HGCP 2022 Participants: Bolanle is tailoring African Fashion with love and pride

Sometimes the most extraordinary things are birthed from tragedy. On this edition we feature a doctor who is taking the love and pride of Africa fashion to the world.

After Bolanle John Emaimo had a bike accident that fractured her left leg and caused her to be bedridden for 4 months, she used this tragic period in her life to immerse herself in art. She began by doing scribblings to crayons to watercolour pencils to digital paintings on Procreate.

“The legacy I would want to leave in this world is that I am the girl who dreamed of it, worked towards it and became all that she wanted to be.” –  Bolanle John Emaimo

She then moved to making beautiful designs which she was then advised to place on T-Shirts and that’s how her fashion brand came to life.

Bolanle is the founder of Africa Arise Clothing Line and one of the 20 female finalists’ part of the High Growth Coaching Program. We had a chat with her, and this is the story of her entrepreneurial journey with tips on how you can be a better businessperson.

Give us a bit of background about yourself, where are you from and how you came to be the person you are today?

Growing up in a Yoruba and Efik home, I remember that I avoided and despised anything traditional cloth that was made or bought for me. I preferred the English clothes because I felt they looked more stylish and creative.

I was someone who always had an eye for fashion since I was young, but I didn’t just believe our African wears were stylish enough maybe due to the colour of fabric chosen then or the combination or the style it was designed into.

My mindset went through a major reset and a good reformation when I went abroad. While abroad (Take Russia for example where there was Racism), being African and proud was more than a necessity, it became my identity.

I identified with our culture more and valued our African textiles. The way I saw how our textiles stood out and told a great story of our identity as colourful, joyful people and also seeing European people take pride in our African clothing made me value it more.

What is your favourite aspect about being a fashion entrepreneur?

Being able to create that which I have been ruminating on my mind, representing Africa using our African textiles and changing the narrative about African Fashion.

Tell us more about your business

Africa Arise Clothing Line is a Pan-African Fashion clothing line with the aim to deliver the most artistic, creative and Afrocentric fashion pieces that will make you strut into any room with Confidence as you take pride in our African clothing.

What’s been the most crucial thing you’ve done to grow your business?

Opened myself to challenges, stepped out of my comfort zone and became part of this year’s HGCP training program.

What has your experience been like as one of the finalists to the program?

It’s been awesome – I live my life daily with a focused purpose. It’s been an intentional moment of growth for me personally and for my business.


By the end of the 12 weeks with HGCP, what would you like to have learned from the trainers and coaches? 

How to delegate tasks and how to inspire other people.

How do you stay focused and productive every day?

I always put the end result before my eyes. Whenever I lose focus or want to give up, I remember the end goal which I am driving at and keep pushing


What’s the best advice you have received in business that you wish to pass on to our community?

Stop procrastinating and just start right now.

What are some of the things you think new entrepreneurs should invest in to grow their businesses? 

It’s important to learn new skills. Be willing to always develop, read books about business and marketing. Put yourself out there and network with other entrepreneurs – online and offline.

What is that one thing you would like to be remembered for and what is the legacy you want to leave behind?  

I would like to be remembered as an African woman who represented Africa both locally and globally. One who influenced many other Africans to love Africa and take pride in being African.
I would love to use Fashion as a means to achieve that. 

The legacy I would want to leave in this world is that I am the girl who dreamed of it, worked towards it and became all that she wanted to be.



HGCP 2022 Participants: Labake is a self-made entrepreneur with so much hope for Africa

While many have lost hope, Labake believes in the future of Africa. She believes without a doubt that Africa can be a self-sufficient thriving continent. 

“I am also motivated by my future self. I have a clear picture of who Labake in the future is, and I am working to become her. “


This is exactly what makes Labake an entrepreneur to watch out for. She Leads Africa sat down with the Founder of AR Initiative to learn about her and her business. 


What led you to taking the first step and setting up your own business? 

I had no desire to run a business growing up. I was always passionate about development and thought I would effect change through the traditional corporate route. However, when I moved to Nigeria and was looking for opportunities in responsible business, I found that there was a gap in the market – corporate responsibility was thought of in more philanthropic terms; building a school etc. While that is great and has an impact, I was more concerned about their responsibilities across their valuation and how they think about the environmental and social impact of their business activities. 


This led me to start The AR Initiative, where for the first 2 years I freelanced and worked to understand businesses and their view of corporate responsibility. Over the last year, i pivoted to the start-up ecosystem because I found that transformative change is easier and possibly more effective in growing businesses. Also, that no one is catering to and measuring the ESG impacts of this fast-growing industry. So, The AR Initiative does this – we work with the start-up ecosystem to make as positive an impact as possible on people, profit and planet. 


Introduce your company the way you would to a potential customer? 

The AR Initiative is a pioneering, data-driven, product consultancy that helps start-ups, venture funds, private equity and impact investors to measure, analyse, and report on their ESG performance metrics. We work with startups to develop sustainability reports and help with investor readiness, and we help investors deploy capital effectively and manage their sustainability compliance.


That is really impressive! Tell us a bit about your background?

I was born and raised in Lagos, where I lived until i graduated secondary school. Over the next 14 years, I studied and worked across Europe and the United States. I earned a double honours degree from the University of Massachusetts, Boston and a masters from The Graduate Institute in Geneva. 


Growing up, I was always inspired by travel. I took every opportunity that would allow me to travel to a new place and meet new people. Having the opportunity to learn from other societies and cultures fed my curiosity and spurred my entrepreneurial journey. I was inspired by the systems and institutions in similar countries and more developed countries and kept asking “why not in my home country?” So, I started The AR Initiative to improve development outcomes for Africans by engaging the private sector. I am deeply interested in the human experience and working to make it as meaningful as possible. 


What was your dream job or career path when growing up?

I wanted to be Kofi Annan growing up! I still would like to be. I had the honour of meeting him as graduate student in Geneva and he’s every bit as inspiring in person.

Hahaa!!! Kofi Annan is a legend! Quite a big dream for a little girl…love it.

So, if you had the opportunity to go back in time to talk to your 15-year-old self, what advice or tips would you give them? 

I would tell my 15-year-old self to breathe and trust the journey. I always wanted to accelerate the journey – be an ‘adult’. But as I’ve grown, I realised the magic is in the journey so learning to savour the experience – both the good and the bad.


What do you get up to when you are not working? What do you do to have fun, relax and unwind? 

I love to read, spend time in nature -hiking, long walks, and travel!


Tell us about the legacy you want to leave in this world? What you would to be remembered for? 

I would love to be remembered for changing the business view in Africa to a triple bottom line – planet, people, profit. Currently, most businesses prioritise profit above all else. I hope to effectively alter the business landscape to prioritise impact on the environment and people as much as making a profit.


Now let’s talk a bit more about the AR Initiative, what is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?

There are a few things, but i think owning my time and creating a job that i couldn’t find in the market.


What’s the best advice you have received in business that you wish to pass on to our community?

Build up your social capital and make it count. Building a strong network and the ability to leverage it is crucial.


What entrepreneurial tricks have you discovered to keep you focused and productive in your day-to-day busy schedule?

Limiting distractions. Throughout the workday, I often put my phone on work focus mode, a new feature on the iphone and it limits notifications. Also, listening to classical music and film scores really help me with focus.


What key activities would you recommend entrepreneurs to invest their time in?

Networking, learning and more networking.


What is your favourite quote or saying? 

If we stare at our giants too much, the fear of them will overtake us.


Finally, can you share with our community what is your experience been like as one of the finalists to the program?

It’s been an interesting experience so far. I am enjoying meeting and learning from the other finalists and coaches.


 Interested in contributing for She Leads Africa? Click here.

HGCP 2021 Participants: Ruth Agbasimalo birthed her skincare brand, Omari Skin, from a place of frustration.

I sat down with Ruth Agbasimalo, the founder and managing director of Omari Skin to get to know her and find out more about the inspiration behind Omari Skin.

Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Ruth, I am the founder and managing director of Omari Skin. I am a former software developer who loves learning and doing research as I’m always looking more information to increase my knowledge. I am passionate about skincare and business.

Tell us a bit about your background – how did you get to this point?

I studied Computer Engineering at Covenant University and it was during this time that I got to know myself and figured out that I had a knack for business. I started my first business when I saw a need, I saw that a lot of students wore shoes that were worn out during the rain. So I asked my dad to get me stock and began selling umbrellas and shoes. After I graduated, I went on to work for Andela and during this time I started selling wig making tools and make-up brushes. I am now running Omari Skin while working for a corporation as a product manager.

What do you do for fun?

For fun and to wind down, I love to go out, clubbing and hanging out with my friends. Now that I am a mother, I have become somewhat of a homebody. When I’m at home I make clothes and watch Netflix, I enjoy detective shows such as Lucifer, Criminal minds and Hawaii Five-O.

Describe a typical day for you?

First thing I do when I wake up is my prayers, then I have a cup of tea and workout before I go on with my day. I start at work by checking my emails, then I tackle my day which I typically have planned from the day before. At around 2:00 pm I hang with my kids and afterwards I either finish my work or take a nap. 

I like to have everything planned ahead and ready to go instead of moving from one task to another haphazardly.

What is your ‘why’ i.e. bottom line? and how do you stay motivated?

I birthed Omari skin from a place of frustration. I developed boils over my body right after giving and I kept taking antibiotics that did not help at all. The Nigerian skincare industry is saturated with skin lightening product and has no other product offerings. I didn’t set out to start a business but wanted to learn more about skin. When I started doing research, that’s when I finally figured out that I was using products that damaged my skin.

During the time I was learning more about skin I got my certifications and began making my own products to address my skin issues. About 6-8 months after the whole ordeal, I started the business. My biggest goal was to help people to understand their skin so they could make sure that whatever they put on their skin is good for them. I wanted to help people make educated choices. 

What do you feel are your biggest achievements?

My biggest achievement is my attitude towards work. I love what I’m doing which is something not everyone can say for themselves. I love that my business allows me that space to care about the customer, which is also one of our biggest achievement.

What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?

Funny enough, this is my most favorite and also my least favorite. and that is the fact that business is so unpredictable. I’m constantly moving and changing with the climate of things, I love it when it plays to my strengths and hate it when it doesn’t.

What or who has been your greatest influence in business and why?

My dad, I grew up knowing he was an entrepreneur. He has a pharmaceutical company and I learnt a lot watching him grow from having a shop to having his own factory. He encourages and inspires me. 

How did you come up with the name for your company?

Omari is derived from an Ibi word Omaricha which means beauty. We wanted people to feel beautiful in their own skin. So our business is literally called beautiful skin. 

Introduce your company the way you would to a potential customer.

Omari skin is a brand that focuses on educating millennials about their skin. We provide research backed skincare products for millennials. We are fully remote at the moment because the company started during the pandemic although we do have a factory where we do manufacturing, testing, production, packaging, quality control, and storage of our products.

You can see our product offerings at https://omariskin.com/ or follow us on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/omariskin/.

What has been a make or break moment in your entrepreneurial journey?

For Omari Skin, it was when we got our first customer. I sat down, looked at them and cried and that was when I knew I wanted to keep doing this. Every time we get reviews from clients about what our products did for them, it touches a part of my heart. It’s one of the best feelings in the world.

What’s been your favorite mistake that you made in your business and what did you learn?

Undervaluing my business. I put more value on what the customer’s opinion of my brand was instead of the value that my brand brings to customers. After a lot of explaining myself , we ended up totally rebranding. I learnt that you cannot put a price to the value your brand brings to your customer. The most important thing you can do is to communicate that value to your customer. 

How have you carved a niche for yourself in your industry?

Our competitive advantage is that we focus on something that other skincare brands aren’t focusing on – which is skin education as well as being customer centric. We offer a  30-day money back guarantee to ensure customer satisfaction. 

What challenges have you faced first as a founder and then as a female founder?

Being underestimated. Such as trying to get your point across to people. I have been swindled and challenged because i am a female during procurement of ingredients we use to make our products. I have had to in some cases get a man to procure the stuff on my behalf just for my peace of mind. 

What’s been the most significant thing you’ve done to grow your business?

Re-branding the business. We took a lot of feedback from existing clients and reworked our figures and have since then had better results. 

What entrepreneurial tricks have you discovered to keep you focused and productive in your day-to-day busy schedule?

Planning ahead and looking at the data when making decisions. At the same time though, as an entrepreneur I need to be flexible, resilient and have complete confidence in myself and my brand. 

What advice will you give young entrepreneurs who are just starting out?’

Take it one day at a time while planning for the future of your business, otherwise you’ll break down. You also need to be consistent if you want to be successful.


Ruth is currently on the High Growth Coaching Program hard at work preparing Omari Skin to grow and scale to one day being in the shelves of Sephora.


HGCP 2021 Participants: Victoria Ajayi founded Chow Noodle Bar from her drive to find her purpose.

I sat down with Victoria Ajayi, the visionary founder of Chow Noodle Bar to get to know her and find out more about the inspiration behind Nigerian’s Chinese food noodle bar.

Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Victoria Ajayi. I was born and raised in Lagos. I later moved to the UK for my tertiary education, where I studied pharmacy and worked in the pharmaceutical industry for several years in the UK. I am married with 2 kids, which keeps me busy and really put things into perspective. 

I am a strong leader who is passionate about my own development as well as that of others around me. I am quirky with a weird sense of humor. I laugh easily, I love easy and I throw myself and all I have into everything I do.

What is your ‘why’ i.e. bottom line? 

I have a purpose and agenda. I am motivated by the drive to find my purpose and live it out in all areas of my life. I want to die empty knowing I did my best and gave my best and lived my best life. 

What do you do for fun/relaxation?

I enjoy going to the movies, hanging out with friends and reading. I read some fiction and a lot of books about self discovery, purpose and self-development. Fun fact about me is that I enjoy watching movies without sound (with subtitles of course).   

What do you feel are your biggest achievements?

Having taken my business from inception to where it is today. I am also very proud of my volunteer work where we run community empowerment initiatives. 

We recently had a Children’s Drive for Valentine’s Day where we spent the day with children on the streets and gave them parcels with colouring books, food, devotionals and colouring pencils.

We also held a Widows outreach for  International Widows Day where the ladies came together to share their experiences with people who understand what they’re going through. We also gave the ladies makeovers. It was an emotional healing session.

What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?

My favorite part of being an entrepreneur would have to be learning the different aspects of running a business. Figuring out what needs to be done and getting it done. 

What was the inspiration behind your business and how did you come up with the name for your company?

Chow Noodle Bar was birthed in uni. There was a restaurant/diner we frequented that had affordable generous portions and that is what I decided to go for and bring home. 

I am very passionate about this business and when I started I was very selective about my team so they can share my passion. I am constantly working on identifying areas of self-improvement for them and myself which will in turn grow my business.

Well, there’s three parts to the name. Chow is a Nigerian & Chinese term that everyone associates with food, Noodle because we knew we were making Noodles (duh) and Bar because we were going for a casual bar setting as opposed to a formal restaurant setting. 

Introduce your company the way you would to a potential customer.

At Chow Noodle Bar we are all about providing an authentic tasteful and vibrant Asian street food experience. We have positioned ourselves to cater for those with a fast lifestyle who eat out at least once a day because of long hours.

What has been a make or break moment in your entrepreneurial journey?

When I was pregnant with my first son, the business was still new and I was still doing everything myself. It was a very challenging time and I wasn’t in a position to hire anyone so I had to either carry on by myself or quit. I carried on and managed through the ups and downs of pregnancy and got done what needed to get done. 

How have you carved a niche for yourself in your industry?

We’ve established and positioned our brand as a household name through packaging.

Where do you see your business in the next 5 years?

My goal is for Chow Noodle Bar to become a Franchise model with multiple stores around Africa. We also want to host a training academy for youth that focuses on skill acquisition such as offering internships in different industries using our franchises.

    What’s been the most significant thing you’ve done to grow your business?

    I’d say constantly asking and listening to what the customer wants and then changing and evolving with our customers.

    What would you say are the top three characteristics needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

    Having a spirit f persistence and determination, leadership and having a clear sense of purpose and self awareness, having values and staying true to them.

    What entrepreneurial tricks have you discovered to keep you focused and productive in your day-to-day busy schedule?

    Putting some system in place  and automating and delegating as much as possible.

    What’s the best advice you have received in business that you wish to pass on to our community?

    Do not allow the state of things (in business, industry, economy etc.)  to dictate your emotions.

    What is your favorite book?

    How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie

    What advice will you give young entrepreneurs who are just starting out?’

    Have a clear plan and persist to make your plan come to pass. You must also be flexible.


    Victoria is currently on the High Growth Coaching Program hard at work preparing Chow Noodle Bar to grow and become a franchise model all across Africa.

    “You Have To Learn To Stand Your Ground”- Jane Frances Esegha, Founder, JF Segha

    Although Jane studied architecture, she had very little interest in designing structures. After NYSC, she worked in an architecture firm but felt stagnant in her role and this made her depressed. One day, Jane’s boss introduced her to site supervision and in December 2017, Jane Frances quit her job to go into construction full-time.

    In January 2020 she established JFSegha. In five years, Jane hopes that JFSegha will be working with international construction brands to execute global construction deals. Jane has a diploma in Interior Design from the British School of Interior Design and a certificate in Project Management.

    This article contains Jane’s business journey, tangible lessons from Jane’s experience with her construction company, JF Segha.

    What inspired you to start your own construction company?

    In secondary school, my teachers kept telling me that I would become an architect because I was good at Technical Drawing. At the time, I didn’t even know what exactly an architect did. I grew up in a small town in Ondo and there were no architects there.

    When I got into university, it was a different ball game altogether. Studying architecture was fun but I did not enjoy it if I am being honest. I was supposed to do a masters degree in architecture but I did not. I deferred my admission because I just knew that it wasn’t for me. I am glad I did not waste those two years.

    I got a job after NYSC and that job introduced me to construction work. I found that I loved being on-site, I loved supervising the artisans and seeing the construction come to life. I could relate well with the workers, talk about materials, finishing and I loved every bit of it. 

    How do you manage to work with different people on a construction job?

    When we have work I am on the site 24/7. If I am not there, someone else I trust will be representing JF Segha. Our motto at JF Segha is to be thorough in our approach and dealings so we do not leave anything unsupervised.

    I design what I want to see and give clear directions but I also stay there to make sure that everything is done well and that they pay attention to details. Also, my experience supervising constructions since 2017 has taught me a lot about managing people and artisans in general.

    From your experience with JF Segha, what advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs and business owners?

    • Stand on your word! As a woman in my line of work, you have to learn to stand on your word. The artisans will try to advise you to go their way. They will say, “ah Madam do this now, leave am like that…” You can’t listen to that. You have to be stern. You have to know what you want to achieve.
    • Don’t fall into mediocrity. If you are selling quality, you cannot allow anybody to sway you because there is a lot of mediocrity in this country, a lot of people telling you to manage. No, I do not want to manage. You have to know what you want and stand by it. No one should change your mind. I have had to let go off a lot of workers because of mediocrity. What do you mean by I should manage?”
    • Perseverance is very important. Running a business is stressful and as such, you must be strong enough to withstand the challenges that would come your way. Artisans will try to stress you, clients, almost everyone will make demands on you and your time but you have to remember why you wanted to have a business in the first place

    Jane is one of the She Leads Africa x Oxfam High Growth Coaching Program. Click here to find out more about JFSegha and keep up with their journey on Instagram and Facebook