer service puts your business ahead of the competition as it is something that is often missing from the a lot of countries, especially the Ghanaian business model.

Small businesses tend to jump straight to digital marketing or advertising without taking a moment to fully understand their business model and industry and how their product (or service), pricing, place (online store or brick & mortar store) and people (service personnel) intertwine and affect the overall brand and ROI.

In case you didn’t know, people are one of the most important aspects of the business, that is service personnel across the production line or yourself if you are running a run man show.

Customer service does not begin and end at the point of transaction and as a small business owner, you must consider the pre-purchase experience, purchase experience, and post-purchase experience

So what does this mean for your business? 

Pre-purchase experience

This refers to the experience your customer has with your brand before they decide to purchase anything. Is your website appealing? Does it have enough information to allow the customer to make an informed decision – or are your photos outdated? How is your advertising?

Are people speaking positively about your brand?

Purchase experience

This is the actual moment of transaction where you exchange the product (or service) for payment. If you run an online store, you must consider your interface – is your website easy to navigate? How does your customer pay for their purchase – do you have Mobile Money integrated? Can they use a Visa Card?

There are many services in Ghana that allow you to develop a website that allows your customers to shop online. A personal favorite is Storefoundry, it works very well for small businesses in Ghana.

If you run an actual brick & mortar store, what is the ambiance like? Is it easy for customers to locate the products in your store? Are they on high shelves and do they always need an attendant to help?

Is your store so small that your customers can only come in one at a time? Is your shop attendant interactive, willing to help and offer alternatives? Or are they constantly on their phone?

Post-purchase experience

This covers your follow-ups and interaction with the client after the transaction. Are you bombarding them with irrelevant SMS messages and emails? If you provide a delivery service, was your delivery driver dressed appropriately?

Below are practical tips you can put into action to make sure your customer service is top notch.

  • Recruitment & Training – Recruitment and training is the beginning of providing excellent customer service. Even if you are running a run man show, you need to stay up to date on customer relationship trends and train yourself to always put the customer first.  If you are hiring others to handle the customer interaction, make sure you hire people who know and understand the vision of the brand and are willing to be brand ambassadors both inside and outside the workplace. Personnel must also be conversant in the industry-speak as well as in the product itself, in order to serve as a salesperson.
Hiring the right people will allow you to build the right company culture that is well aligned with the brand Click To Tweet
  • Go the extra mile – The data you collect from your customers serve many purposes. One of the main ones is to compile a mailing list for your newsletter but another important use would be to study your customer’s purchasing habits and stay a step ahead of them all the time. Group your customers by date of birth and send out a personal message to them via text message or Whatsapp, which has become a popular medium for business communication in Ghana. Get to know your customers personally, are they parents? Do they celebrate religious holidays? Make sure to reach out to them accordingly.
Reminding customers that you have them on your mind will make them feel involved with the brand. Click To Tweet
  • Feedback is key – Receiving feedback from your customers at least once a quarter is important. Simple tools such as Google Forms or Survey Monkey are helpful for designing easy to use surveys which gives you direct feedback from your customers and clients. This way, your clients feel involved with and connected to your brand.

 

  • Appearance – You and your staff’s appearance is one of the most important elements in building a strong brand. Ensure that staff (and yourself) look the part at all times. Customers appreciate a smile and a helping hand, as difficult as it may be on some occasions.

The best way to make sure your customer service is on point is to align the pre-purchase, purchase and post-purchase experience to ensure a smooth transaction!

Go forth and provide an excellent service!

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Kukua: Changing the narrative of the Motherland with africaboutik.us

africaboutik.us is the online store of Ghanaian-German designer and fashion blogger MsK NY. Five years ago MsK started her fashion blog African Prints in Fashion (APiF) and has expanded it since to a lifestyle brand with over 350K followers worldwide.

African Prints in Fashion is focusing on exploring the Imprint of Africa/African diaspora on Fashion and Design and aims to empower by showcasing the creativity and innovation that comes from the African continent educates and changes the perception of what people perceive to be African Fashion & Design.

africaboutik.us is bringing to you a contemporary mix of modern African Fashion and Interior Design. The platform offers a curated selection of Africa-inspired fashion, fashion produced on the African continent, accessories sourced from local artisans as well as designs handmade at our home base in Brooklyn, NY.


Kukua (MsK NY)

Tell us about yourself and what is africaboutik?

My name is Kukua and I am a professional Marketer and curator. Over 5 years ago I started with my Blog African Prints in Fashion. I used to always direct readers to online stores and online platforms when they asked me “where can I find that” or “where can I buy that?”

Eventually, it felt like it would make more sense to offer a platform with products instead of always directing the traffic elsewhere. That is how africaboutik.us was born.

africaboutik is a curated platform where I sell accessories and interior design items from artisans across the continent. And yes I do ship worldwide – also to the continent.

 

Which artisans across Africa are you working with and how do you connect with them?

I am half Ghanaian, so initially, I only worked with small artisans from Ghana as I felt more comfortable engaging with them and it was easy as I was able to meet them in person whenever I visited my family, and for new relationships, it helped to have parts of my family onsite.

My longest standing relationship is with an artisan in Accra, but I am also now working with artisans and small creative hubs in Morocco, Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa and Senegal.

My key communication tool with my artisans is WhatsApp – that really works best for status updates, exchange of images etc.

Authenticity is really important to me. I don't want to sell the same thing like everyone else - @MsK_NY Click To Tweet

 

How is africaboutik changing the narrative about Africa?

The frustrating thing about many textiles and even accessories that initially are made on the African continent are that so many are now made in China.

Even if you are in Accra or Nairobi you can easily come across products made in China. At Africa-themed events in NYC, I see a lot of so-called “Made in Africa” items that are 100% made in Beijing.

My goal from the beginning was to only select and produce items that I like and that are not too common on other platforms and that is authentic.

Authenticity is really important to me. I don’t want to sell the same thing like everyone else. I like to be different and unique.  Being connected to my makers individually, I know who creates the items, I know their personal situation and they know I am a one Woman Business. We work together to make things work for both of us, and I love that.

 

Can you give an example of products you are selling and how you are involved in some of the developments?

What I produce myself is the African City Bag – a high-end canvas bag that sports African City Names. That was my very first and for a long time my only product.

I also do temporary tattoos of Adinkra Symbols and furniture like the lollipop stools. All these things are made in Brooklyn where I am based.

Besides that, I am sourcing different basket designs and accessories from Ghana, Morocco, and Tanzania. My best selling accessories come from Ghana and South Africa.

I keep on editing and adding or removing products from the store, depending on seasonal trends or things I like.

 

What’s next for africaboutik?

I am focusing more and more on interior design and want to eventually make it my sole focus. I loved the process of creating my lollipop stools, so I want to my make more like that.

Currently, I am looking for young fashion/design influencers who can help me elevate my brand. If you are one and you are reading this, holler at me!

 

Where can people learn more about africaboutik?

Follow me on Instagram, check-out my online store, and follow my blog.


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Bathsheba Bryant-Tarpeh: Young women of color have a unique perspective that should be valued, and we deserve a seat at the table

Meet WANDA Woman Bathsheba Bryant-Tarpeh, M.A., a doctoral candidate in the Department of African Studies and Research at Howard University, specializing in Public Policy and Development.

Supported by the USAID Feed the Future program and motivated by her desire to advance the well-being of communities within the black diaspora, Bathsheba performed her six-month dissertation fieldwork in northern Ghana where she focused on the gender implications of land-use change as a result of large-scale commercial agribusiness.

Despite rural African women being put forward as the main beneficiaries of policy changes that underwrite agrarian transformation, women are often left most vulnerable when commercial agri-business interests are put above the interests of smallholder farmers.

Bathsheba worked directly with local farmers, both men, and women, to provide strategies to maximize their productivity. 

 


What are you studying at Howard University?

 

I am a doctoral candidate in the Department of African Studies and Research.  My specialization is Public Policy and Development.

Why do you think this area of study is crucial to the development of your country and the African continent as a whole?

 

As an African American, I believe strongly in collaborating and forging relationships, networks, and organizational and professional work in helping to advance the lives of all peoples of African descent within the diaspora and on the African continent.

As the world continues to become more integrated, it is important that national development policies and international agendas are designed for the benefit of people on the continent. The Diaspora can play a critical role in the development of the continent and we must see this as a collective challenge.

As Black people, we cannot be fully liberated until we ensure our fellow sisters and brothers are free, from the United States to the continent, to Asia and Europe and the Caribbean. Learning from each other and building coalitions whether through business, non-profits, educational institutions, is a key strategy in the era of globalization.

Tell us about the project you worked on in Ghana. 

 

I was a U.S. Borlaug Global Food Security Fellow, a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Feed the Future Leadership Program.  As a U.S. Borlaug Fellow in Ghana, I was provided financial and institutional support for my six-month dissertation fieldwork.

I am really interested in how the advanced global economy and international policies impact the livelihoods of rural, agrarian communities, especially for women and their families.  This is an incredibly important topic because women play such a significant role in providing food and managing the nutritional needs of her family.

My project focused on the gender implications of land-use change as a result of large-scale commercial agribusiness. I conducted a focused ethnographic case study on Dagomba communities in northern Ghana that were affected by the biofuel industry collapse in the country.

I am really interested in bringing the experiences of the women and men to the fore and how they are adapting to changes in their environment and the implications on their food and nutrition security.   

Often times during agrarian transformation, women are more vulnerable to losing access to land within societies that are already discriminatory against women with respect to land-use rights.  Additionally, the large-scale agribusiness, in this case, was destructive to the environment, damaged the soils through use of harsh chemicals and pesticides, and deforested vital trees like the Shea tree and Dawa Dawa tree.

These trees are significant culturally and also economically and nutritionally as products derived from these trees are a great source of income for women and provide nutritional and medicinal benefits to the communities in which I worked.

What did your experience in Ghana teach you? 

Being in Ghana was my first time on the African Continent.  As a woman of African descent, being in Ghana was one of the most exciting, meaningful, and transformative experiences of my life.

The beauty of the country and the warmth and hospitality of Ghanaians and the friendships I made was such an incredible part of my time in Ghana.  Visiting Cape Coast and Elmina Slave Castles and the Pikworo Slave Camp in the Upper East Region, near Burkina Faso allowed me to learn about the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade from the African context and it helped me connect the dots, so to speak, about our history and was one of the most memorable parts of my trip.

On a personal level, it made me want even more to discover my roots through genetic testing.

Academically, through my collaboration with other students and researchers in the country and most importantly, my work in the villages, I learned that I truly want to work in the arena of helping to improve the lives and welfare of vulnerable communities.

What intrigues you the most about the people you have met and supported through your work?

 

What intrigues me most about the community members in the villages in which I worked was the sincere level of gratitude shown toward me.

The communities were very much aware of their challenges and were so open to sharing their experiences with me and together we devised ways to improve their livelihoods in the short-term through creating farmer’s groups.

This was not an initial plan but evolved, as a response to community needs. I was able to provide informational sessions to communities, both women and men’s groups, on how to register their farming groups and provided strategies to maximize their productivity, how to get technical training from the local agricultural extension and gain support from the local assemblies for community needs.

My personal experience and Key lessons learned from job hunting in Ghana

I wear 2 caps – Beauty Blogger and Marketing /PR Professional. In this article, I would like to put on my corporate hat and share a few key lessons I learned about job hunting in Ghana since I recently started at a new position at a Reputation Management Agency.

 


I completed my Master’s degree in the UK (MSc Marketing, Distinction) in September 2016 and graduated in January 2017. I returned to Ghana in September 2016 and did not find a job until April 2017, almost 6 months later.

Afterwards, I took a well-deserved break from September 2016 – November 2016 and took the time to catch up with friends and family I had neglected during my intensive 1-year programme.

In November, I began to send out emails to some of my past professional contacts and networks to let them know I was back in town and looking for a job.

 

Most of the responses I got were “No one is really hiring at this time of the year, it will be better to start in the New Year.” So I slowed down in December / early January / until I returned from my graduation and then I switched gears at the end of January.

I sent my CV and cover letter to any and everyone I knew in the industry and signed up and with some recruitment agencies.The most important point for me was that I did not want to get hired because of nepotism or as a favor. I wanted my CV and experience to speak for itself so that whoever was going to hire me would really see the value I would be bringing to the table.

Figure out what career path you would like to take based on your personality, interests, likes and dislikes Click To Tweet

I went for a few interviews, but none of the positions sparked the interest I knew I needed in order to be happy with the job. Long story short, one of the professional contacts I got in touch with responded and let me know there was availability and the rest is history.

 

Here are 10 key lessons I have learned during the 6 months I was job hunting in Ghana:

1.  You will be ignored and rejected

You will receive various emails saying – “I regret to inform you that your qualifications do not match our requirements at this time”.

Do not let this get to you, continue to prepare for individual jobs/interviews, make sure you know your strong points and are selling them to each company in the appropriate manner.

2. Experience matters

As much as you can, do not leave too many gaps in your CV as this puts many employers off. Try as much as possible to list your experience chronologically and continue to reiterate it in interviews. Sometimes, experience trumps qualifications

3. Figure out your Unique Selling Point

Figure out what your strengths are and when you have been able to apply them during your career. Focus on these points during your interview. Try not to be a jack of all trades, pick a few skills you have and build on them

4. CV matters

Your CV is the first impression your potential employer has of you, make sure to wow them. Keep the CV short and simple, with bullet points and short, sharp quantifiable experience.

5. You might start at the bottom

In Ghana, it is very difficult to start a job at the position you think reflects your qualification and experience. Be patient, give each challenge your all and you will be able to rise through the ranks quickly!

It is especially important that you let your potential employer know that you are looking to be promoted within 6 months during the later stages of your interviews so they are aware that you are willing to work hard. Don’t confuse starting at the bottom with starting with a completely different job in a different department.

The best example I can give for this would be starting as an Account Executive at an agency when you should actually be an Account Manager

6. Have patience and humility

During the time of your hunt, you are going to need to be extremely patient with yourself, with your potential employers and even with your friends and family who may be pressurizing you to look into other industries / other positions.

Stick with your goals and continue to work towards what you think is best for you

7. Keep an open mind

This is related to points 5 & 6 – keep an open mind with regards to different positions you might enjoy, timelines for hiring and even salaries. You might need to be a bit flexible in the first few months to ensure you get a position you enjoy

8. Connections and networks are important

These are not necessarily personal connections but it is advisable to attend industry events in order to generate strong networks you can fall back on when it comes to time to look for a job. Don’t ignore the power of LinkedIn!

9. You will be pressurized

You will definitely start feeling pressurized by your family/friends and even by yourself especially if it is taking a while to get a job. Stand firm in your beliefs and continue to re-evaluate your choices, keeping your goals in mind

10. Qualifications don’t always matter

Sometimes, your qualifications don’t always matter. You will see people in your position or higher who don’t have the same qualifications as you. That is fine as your education opens up your mind and allows you to think of solutions in different ways.

These qualifications may not necessarily matter on paper but they open your mind up beyond what it would have been able to process before you got the degree

My personal advice is to figure out what career path you would like to take based on your personality, your interests, your likes and dislikes and then find a position that is best suited for you.

It may not be a perfect fit but if it ticks 8 out of 10 boxes, then it’s a good fit. Stand firm in your choices; do not get swayed by others who may not necessarily know what your end goal might be.

Resources to check out for job hunting in Ghana

  • Linkedin
  • Jobberman.com.gh
  • African Bagg Recruitment

What key lessons have you learned from job hunting in your country? Share your experience with us here.

In conversation with creative agency JamJar about their website relaunch

JamJar was created in 2013 out of frustration with the way corporate and creative events were organised in Ghana. Many events felt poorly organised and were identical. As a result JamJars’ founding partner, Frances Quarcoopome, found the need to put her skills to work and provide the industry with a creative alternative.

JamJar continues to be recognised for its innovative and forward thinking design concepts and exceptional event planning services.

Their vision is to be the top African creative agency, fueled with passion, innovation and the desire to make every client happy.  


Tell us about Jam Jar

JamJar is a creative agency dedicated to providing clients across Africa with innovative, affordable and locally relevant concepts in events, design and pr.

You recently decided to rebrand and relaunch your website, why?

Our website got hacked. Although this was unfortunate, we saw it as an opportunity to review the layout of our website and the elements which needed to improve; and making sure potential clients have all the information they need.

 

Key steps to rebranding and relaunching a website

  1.  Assess what you want to achieve/ goals
  2. Ensure that your website development team is on board and understands your vision
  3. Decide on your layout
  4. Create or gather all the relevant content
  5. Proof read it,
  6. and send it to your development team
  7. Launch a demo site to see how everything looks
  8. Eliminate any kinks
  9. Make any changes necessary and then you’re good to go.

 

Why do organisations need to rebrand or relaunch?

I think it’s really important for organisations to rebrand or relaunch because it gives them an opportunity to reach a new audience; and to also look at how far they’ve come, and to ensure that this is reflected in the company branding and website.

Our main goal was to make it much easier for potential clients and partners to look through our portfolio and understand who we are as an agency. Hopefully creating a good enough impression that they want to hire us.

 

What tips do you have for someone looking to relaunch their website?

(1) Make sure you give yourself a deadline; (2) that your content is organized; (3) your images are high quality; (4) and remember to have fun.

 

You need a team that can provide you with all the support to make those things come to life. Our A-team is Ronin Africa. They’ve supported us from the beginning; they understand our vision as JamJar and allow us to be creative. They are flexible and open to new ideas; therefore we can create something truly unique to JamJar.

 

What goals do you aim to achieve through your website?

With our new website we hope to reach new clients, particularly international clients. We also want to provide our existing clients with a reference point, and to use our blog to share knowledge and events.

 

How has your new website positively impacted business?

So far the website has allowed us to confidently market our services, knowing our product is represented clearly. Our plans are to expand to the rest of Africa in the next 5 years, and the website provides a great launch pad for accessing these markets. It also ensures that we keep ourselves dynamic and fresh.

 

Website: jamjargh.com

Instagram: @jamjargh


Do you have an insightful story to share about your company rebrand/relaunch?

Let us know here.

Facebook Live chat with Anita Ottenhof: How I built a world class hospitality business(Aug 23)

It’s certain that one thing that can make or break your business, is your approach to customer service.

Gone are the days of saying “This is Africa” as an excuse to mediocre and bad service delivery. It’s all over Jackie.

 Join us for a Facebook Live discussion on Wednesday, Aug 23rd, with hospitality and customer service expert –  Anita Ottenhof, who will teach you how excellent customer service can help you build a world class hospitality business.

Learn how to build a world class hospitality business with excellent customer service(Aug. 23) Click To Tweet

Anita Ottenhof operates a luxury boutique hotel in Ghana –  Villa Monticello which has a 100% female management team and has recently been nominated by the World Travel Awards in the category of Africa’s Leading Boutique Hotel.

Being in operation for  6 six years now, Anita wants to prove to the world that excellence can be achieved in Africa by an African woman.

Register below to join this session and ask Anita all your pressing questions.

Some of the topics we’ll cover

  • Breaking into the Hospitality Industry
  • How customer service can make or break your business
  • Training your staff to be customer service champions
  • 5 steps to having a customer service focused culture

Facebook Live Details:

Date: Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

Time: Accra 1 pm // Lagos 2 pm // Joburg 3 pm

Where: facebook.com/sheleadsafrica/

Watch video here:

How excellent customer service can help you build a world clas…

She Leads Africa Facebook Live with Anita Ottenhof ( Senior Guest Relations Manager) – Villa Monticello. How I build a world class hospitality business. Join the She Leads Africa community by visiting SheLeadsAfrica.org/join

Posted by She Leads Africa on Wednesday, August 23, 2017

About Anita

With almost ten years of extensive experience in the hospitality and travel industry within Europe and Africa,  beginning  her career in Amsterdam with KLM, Flying Blue, Anita Ottenhof has a natural flair and passion for exceptional customer service, and for the past three years has been a part of the management team at Ghana’s premier luxury boutique hotel Villa Monticello.

Stemming from a credible background, she holds a degree in Travel and Hospitality Management from ROC College Leiden- Netherlands and a certificate for strategic marketing for hotels and restaurants from the Cornell Hospitality School in Ithaca, New York.

Having completed first class training at Africa’s leading boutique hotel – “The Saxon” and various hotels within the continent, Anita is well equipped to take on a challenge.  She is an innovative and versatile professional with excellent interpersonal skills and a drive for consistency with an eye for detail.

With a profound understanding of the hospitality industry, Anita foresees the need and acquirement for quality-trained hospitality personnel’s within Africa.

She is currently studying a HR course at the International Hotel School in Johannesburg, which will enable her to facilitate programs that will support the Human Resource division in her industry.

Evita Joseph Asare: Being a mechanical engineer gave me the confidence to start a makeup business

evita joseph asare
The story of Evita Joseph Beauty Store begins with the story of Evita a mechanical engineer Click To Tweet Having received two awards as a pacesetter in online retailing of makeup products, the Evita Joseph Beauty Store continues to gain recognition in the Ghanaian beauty industry.

The story of the brand begins with the story of Evita Joseph Asare, an erstwhile mechanical engineer whose one visit to Paris changed the course of her life. Starting from an engineering class of only 4 women in a class size of 126, Evita has channeled her passion for designing and building machinery to designing and producing makeup products to enhance the modern woman.

SLA contributor, Emma Kwenu Smith, caught up with the CEO of EJ Makeup, Evita Joseph Asare, to share her business journey and some of the significant milestones all SLAyers can learn from.

­


Mixing Mechanical Engineering and Makeup – how did the journey begin?

As an active member of Women in Engineering (WINE), I got the opportunity to attend a 6 weeks course in France. There, I got indoctrinated into the world of beauty and makeup. My first experience with makeup was in a MAC Store where I was told I needed a concealer.

Upon arrival to Ghana, I jokingly told all my colleagues in the office they needed concealers too. That trip gave me access to products and since, I have always been complimented on how I wear my makeup. Gradually, it dawned on me that this was a good opportunity to challenge myself to create a sustainable business in the beauty industry.

I got some books from Bobbi Brown and Kevin Aucoin and I enrolled in a beauty school during my maternity leave. Right after, EJ Makeup was born.

Additionally, what would you say is the innovative idea behind Evita Joseph Makeup?

Our vision is to provide world-class beauty and makeup product that flatters the women of color, boosting their confidence to stand up and stand out.

I started a blog to share my looks, products review and others. Through my blog, I was able to establish trust among my readers. Many people asked for product recommendation and these products were difficult to find locally, so I started my online beauty store – EJ Beauty Store.

We focus on products that flatter skin tones and yet, are basic to work with. Most of the products are made for professionals, so we make sure that our products are easily available, are of good quality and also are competitively priced.

In 2014 and in 2016, we won the Best Beauty Retail Store in Ghana- Evita Joseph Asare Click To Tweet

How has your engineering background played a part in managing the Evita Joseph business?

Engineering has dared me to be stronger– it gave me the confidence to try new things outside my scope. Looking at our past, engineering was not the forte of women. Gradually, we are bridging that disparity, but for a woman like me who found herself then in a male dominated industry, I was inspired and challenged to do more. And that has not changed.

Through engineering, I have learnt to take up the daunting duties and I’m able to contextualize the tools of my profession. From conceptual product development stages to the production stage, I now understand the process of building and re-engineering concepts to meet customer needs.

What skills do you draw from your background as useful in managing the EJ business?

Critical thinking and analysis are the bedrock of every engineer. Since starting EJ Makeup, it has proved to be a very relevant skill.

Also, contrary to popular opinion, engineers are also tasked with marketing their design ideas to stakeholders. With this background, my marketing, communication and networking skills have been honed since I have to convince others that EJ Store is the go-to place for all your makeup needs.

How has the makeup space transformed over the years and what is the future of makeup and the beauty industry in Ghana and also globally?

Globally, makeup is booming and Ghana is no exception. Every day, I wake up to a new social media page for a makeup artist in Ghana. The industry is growing and getting more competitive. MUAs of today are highly educated individuals -some having BSc and Masters degrees. The industry is no more for the less educated as it used to be.

The future of makeup in Ghana is both promising and threatening. It provides a market for beauty brands like Evita Joseph who retail original local brands globally and strategically research, design and manufacture suitable products.

Conversely, the challenge that we face is in controlling the influx of fake beauty products on the market aimed at taking advantage of vulnerable and unsuspecting users.

The beauty industry is thriving, and many are being enticed to jump in and make money off this trend. What pointers will you give anyone who also wants to enter the industry?

Well, start by having a mission and vision– it gives you a direction. Also, too many of us jump into a business without doing due diligence, so do your market research and do it well.

This can be as simple as knowing your targeted clients or as complicated as understanding the very ingredients that are not suitable for specific skin types- the last thing you would want on your hands is using ingredients that are damaging to people’s faces. Remember to always leave room for feedback, this is how you will grow.

Finally, do not worry about starting small- good things take time- Evita Joseph Asare Click To Tweet

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

Yvonne Amankwah: There is less consideration for Special people in recruitment

A lot of organizations in Ghana prefer to work with able-bodied individuals Click To Tweet

Yvonne Amankwah is a young leader passionate about her contributions to societal issues and education for the less privileged. What struck SLA contributor Ugochi Obidiegwu most about her business is the fact that Yvonne made a conscious decision to involve people living with disabilities.

This is something a lot of people do not consciously think about.


Tell us about your educational background

I am blessed to have practical experience in corporate work, communication and societal development works which enable me to effectively contribute to solving problems. I had the opportunity to learn and develop my leadership skills from President Obama’s YALI initiative Nigeria cohort-1 and my engagements as the ex-president of Enactus Radford University College chapter broadened my scope.

Recently, I completed my basic knowledge in Deutsch at Goethe Institute. I also hold a first degree BSc in Business Administration where I majored in human resource. During my degree program, I successfully combined my studies with work, showing I could to be self-motivated, organized, capable of working independently and able to utilize my skills and abilities effectively.

Why did you choose to work with Special staff?

90 percent of the time, when there is an employment opportunity the last people we look at employing are people with disabilities. A lot of organizations in Ghana prefer to work with able-bodied individuals whereas there is less consideration for the Special people.

This is what motivated me to carve my niche by working with people with disability. I feel they can be powerful when empowered to do more for themselves. I am deeply committed to training people with disabilities giving them an opportunity to better their lives.

How do you communicate to ensure your desired business goals are achieved?

The importance of communication cannot be overstated therefore it’s one of the ways business goals can be achieved. For the speech and hearing impaired we provide a note taker, a sign language interpreter, written materials or printed scripts.

In some situations, we keep paper on hand so the person can write out words that staff cannot understand. Besides, we use training videos which is very useful where interpretations may not be available.

What led you to start your own business?

A few years ago, I learnt an important lesson from my entrepreneurship lecturer back in college, Mr. Alan Dwomoh Sarpong which earned him the place as my mentor. He told me his secret to success was “looking at each day as a new opportunity to be your very best. Set high goals, be honest, never say no, and work with people who share your passion for doing their best”.

My mentor's secret to success is looking at each day as a new opportunity to be your best Click To Tweet

Since then I injected this advice into my life as I try to live up to it every day. This was the realization of my dream that I could impact the lives of people by my handiwork. As the CEO of a new startup Vons Brands Limited, a detergent manufacturing company where we produce liquid soaps and home cleaning detergents, I find it important to teach others this trade so they can benefit from it.

I really love what I do and I try to surround myself with people who share similar interest. I thrive on this type of environment.

What are the challenges you have encountered in the course of doing business?

I believe entrepreneurship is much broader than creation of business, I define it as a mindset and a way of thinking and acting it but that notwithstanding, challenges are inevitable. I have many but I work hard to overcome them.

Finances, high-priced raw materials, distribution are just a few of the challenges but have managed to overcome them. I have a practical approach to problem-solving and a drive to see things through to completion.

One of my keys to thriving in my space is to learn from the failures of others by having the humility to learn from their mistakes. It has always led me to success. The dark side of being an entrepreneur can never be skipped, but there is always a way to survive the harsh realities of entrepreneurship. One has to learn to live with risk and always be ready to improve by challenging the usual.

Entrepreneurship is broader than creation of business, I define it as a mindset Click To Tweet

Do you think the business environment is favourable to African young women?

The business environment is favourable to African women entrepreneurs who become the voices of change despite the challenges. These barriers can be broken through thought leadership. It’s time to fight the challenges to enhance our contribution to development in Africa.

At first, it’s difficult to break through but with time and consistency, you thrive in the business environment. There are a lot of opportunities for women to explore and be successful at, they should not be discouraged by the physical obstacles they see. They should rather feel empowered to overcome any challenge that sets in on their journey to success.

What would you advise a young woman who wants to start a business but is paralyzed by fear?

Fear is weakness! It cripples your ability to explore and be successful. Being bold is a new era. Get that weakness out of your mind and spirit. It only exists when you allow it into your thoughts.

Success and fear are enemies so you should always choose one side. Never be with the losing team which is fear. Get out of your closet, go out and make things happen because you can. The environment for women in entrepreneurship is great against all odds and this is the redefined power given to us women.

Women don’t lack confidence, don’t be paralyzed by fear it’s our to turn elevate our generation!


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