Hazel Eki Osunde is the Creative Director and Founder of EKI. She was born in a rural town in Germany, raised in Nigeria and now residing in London. Hazel injects a bit of nature, culture and travel into her designs with Africa on her mind. After working in Asset Management for 8 years, it was her fascination with culture and colour that inspired her to pursue her own career in fashion. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola, discover more about Hazel, EKI and her view on the fashion world. Excerpt.
Alaba: Tell me about yourself and journey as a fashion designer?
Hazel: I am of mixed heritage German-Nigerian. Born in Germany, spent my childhood in Nigeria and now reside in the UK. I spent my first 10 years in banking until I fell pregnant and found a new meaning to life. It was at this time that I decided to follow my passion which was a love for colour, culture and travel which I then translated into prints. My first love is designing prints that narrate positive African stories.
Alaba: What attracted you to fashion and what do you attend to achieve?
Hazel: Fashion can be very impactful. It can light up a room and also create a platform for change. It is powerful and it can be used as a tool to educate consumers on the importance of matters. My goal is to allow the EKI story telling of the prints to naturally evolve into other areas, creating the same magical feeling.
Alaba: When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career as a designer?
Hazel: I was working in banking when I recall a friend of mine talk so passionately about her career in media and it was at that moment, I realised I couldn’t put that much love and excitement into my profession. So, I ventured on a journey of discovery. It soon dawned on me that I had a love for textiles, designs and a nostalgia for Africa. And that’s how it started.
Alaba: How do you walk the line between being unique and having commercial appeal?
Hazel: Uniqueness comes from the interpretation of our prints. I don’t design prints for everyone, nor do I follow trends. I pick shades and colours that I am drawn to and know my customers like. The designs of our dresses are quite simplistic and classic allowing for that commercial appeal. I believe with the bold EKI prints are balanced out with the styles we choose.
Alaba: How is your work received internationally and where do you look for creative inspiration?
Hazel: The pieces have a clear African influence, yet subtle and the fact that we print on silk gives it that international appeal. The garments are also quite flowy and can be worn casually or dressed up, as our international clients are often quite simplistic in their style. Inspiration is always drawn from Africa and I always tap into nature, culture or travel and narrate the story from an African point of view.
Alaba: What is your favourite part about being a designer?
Hazel: I love hearing clients’ stories on how they felt wearing the pieces; the confidence, the sexiness and the attraction they got from it.
Alaba: How do you want women to feel when wearing your designs?
Hazel: I want them to own their femininity and exude a palpable feeling of confidence and sexiness.
Alaba: The term Fashiontech is still quite new. What is your opinion of the state of the Fashiontech industry and its growth?
Hazel: Fashion tech will become the new norm. There will need to be discussions on how we preserve the authenticity and creativeness of fashion. There has been such an investment into slowing the fashion down and producing pieces of meaning by people we should care about yet fashion tech goes completely against this as it cuts out the middleman, replaces them with robots with the sole purpose of speeding up the fashion space. The smaller brands that focus on individuality and handcrafting will have to create stronger identities and brand stories to be able to compete with faster fashion spearheaded by fashion tech.
Alaba: There’s so much pressure for designers to come out with the greatest collection season after season. What advice would you give to young designers just starting out and hoping to make it in the industry?
Hazel: Keep it creative, small and don’t overstretch yourself financially until you have created your clientele base who not just likes and follows your pieces but also purchases.
Alaba: Finally, what would you like to achieve before the end of the year?
Hazel: I just presented our latest SS22 collection in Lagos, Nigeria and my goal till the end of the year is that this collection is very well received and we pick up on how sales were pre-lockdown because fashion in the UK in particular really came to a standstill during our endless lockdowns.
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Women in Healthcare Innovation: Funmilola Aderemi on Building Pharmarun
Funmilola Aderemi is a product manager with over 9 years of experience in technology. She is currently the co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Pharmarun, a Lagos-based healthtech startup simplifying the parts of pharmacy that are complicated, cumbersome, and time-consuming. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Funmilola talks about her entrepreneurship journey and her passion for building technologies and innovating to make businesses scale. Excerpt.
Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about yourself?
Funmilola: My name is Funmilola Aderemi and I am the chief product manager and co-founder of Pharmarun. Before founding Pharmarun in 2021, I worked in Seamfix LTD, a cutting-edge tech company focusing on identity management, Jumia Nigeria in the early to hyper-growth days as well as MAX, the first mobility tech company in Nigeria.
As a product manager, I have worked on various projects, from creating new products for existing customers to launching new products for new markets. I have also worked with clients on everything from brand identity to customer experience and product development.
Having started my career in customer experience at Jumia Nigeria gave me the opportunity to develop myself as an excellent problem solver when it comes to finding ways to improve products or services that can benefit both internal customers and external clients.
I enjoy getting out and about with friends and travelling but my favourite thing to really do is work with other people to find solutions to problems. Yes, even in my leisure time, I like to work. I love what I do because it helps me connect with people and solve problems on a level that no other job can.
Alaba: Tell us about Pharmarun – Where, When and how did it start?
Funmilola: Pharmarun is a platform enabling fast and easy access to medication by providing the largest medication and health supply inventory in Africa and aggregating finance and logistics partners so that customers can get medication, when and where they need it.
Pharmarun is actually the brainchild of my co-founder(CEO) and Bestfriend Teniola Adedeji (B.Pharm). She worked in the retail pharmacy space for over 9 years and noticed a huge gap when it came to how people conveniently accessed medication and generally managed their health.
Teniola started this Solo and I worked on it casually with her as a friend before she asked me to come onboard officially only a few months in. We launched July 2021.
Alaba: What products do you offer and how are you funding your growth?
Funmilola: We offer pharmacies alternative revenue lines when they are onboard with us. A 360 pharmaceutical and first aid service to users by providing
- Easy medication purchase. This could be one time or recurring.
- Health management through recurring deliveries, interaction checkers, Home testing,Virtual consultations with licensed professionals
- We offer a range of health bundles.
Alaba: How did you become an innovator in healthcare?
Funmilola: Generally, I like to solve problems. Particularly complex problems. It just excites me. When my cofounder came to me with this problem she was trying to solve, I wanted to contribute as a friend. We just continued to ideate on the problem and possible solutions. Let’s say I fell in love with the problem and became passionate about doing my part to fix it.
Did you know Nigeria has about 5,000 registered pharmacies with almost 50% just in Lagos and Abuja. Someone has to care about the rest of the nation. It’s always about solving a problem for me, and this one is life threatening.
Alaba: Looking more broadly, what are the biggest opportunities and obstacles you see for innovation in the healthcare environment?
Funmilola: Obstacles are challenges one must overcome to find and enjoy opportunities. At the moment I don’t see obstacles, however, we are in a developing nation and infrastructure is a common hindrance to swift/straightforward achievements. However, if I had to mention few bumps that could potentially slow down innovation, it would be as follows infrastructure, policies, Health literacy and education issue and funding
The opportunities are endless, like I said, Nigeria and its surrounding countries are developing nations so there is so much to be done, and the opportunities to solve problems and make money as well are currently endless.
Alaba: How has COVID-19 affected receptiveness for innovation in healthcare?
Funmilola: Covid 19 was a world leveller. It was a dark period that caused people to see the world in a different light because we had no choice. Healthcare is one of the industries that also revolutionised as a result of the pandemic.People become way more receptive to virtual care, investing more in maintaining good health amongst other behavioural changes. Covid 19 forced a validation in innovation in healthcare.
Alaba: The COVID-19 crisis has raised more awareness on health equity issues. What role (if any) do you think innovators should or could play to address health inequities?
Funmilola: Health inequities can be addressed by innovators by developing and implementing technology and solutions that meet the needs of marginalized communities. It can include developing remote-access mobile health solutions, creating community-based mobile health programs and appropriate health education materials, as well as using data and to identify and address disparities in health. Additionally, innovators should work with community leaders and organizations can also help ensure that solutions are designed with the input and participation of the communities they aim to serve. No point building a product the users can not or will not use.
Alaba: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were starting out as an innovator and entrepreneur?
Funmilola: This is an interesting question. I wish I knew that the reception of collaborators will not be automatic. Apparently, it takes a bit of convincing for people to see reason, or want to change.
Alaba: What’s the future for Pharmarun in terms of new products and market expansion
Funmilola: We are constantly innovating and my team is thinking round the clock how to make life easier for people and you create real value with our innovation. We will continue to share as we release new products. What we are most excited about is however, is that we are able to sort the problem of final consumers. You know me & you. No more going around from pharmacy to pharmacy, no more settling for alternative medicine because you can’t find the one that was prescribed. Our platform essentially allows customers access to infinite options of medication to manage their health. We also provide free pharmaceutical consultations and services.
Alaba: There are not a lot of female tech entrepreneurs in digital healthcare. Do you have specific advice for other women wanting to get started working in innovation?
Funmilola: Develop your skills and knowledge: Gain a strong understanding of the healthcare industry, including the key players and current trends. This will help you identify opportunities and develop a unique perspective.
Network and build relationships.
Be resilient: Starting a business can be challenging, and there may be setbacks along the way. Stay committed to your goals and be prepared to adapt as the market and industry evolve.
Embrace your unique perspective: Women often bring a different perspective to the table, and this can be a valuable asset in the healthcare industry. Use your unique experiences and insights to develop innovative solutions and build a successful business.
Seek out mentorship and support: Surround yourself with people who have experience in the field, who can guide you and offer valuable advice.
It’s also important to mention that in recent years, the healthcare innovation ecosystem has been making an effort to make women visible, especially with funding and grants for early-stage ventures. Try looking into those opportunities as well.
Hustle and Business: Empowering a new generation of Africans through storytelling
Hustle and Business Host, Darlyn Okojie and Guest, Kelly Praise (Photo: Hustle and Business)
One missing link to sustainable growth in businesses in Africa prior to this time is the absence of the unique stories of African innovators and entrepreneurs disrupting the ecosystem. There are entrepreneurs breaking new ground in various sectors, but their successes are not replicated by others due to a lack of platforms to share their stories.
There is a scarcity of well-curated stories and accurate data about Africans succeeding in business and careers. As a result, those hoping to follow in their footsteps have no choice but to start from scratch, making the same mistakes as their predecessors or contemporaries. This circle of no reference to leverage continues to hamper Africa’s growth rate.
We haven’t done a good job of capturing the “how” in our African success stories. Knowing where the rubber meets the road is the missing link in explaining why we have not maximized our success in terms of replicating and building on the successes of our fellow Africans. There are not enough relatable stories out there for other Africans to learn from and lean on as they travel their own path.
The need to fill this crucial gap inspired the launch of the Hustle & Business Podcast this month; Africa’s premium podcast where innovators, disruptors, and entrepreneurs on the continent can share their stories for other Africans to learn from and leverage for their own growth. Most stories of business successes in Africa are not contained in many textbooks. So, the curation of these stories is critical as we seek to multiply success on the continent.
The podcast became the medium to reach our audience, whose fast-paced lifestyle may not always afford them enough spare time for new knowledge consumption, but can always listen while engaging in other routine activities, such as cleaning, driving, walking, working out, cooking, etc. It’s 100% convenient and easy to comprehend.
In the Hustle & Business podcast, we will be sharing inspiring stories of young and not-so-young Africans building businesses, excelling in their careers, and creating legacies for others to pattern after. We will be spotlighting opportunities for business in Africa and strategies to succeed in the world’s next-largest talent market.
We are also passionate about using this podcast to build and foster a community of listeners that includes proficient and business-inclined individuals, startups, women, tech founders, SMEs, aspiring founders, established businesses, and the like.
Through this podcast, we will be amplifying the voices of African entrepreneurs and innovators. Creating effective brand awareness for their enterprise. Hence, we are reaching out to everyone in the ecosystem. Are you an innovator, business leader, startup founder, career person, SME, entertainer, artist, tech bro, VC, or disruptor and you have got stories to share? Our door is open and we are excited to have you on the Hustle & Business podcast to inspire others. Regardless of where you are in your journey, your story is never insignificant; rather, it will have a greater positive impact on others than you can ever imagine. So let’s grow together on this journey.
“I’m writing my story so that others might see fragments of themselves.” –Lena Waithe.
Being a guest on this podcast also gives you a unique connection with your existing clients, new audience, and potential customers. It helps you to establish an authoritative presence in your field, and easily introduce new and existing products, special events you’re planning, or anything else you need to share.
To our listeners, expect premium content, masterclass interviews, practical lessons, and relatable stories, verifiable personalities, while you prepare to learn, laugh, have fun, relax, and get better at your craft as we listen to others share their stories.
Tune in every Wednesday at 4 pm (WAT) to listen to new episodes, and follow us with the hashtag #hustleandbusiness on social media. The Hustle & Business podcast is the long-awaited podcast for those making a difference on the continent. Join us on this exciting adventure!
Darlyn Okojie on entrepreneurship and building Memo Africa
Darlyn Okojie is a serial entrepreneur and business expansion expert. As the Co-Founder & COO of Memo Africa, Darlyn is responsible for the day to day operation process while building a team to create a Tech solution to People Management. She founded Memo Africa with Ademola Koledoye to create memorable moments across the world. Darlyn Okojie has a past experience of building a business spanning three countries, raising capital and ensuring that the word about the service reaches the right audience. Her First Business, Rugs and Floors Africa, currently operates in three countries, Nigeria, Ghana and Rwanda. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Darlyn speaks on her entrepreneurship journey and vision is to make Memo Africa the go-to automated system for People Manager: “Future of Memo Africa”. Excerpts.
Alaba: To begin, could you briefly tell us about your background?
Darlyn: I spent the early part of my childhood up till my youth in Benin City. I attended all levels of education down to university where I studied Accounting at the University of Benin. My upbringing has made me extremely loyal to my city. After I completed my higher education in 2014, I got my first ever job at Lamudi (Popularly Known as Jumia House) in 2015. While at Lamudi, I worked as a key account manager in an online marketplace firm. A year later, I moved to Cars45 to spearhead the company’s efforts in building and maintaining relationships with strategic partners. Throughout my career, I have been involved in various aspects of people management, even through running Rugs and Floors from January 2020. At the moment, I’m focused on building Memo Africa.
Alaba: What inspired you to go into entrepreneurship and the problems you plan to solve?
Darlyn: An impactful model to me is my father. I didn’t realise he had that effect on my entrepreneurship life until I looked back on how much I have been able to achieve career-wise. He showed me the only way to gain success is through hard work and dedication. His tenacity and energy in delivering is extraordinary. There have been countless times where I’ve found myself wondering how he gets the energy to go even through obstacles. A quote from a book by Shakespeare, Macbeth, pops into my head whenever I think about my dad. “I am tied to a stake I cannot fly, but bear-like I must fight the cause.”
The life of an entrepreneur is quite fast-paced, there’s no time for breaks and no option to quit, you just have to keep going. It reminds me of something my mum always says, “Person, nor dey Live life go back”. Good or bad we need to keep moving forward in life or in business. I believe my motivation stems from the ability to keep going and building.
Alaba: Memo Africa is one of the startups you co-founded, what sparked the interest? How does the platform work and who are your target audience?
Darlyn: Memo Africa was birthed by various challenges both my co-founder and I faced throughout our work life. From my first job to my current ventures, I have seen how people managers handle welfare related issues in organizations and it inspired me to create a solution that makes their work seamless. We notice that people struggle to remember important dates when it comes to the lives of their employees and it is key because it makes the employees feel valued and appreciated. But dates like birthdays, onboarding and orientation processes, sendforths, and many others dates are lost in transition.
Memo Africa is a simple solution that people managers can use to automate welfare packages to be delivered to both remote and on-site teams across the world. We believe this technology solution will boost business productivity as the team members feel motivated and cared for while saving people managers time to focus on more critical issues.
Alaba: Since you launched, what are the challenges and successes?
Darlyn: It would be best if we start with the positive aspect of the business, the success. At the moment, we have acquired clients both from Nigeria and Ghana, and signed three companies into our system. We have achieved these while facing various economical challenges like Inflation, exchange rate and cross-border payments issues.
I also noticed that small business owners and other entrepreneurs face these challenges which is why I recently started recording my journey on my Medium account.
Alaba: What’s the future of people management? Do you see Memo Africa as part of the future?
Darlyn: The future is Tech! The world is evolving to become digital and automated. It is important to ensure that regardless of where people work from, they are treated with the same respect and dignity as they would be if they were working from a traditional office space. Memo Africa is the technology solution born to connect the people in an organization through our automated management system of celebrating them. Staying connected to and creating memorable moments for your team is the best way to keep them motivated while working.
Alaba: Where do you see Memo Africa in the next 5 years in terms of market and expansion?
Darlyn: We have a large vision set for Memo Africa and are ready to take the action to grow and scale up the Tech StartUp. Currently, our most viable product which is our website is up and running. We are planning on developing the Mobile App version to increase the accessibility and personalisation of the system. We expect to become the go-to platform for all people’s welfare across Africa and in the world. Our tentacles are set to expand into many African countries. We are open to acquiring more clients, partners and Investors.
Alaba: What fuels your passion and how do you relax?
Darlyn: Aside from the rush of the non-stop cycle of developing businesses, I find myself passionate about finding and implementing solutions to create value in people’s lives. You can find me locked on Netflix to unwind after a busy day or exploring the different countries in the world.
Alaba: Lastly, your advice to young women who want to launch into entrepreneurship?
Darlyn: My number one advice to young women who are launching or building their business is that your key to success lies within you. Everything you need to succeed is in you, your thoughts and action shapes your future. As long as you can think it, you can absolutely do it. You need to study and understand your potential, strength, weaknesses and limits. I believe self awareness is the most powerful tool to achieve anything in the world.
I would also say you shouldn’t believe you can only grow & scale up alone, it’s okay to have mentors and role models. These people have walked the mile. All you need to do is find someone who has successfully crossed the path you are hoping to pass. You would be surprised by the number of people ready to guide you or refer you to the next life challenger.