Kambili Ofili-Okonkwo: Designing Stylish Swimwear for the African Woman

With a background in engineering, logistics and supply chain management, Kambili Ofili-Okonkwo has always fancied herself an entrepreneur. At fourteen, she made her first attempt at entrepreneurship when she cofounded Generation For Change, a fundraising organisation that raised up to 10 million naira over its three years to support underprivileged children in Nigeria.

A graduate from Imperial College London and Cranfield University Milton Keynes, Kambili has worked in the corporate world with big name organisations such as Heinz, where she was a Project Manager for Continental Europe, and Total, where she was  Procurement Expeditor. In 2014, she quit the 9 to 5 life to start KAMOKINI, an African swimwear and accessories brand that caters to the average individual’s body image and fashion consciousness.

Kamokini was born out of the need to find stylish bikinis at high street prices, and helps Africans feel and look beautiful during pool and beach activities. With designs and fabrics that accentuate not intimidate, each swimsuit is inspired by everything — art, music, African culture, Western fashion trends and an understanding of a woman’s sensuality. (Read more about Kamokini here)

Models in KAMOKINI swimwear. Image credit: Kamokini Facebook Page

Models in KAMOKINI swimwear. Image credit: Kamokini Facebook Page

Kambili is passionate about people and the insecurities we individually and collectively possess. When she is not designing KAMOKINI’s latest swimwear collection or looking for new ways to expand the brand, she reads books abut business, philosophy and psychology, and loves dancing.

Why did you decide to start KAMOKINI and what was the first thing you did when you decided?
I started designing swimsuits for myself as a necessity but the positive response from friends and others led me to understand that there was a gap in the market for KAMOKINI. The first thing I did was cross check what I had in my savings because on a personal level, I felt that I had to be somewhat financially invested to start with so I could feel the severity required to make my key startup decisions.

When you started out, did you get any resistance from family and friends?
Initially, I didn’t get any resistance from family and friends other than constructive feedback on how to approach the market. The resistance came when I was trying to make the decision on whether or not to quit my job as Procurement Expeditor at Total. The resistance made sense since at that time, KAMOKINI was not at the point where one is advised to be at before quitting your day job. On the other hand, from working on KAMOKINI for some time, I realised that some of the key activities I needed to do were inhibited by the time of day I allocated to work on my business.

Understanding both sides of the decision, I planned my exit strategy and bootstrapped my expenses to ensure I had saved enough to last me the time I had promised to give my business to become profitable.

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Knowing what you know now, what would you tell yourself when you just started your company?
I would tell myself to hire an accountant/ bookkeeper in-house or outsource no matter the cost. Being on top of the money going in and out of the company is vital and it is a painful process if you have to get things in order in the middle.

If you win the She Leads Africa competition, what’s the first thing you’d do?
The first thing I would do is to invest in a mould to make larger bust cups for my African voluptuous ladies, begin the production of a popularly demanded swimsuit, and produce a wider range of samples to create a buyer’s pack to showcase to potential distribution channels.

If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?
To aspiring entrepreneurs that are still thinking, just start. Courage is fear in positive action and to be courageous is just to start. To aspiring entrepreneurs that are planning, congratulations on going for it! Now put your back into it and make it count because not much is sweeter than doing what you love.

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To learn more about KAMOKINI, visit their website or follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. To see Kambili pitch live on stage, reserve a ticket to the She Leads Africa 2015 Entrepreneur Showcase HERE.

Every day this week, we will be profiling the six finalists of the She Leads Africa 2015 Entrepreneur Showcase. Follow the series HERE.

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Women of She Leads Africa 2015 Pitch Competition

This September, six women entrepreneurs will pitch their businesses at the She Leads Africa 2015 Entrepreneur Showcase, an annual pitch competition hosted to showcase and invest in high potential women entrepreneurs in Africa (you should reserve your ticket now). Aside bragging rights and international media exposure, the winner of this year’s pitch competition will get the grand prize of $10,000 USD, year long training and mentorship with experienced advisors, and direct access to investors (see full list of prizes here) .

We interviewed all six finalists who were selected from nearly 400 applicants in 20 countries. These outstanding women have a combined revenue of $3million USD, over 11,000 customers and operate in various sectors including beauty, health, fashion and food. Every day this week, we’ll share our interviews with them, and learn more about what they do and their entrepreneurial journey to date.

The chosen finalists are:

Bookmark this page and follow our daily interviews with the #SLAcofoundHER hashtag on social media for updates…and of course, share with your network 🙂

 

About She Leads Africa

She Leads Africa is a social enterprise dedicated to supporting high growth Africa-focused start-ups with at least one female founder. This year She Leads Africa received applications from nearly 400 startups from 20 countries. Learn more about this year’s Entrepreneur Showcase here.

Muse Origins: Showcasing African Creativity to the World

Founded by three ladies, Adiya Atuluku, Frances Okolo and Thelma Thani, Muse Origins is a creative organisation with the mission to showcase African creativity through art, photography, culture, design, music, food and fashion.

We believe that Africa has so much to offer…but most people don’t know it yet. Our mission is to show the world Africans are creative and stylish and are equipped to compete globally.

Muse Origins is one of the businesses selected as beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme and we got to chat with one of the cofounders, Adiya Atuluku, about the experience so far and what lies ahead.

What is Muse Origins about?

We started Muse Origins with a blog, hosting and promoting a variety of African artisans and their work. Now, we are venturing into setting up a marketplace to allow the rest of the world access these creatives and their works.

The Muse Marketplace will connect Nigerian creative artisans (like painters, sculptures, photographers, designers, crafters, and art collectors) with people who like and are interested in purchasing and selling Nigerian art.  Our goal is to ensure that creatives who register on our platform have a steady stream of potential customers visiting their custom pages to purchase their work.

muse origins team

How will Muse Origins change the world?

Muse Marketplace aims to provide Nigerian (and in time all Africans) artists in the creative industry, a global audience for their unique products.

The Nigerian creative industry is highly fragmented, with a significant portion characterised by low income earners in remote locations within the country. This industry is currently under-utilized primarily due to lack of exposure. Our initiative aims to boost sales and increase their profits and consequently, their standard of living.

The platform will shine a light on the Nigerian Creative space on a global scale, allowing people outside our country the opportunity to appreciate our culture, perspective and diversity. This will go a long way to promoting Nigeria positively, improving tourism and international relationships, and trade.

How did you feel when you heard you were one of the selected Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurs and what was the most difficult part about applying?

None of us could believe it. We were ecstatic and it took a while to settle down and wrap our heads around it all. We are still reeling from the excitement, to be honest. It feels amazing and we are thankful and grateful for the miracle!

Honestly, it wasn’t difficult at all to apply. One of the easiest we have applied for. But we would say the main hindrance was believing that the programme was for real, and deciding whether to put in the effort, in case it was just another one of those ‘rigged’ programmes. We are so glad that we took the step and finished the application.

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What is your number one business challenge and how do you think the programme will help address it?

The main thing we are looking forward to is mentorship. Apart from funding, this is the most important thing. Having someone who is accessible and knowing that we have the support of a veteran in the Nigerian business arena will be very reassuring and helpful in strategic decision making.

What do you expect your business will achieve in the next few months?

We expect that Muse Marketplace will start in earnest! We have already begun speaking with

potential creatives and prospective clients about their interest in our idea and their willingness to participate and register on the platform, and we are inspired by the significant amount of positive feedback.

We can’t wait to use the funds to develop a modern and functional platform, and then begin registering people in earnest. The knowledge we will get from the  courses, as well as the mentorships, will also go a long way to help us make important decisions regarding our operations, business risks, and the best course of action to bring this idea to a successful reality.

Any words of encouragement or advice to entrepreneurs like yourself?

It can be difficult because sometimes things don’t go the way you plan, and it takes way longer than you thought it would. But simply don’t give up. Do something every day to get you closer to your goal.

To learn more about Muse Origins and stay up-to-date with their progress, visit their website and follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

On Accidental Inheritance and Shrinking Women

I found this video on SoSheDid, a website I have come to love less than 24 hours after finding it. Here, Lily Myers talks about the age long issues of double standards, body image, and women being seen not heard. Lily also mentions how we unintentionally pass on biases and behaviors to other unsuspecting people who did nothing more than be in close proximity to us for an extended period.
I learned to absorb.
I took lessons from our mother in creating space around myself.
I learned to read the knots in her forehead while the guys went out for oysters,
and I never meant to replicate her, but
spend enough time sitting across from someone and you pick up their habits-

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