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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

I eventually won the competition and hence my career began.

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

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

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

Tell us about how you got your modeling debut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Patience
  • Resilience
  • Communication
  • Adaptability

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

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

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

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

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

And to pursue modeling, be yourself!

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your morning ritual?

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

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

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

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

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

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


 Interested in contributing for She Leads Africa? Click here.

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

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

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

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

But was survival enough of an achievement?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Interested in contributing for She Leads Africa? Click here.

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!

Hair Flip GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

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

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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.

Ethel Cofie: Share your knowledge, inspire others

Ethel Cofie
I have always loved the idea that technology can allow you to create - Ethel Cofie Click To Tweet

When Ethel was 18 years old her father sent her to computer diploma class, so she would keep busy. There, one of the lecturers made a life-changing statement to Ethel, “the computer is dumb and the computer is only as smart as the one who writes its logic”.

That simple line led to Ethel choosing to do a degree in computer science and then a master’s degree in Distributed System on scholarship in the UK (the only female in her specialization).

Ethel made her first attempt at entrepreneurship with a software firm in her Ghana which failed. Because she was self-funded, Ethel lost her savings in the process. Not daunted, Ethel went back to full-time employment across Ghana, and Nigeria, Sierra Leone building innovative technology or managing teams that build innovative tech.

She eventually found her way back into entrepreneurship and is now an award-winning entrepreneur. Her software company EDEL Technology Consulting won the IT Consulting Firm of the Year, as adjudged by the Ghana Telecom and IT Industry. In the last few years, Ethel Cofie has gone from being named one of the top 5 women influencing technology by the Mail and Guardian (South Africa) to winning the Most Influential African Woman in Business and Government: ICT Category by CEO Global.


How did you get the idea/concept of EDEL Technology?

As I sat through my first programming class, I thought, the computer is only as smart as the one who writes its logic, and I’m smart so why can’t I? I had just signed up to my first computer training class after my secondary education.

It was all new and exciting for me –learning about computers. This first lesson revolutionalised my life and the way I felt about computers. It’s one of those aha! moments of my life. After 6 months of the computer training course, I decided that a career in computing was what I wanted; I, therefore, applied to Valley View University to pursue a BSc course in Computer science.

I have always loved the idea that technology can allow you to create and make drastic changes in industries in technology. So I knew I was always going to become an entrepreneur.

In my mind, I was going to build an organization around technology. I chose to focus on building an IT Strategy and Consulting company so I can strategically work with companies to build new revenue streams and make them more efficient.

What has been your biggest hurdle so far?

In business, there are challenges– times you feel like giving up. Times you feel you made a mistake. Like all entrepreneurs, the biggest challenge is the self-doubt, and also the negativity from people you think should support you.

The story is no different from mine. Leaving a lucrative corporate job to start my own business was a challenge.

After failing the first time round, Ethel Cofie went on to be an award-winning enrepreneur Click To Tweet

Has there ever been a time when you thought of giving up? What kept you going?

I left my lucrative job and very comfortable life in London and returned to Ghana with the intention of starting a Software Business of my own (EDEL Technology Consulting). I told nobody about it. Not even my parents, because considering that they were the typical African parents, I knew they would object. They only got to know of my intentions after I had shipped all my belongings and arrived in Ghana.

Everybody thought I was insane. And guess what, I failed completely at my first attempt. A lot of my working life was spent in the United Kingdom, where people understood technology. However, I painfully came to understand what it meant to build technology in Ghana, where at the time most people did not understand what it meant. You can just imagine what my parents and people said at the time.

The blow was overwhelming because I had spent all my savings on this new adventure. But I didn’t let this deter my vision. I plodded on, mastered courage and took on a few jobs, did a lot of projects and started EDEL Technology consulting version 2 and I am glad to report that the second version has grown to the point where we have clients not only in Ghana but in the United Kingdom.

What is your favourite thing about the tech industry?

I love the ability to create and change industries and change how businesses use technology to solve business challenges.

This is why I love technology –we can change how the world works.

Ethel Cofie: This is why I love technology –we can change how the world works. Click To Tweet

As one of the top 5 women influencing IT in Africa, to what do you attribute your success?

I’m always learning and sharing. I’ve found that nothing is more rewarding than learning new things, and this has always been my mantra. You cannot over-learn.

Another thing is also to share. Share your knowledge, inspire others, hence my fixation with getting more girls into tech. I also believe that to be successful, one must maximize their opportunities and believe in the purpose for which was born.

Which season is the toughest for your job? How do you overcome this?

We work with businesses so our seasons are based on general economic trends. We provide solutions to businesses so when business is booming, our services are also in high demand.


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

Nana Ama Agyemang Asante: Women journalists endure misogyny, sexism and general disrespect in their line of duty

I've been called ugly, angry and disrespectful because I shared my view on a national conversation Click To Tweet

It’s a busy Monday morning. You are stuck in the horrid traffic on your work commute to the country’s capital, Accra, silently cursing yourself for not having left home earlier.

You refuse to let the sun’s heat, drivers’ honkings, and conductor’s arrogance get to you. You know you need your daily dose of whatever seems to be happening in the nation so you tune into the one station where it all makes sense; Citi FM.

As usual, there’s a lively discussion. There are three male voices and the one female voice. Her voice quite strident but just right. Her tone is firm and her take on the issue is different and outrightly expressed, occasionally warranting an interjection from the host. Yet she stands her ground. Unwavering. She’s the lone wolf. Unpopular yet resolute.

Fellow SLAyers, let me introduce you to Nana Ama Agyemang Asante, Deputy Online Editor at Citi FM, one of Ghana’s top radio stations. With a solid background in human right activism and broadcast journalism, Nana Ama continuously remains a strong female voice, relentlessly advocating for the cause of women, children and the underprivileged. She shared her life story and musings with SLA contributor Emma Kwenu Smith.


Growing up, have you always wanted to be a journalist and why?

Not really. My aim was to become a writer and a lawyer. A lawyer because my father decided that law was where my love for reading would be useful. I didn’t really care for law, but again, my dad said writers always ended up broke so combining law and writing was the compromise.

I stumbled into journalism when I started listening to Matilda Asante, who was an anchor at Joy FM. I wanted to be able to query officials without fear or favour like she did.

People argue that female journalists endure more compared to their male counterparts. There are issues of misogyny, sexism and being constantly intimidated.  Have you had any such experiences and how do you manage this?

There is no debating this. There are men constantly hitting on you because you need an interview or information, colleagues who think they are smarter because they are men and officials who will give information to only male journalists because they are considered more serious.

To be an outspoken woman journalist for me worsens it all because our Ghanaian culture requires women to be deferential at all times, to be seen but not heard. And so being on radio dispensing opinion, sometimes very harsh commentary on the powerful and privileged annoys many.

The abuse is intense on social media where people can troll you for days. It’s hard to understand because I believe I must have a seat at the table, to provide a woman’s perspective on issues. I try not to let it get to me, especially the personal attacks that focus on my looks. I own a mirror, I know I’m fabulous.

For some days, the intensity is unbearable especially when I think that my male colleagues do not get attacked for their looks. Sometimes I respond, other times I ignore people. I’ve noticed, nothing offends many internet trolls more than being ignored. So I am mastering indifference.

You have developed a strong character on the Citi Breakfast Show as a staunch feminist. Have you always been this way, and what was the pivotal point for you?

I’m not sure there has been a pivotal point, I have always been opinionated -a rebel of sorts. I suppose this is because my dad insisted on hearing our opinions on issues even if he disagreed.  I haven’t always identified as feminist, though I believe I was one even when I didn’t know the language and the label.

When I came across the label in Women and Development class in University, it wasn’t cool to call oneself a feminist. It was what boys called you for being stubborn, and I did care about likability so I didn’t call myself feminist for a long time. But through it all, I had my opinions and I’ll challenge sexist notions of women.

I think my dad is the reason I became a feminist. He had eight daughters, it was important for him to raise us to be independent women. So he went through, sometimes extreme measures to make sure we studied, taught us the needed skills to make it with or without partners. I suspect the reason I come across on the Citi Breakfast Show as a staunch feminist (which I am) is that radio amplifies what I say.

Your blog continuously explores the flaws in how the Ghanaian society (and by extension, Africa) poorly handles issues relating to women. How do you envisage an egalitarian society with regards to gender and sex?

Well, again, I’m not sure an egalitarian society is possible, at least not in my lifetime but if we could make it happen, that would be a place where women are seen as equal human beings and have access to the opportunities and privileges available to men.

Which means, our bodies and sexual choices would not be policed. In that society, men wouldn’t have to embody the toxic masculinity that harms them and us.

If you could, what are some of the current journalism practices in Ghana that you would like to change?

Journalists are overworked and underpaid, if I could, I would advocate for better working conditions and scrap the practice of paying “soli”.

I really think “soli”, which is this practice where newsmakers and event organizers pay journalists who attend their events or interview them, is not good for the industry.

Stories get skewed/buried if someone’s meals depends on the benevolence of news-makers. Click To Tweet

What can women journalists do differently to enhance the cause of women empowerment in Africa?

Women’s voices are often missing from news stories, even former dominant voices are being erased.

I believe it is up to all journalists, especially women journalists to take note and make sure, we include women voices in the stories we tell. And we must always provide the feminine perspective when we can to create balance and also to ensure inclusion.

Stories of women and girls that are often neglected must be emphasized. Click To Tweet

Who/what inspires you?

Too many people and too many things. All the rebellious Ghanaian women like Prof. Ama Ata Aidoo who courageously told many truths about us are always a source of inspiration.

Who are your favorite African bloggers?

I have so many favorites. Minna Salami of Msafropolitan because of her coverage of feminism. Nana Darkoa Sekyiama and all the women who blog on adventures.com are a delight.

I do love the work Cosmic Yoruba does on her blog and websites. To understand economics, I go to Jerome Kuseh. And even though she doesn’t blog often, kinnareads.com is my go-to site for everything on books.


Watch Nana Ama in the March against Misogyny

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