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How this African Diaspora is keeping the tradition of African storytelling alive

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My name is Hermine Mbondo. I’m the founder of B4brand, a Toronto-based bilingual English/French storytelling-driven marketing agency for purpose-driven brands. While consumers are always enticed to buy more, at B4brand we believe that marketing has a greater purpose than consumerism and should empower people to buy smart, by putting their money where their heart is. So we made it our mission to create stories that connect brands that take a stand on values with people who share those values through engaging storytelling content.  

For some, storytelling has lately become a marketing buzzword. For us, at B4brand, storytelling is rooted in our identity. In fact, the B in B4brand stands for:

  • Brand – because we promote brands that are making a difference and have a positive impact –,
  • Bilingual – since we provide our services in English and French, Canada’s official languages, but we also offer a multilingual platform – and
  • Bassa – because our storytelling originates from the Bassa tribe of Cameroon, a tribe that has been using storytelling as part of their oral traditions to pass down knowledge from one generation to the next.

So, this is where my journey starts. I was born in the hinge of Africa, in a land where West and Central Africa meet. I grew up listening to these amazing tales during my summer vacations in our village. At twilight, one of my aunts would gather all the kids and start telling us stories before going to bed. Those legends, myths, tales, riddles, songs, and proverbs rocked my early childhood and inspired me to read more, write more, and somehow instilled in me a lifelong love for storytelling.

I left my native Cameroon and moved to France at 8 years of age. Among the many things that France has given to me, education by far was the game changer. I graduated from a business school with Master’s degree in Management, majoring in Consumer Marketing, and I quickly gained international work experience, holding various marketing and communications positions in France, Canada, and the US. But it wasn’t until I moved to Toronto in April 2016 that I fully embraced entrepreneurship.

I arrived in Toronto in a snowy yet beautiful day with my suitcase, a need for a change of scenery, my Master’s degree in my pocket, and a decade’s worth of international work experience. This cosmopolitan, vibrant, and bustling city seemed just like the perfect place for a fresh start. Toronto also turned out to be a great place to start a business venture and ignited my entrepreneurial spirit. So much so that I founded B4brand in 2017 and a few months later, I turned my side hustle into a full time business in 2018.

Entrepreneurship is not an easy road. Fortunately, Toronto’s booming entrepreneurial ecosystem provides resources to support business ideas and turn them into start-ups, from settlement and community organizations, to incubators, and accelerators, to name a few. Living in such a diverse city also gave me an unique opportunity to connect with a whole portion of the African Diaspora that I knew little to nothing about before, including Africans originally from English speaking countries. In my three years in Toronto, I have met so many smart, driven professionals, entrepreneurs, and investors who share the same desire to participate in Africa’s economic development.

We might be away from the motherland. We might not even share the same experiences or the same attachment to the motherland. However, it provides great hope to witness and take part in this rising movement of individuals who each, at their own level, contributes to take control of the African narrative and write our own story, by investing in and using technology to create a better future for Africans, among so many other entrepreneurial initiatives.

Also Read: The Rockefeller Foundation Appoints Two African Female Leaders to Board of Trustees

B I O G R A P H Y

Cameroonian-born B4brand founder, Hermine Mbondo, is an enthusiastic entrepreneur who is writing her story in her own unique way. Born in “Little Africa”, raised in France and now living in Canada, this bilingual English/French Marketing Consultant by day also happens to be a world-traveler by addiction, and a foodie by passion.

She graduated from a top French business school with a Master’s degree in Management, majoring in Consumer Marketing. Prior to focusing on storytelling, Hermine Mbondo started her career in Communications at a Paris-based agency then landed a position on a client side at Carrefour Group, one of the world’s largest retailers. She then expanded her skills and horizons and acquired valuable trade marketing skills, working directly with buyers and managing sales reps in the US. In 2012, she was appointed Marketing Manager of a French cookware manufacturer and spearheaded the rebranding of a portfolio of foodservice and retail brands, implementing effective online and offline worldwide marketing strategies.

With over a decade of international marketing experience under her belt, Hermine Mbondo decided in 2017, just a year after moving to Toronto, to use her proven marketing expertise for the greater good and founded B4brand, a storytelling-driven marketing agency for purpose-driven brands.

Email us at hello@b4brand.ca

Visit us at B4brand

By: Hermine Mbondo

Afripreneur

Avila Diana Chidume: Building Greeting Cards and Gifts Platform for the Underrepresented

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Avila Diana Chidume, Founder Avila.Diana (Image: Avila.Diana)

Avila Diana Chidume is a creative entrepreneur following a dream she had nursed since age 6, which is to have her own greetings card company. Growing up she struggled to find diverse cards, so she would make them herself using crayons and scrap paper.

In 2018, during her studies whilst in second year at Law school, she began creating again and founded Avila.Diana. With the goal to overcome stereotypes and change the world’s perceptions on underrepresented communities. This was achieved with the help of her brothers, mom’s living room table initially, and her remaining £32 for that semester.

Avila.Diana is a greeting card and gift platform created for people from ethnic minority backgrounds, the LGBTQ+ community, and people living with disabilities. A brand built to celebrate diversity and representation. With the majority of these cards designed by artists from these backgrounds.

In 2020 the dream was taken to the next level when she launched the World’s First Online global marketplace for diverse and representative greeting cards and gifts named, Kutenda. This was done in collaboration with Avila’s co-founder and younger brother, Nyasha. They discovered that large retailers either ignore ‘minority’ artists or steal their ideas, so through Avila.Diana they strive to provide these artists with the platform and support they need to grow.

Avila has always been passionate about helping people and has been trying to figure out how best to do so. She is very outspoken about her beliefs and mission on inclusivity with people. Inclusivity and its benefits. She engages people in topics which are uncomfortable such as race and mental health amongst the Black community. Avila is passionate about highlighting marginalized creatives creating their own diverse cards from different communities and celebrating their work. Her love for human rights and art have led her to where she is today.

 

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Rhoda Aguonigho: Building a Fashion Hub for African Creatives to Create, Connect and Collaborate

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Rhoda Aguonigho is a Fashion entrepreneur and cultural & creative industry advocate who is very passionate about the Creative industry in Africa. As a consultant, she has worked with several fashion entrepreneurs, teaching them how to launch their businesses and achieve their brand goals. As a project manager she has worked on some of Africa’s top fashion events and programs like Lagos Fashion Week, Lagos Fashion Awards, The Leap Project and many more.  Rhoda is the Founder of Lhaude Fashion network an organization that creates opportunities for emerging Fashion Talents and the Creative Director of Rholabel. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, she speaks on her journey as a fashion entrepreneur and her passion for the creative and fashion industry. Excerpts.

 

Alaba: Could you briefly tell me about yourself and your brand, Lhaude? 

Rhoda: My name is Rhoda Aguonigho and I am a fashion entrepreneur. My work in the fashion industry includes consulting, project management and also running a couple of fashion businesses. I am currently the founder of Lhaude Fashion Network. A fashion organization that creates opportunities for emerging fashion startups and creatives across Nigeria and Africa to thrive and grow. We do this via our various initiatives and our digital community platform. We run a digital hub that is currently home to over two hundred creatives across Nigeria and we are spreading that to Africa in the next couple of months.

Alaba: What attracted you to the fashion industry and what do you intend to achieve? 

Rhoda: Honestly, I don’t think there was a major thing for me except that when I was pretty much young, I just watched a lot of lifestyles and my interest in the fashion industry was more of wanting to design outfits. Then, I started styling, writing and then grew into becoming a magazine fashion editor, I started to do project management, working at fashion events, etc, and that is how I have grown in the industry.

I intend to achieve an ecosystem in Africa where the fashion business is sustainable and profitable, a system where creatives get constant opportunities to grow and thrive, where there is no gap between the emerging creatives and the top professionals.

Alaba: What were your initial challenges starting off?

Rhoda: I would say the first challenge was access. At the time I started, I was in school, and not in Lagos which is the fashion capital. I was running a fashion organization and needed fashion experts. But things started to get better as I finished school and was able to get into the fashion industry fully with a job.

Another challenge would be funding. You don’t have a lot of organisations giving grants or funds to fashion businesses or initiatives. Being an organization putting together events, initiatives, and needed funds to execute them. There was no amount that we could charge the participants that would cover the cost.

Alaba: How have you attracted members and grown the organisation from the start? 

Rhoda: value! People gravitate to where value is given. From the very beginning, in 2017 when we had our first event which took place in ile-ife, Osun State. We had the Style infidel and a fashion designer – Samuel Noon come down to ile-ife. It was a Lhaude network cocktail and a networking session between grassroots, emerging grassroots creatives, and fashion experts. We have various initiatives, a business incubator program, business advisory and mentorship schemes.

Alaba: What issues have proved to be the most challenging in your attempt to help support fashion designers in Nigeria? 

Rhoda: I would say a mindset problem, which comes from lack of proper fashion education. Some of these creatives you are trying to help grow are not even as invested as you are in the development of their businesses. I mean we have those with great mindsets, but to a large extent, especially local creatives who have not had the opportunity to be exposed to the fashion business properly or on a large scale. They don’t see the importance of certain things like PR, Accounting and Bookkeeping, Business models, the core business part of fashion.

Alaba: How has technology impacted the fashion industry?

Rhoda: A lot of things are changing, gone are the days when you have to travel abroad for International fashion courses. You can sit in the comfort of your room and access courses with coursemates across the world. Technology is helping to widen access to the market, improve collaboration among fashion enthusiasts, experts and make the fashion community across the world much closer.  

Another way is how technology is cutting down on waste. With 3D fashion, designers don’t have to create a physical collection to present. They can do it via 3D and clients select what they want and the designer makes the actual pieces. But in situations where people don’t like it or people don’t receive it, those samples are wasted.

Alaba: The term Fashiontech is still quite new. What is your opinion on this invention? 

Rhoda: Yes, Fashion tech is quite new and I am so excited because the possibilities are limitless.  Initially, it was just on the e-commerce level, connecting and building networks. But then it grew to 3D and now NFTs. I see innovations coming out of the fashion and tech industry and feel like there is still so much to learn and catch up with. 

I mean, Africa, Nigeria, in particular is still growing but I don’t think we are doing so badly. I think orientation is getting so better, people are getting more aware, adjusting and beginning to adapt to technology in their fashion businesses. We still need more education on FashionTech, this is one of the things Lhaude is actually looking into more for next year.

Alaba: Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the modern fashion industry? 

Rhoda: One of the things that excite me is the Fashion Tech like I mentioned in the previous question. The fact that innovation is limitless. I am so excited about the innovation, new ideas, new technology that are to come out from fashion with technology. Another thing is how as an African, there are no limitations to how you can express your creativity or culture, there are no border limitations, because of tech, we can express it to the whole world.

The third thing is building community. It is so amazing when you meet people from other cultures or countries who are interested in similar things as you. That is, as a fashion executive in Lagos, I can connect with a fashion executive or designer in London, Scotland, Australia, etc and we are building communities connected by our passion and drive for creativity, regardless of cultural differences.

Alaba: Where do you see Lhaunde Fashion Network and the Nigerian Fashion Industry in the next 5 years?

Rhoda: I see Lhaude being Africa’s foremost fashion community. The fashion hub where creatives across Africa and the globe plugin to Create, Connect and Collaborate. I definitely see Lhaude building a world-class hub for fashion creatives, where they get access to everything they need to build, to thrive, and to grow. 

I see the Nigerian Fashion industry as one of the leading fashion industries across the world. An industry that will be known for innovation, creativity, and originality. With a rich culture and creative people leading the fashion sphere across the world.

Alaba: What piece of advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs? 

Rhoda: My advice to them is, be resilient and innovative.  I would say to not give up, be resilient and do not just be comfortable with the state of your business or your business idea, constantly innovate, constantly grow. The idea for Lhaude came in 2016 and it didn’t start until 2017. At that time, I was still in college. It was quite difficult running an organization and building a career simultaneously. 

 

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Kevine Kagirimundu: The Rwandan crafting eco friendly and fashionable footwear from recycled car tyres

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Kevine Kagirimundu, CEO UZURI K&Y

UZURI K&Y is an African inspired shoe brand and manufacturer established in Rwanda since 2013. The company was founded by two women entrepreneurs (Kevine & Ysolde) who met at the University while studying Creative Designs. The two young women simply believed that it would be ideal to gather knowledge and create a common mission. In this interview, Alaba Ayinuola speaks with Kevine Kagirimundu, the Co-Founder and CEO on her entrepreneurship journey into sustainability and fashion, why she is preserving the environment, supporting community and creating jobs through her eco friendly shoe brand. Excerpts.

Alaba: Could you briefly tell me about yourself and your entrepreneurship journey?

Kevine: My entrepreneurship journey started when I was a young girl, I used to re-sew grandma’s clothes, no money came from it, just passion. When I joined university I changed my major from “Engineering to Creative & Environmental built”, it was an important step to starting my journey, I was 19 years old and determined as I started  gathering ideas in a book, during that time I also met my co-founder Ysolde Shimwe.

Alaba: What attracted you into sustainability and fashion?

Kevine: I come from a creative family of painters, poets and writers. I loved hand making things and I thought that creating was really my passion, with that I really wanted to add a meaningful value that will bring positive change in my community; that’s why our company is part of the circular economy with a focus on waste management.

Alaba: What’s the inspiration behind your brand, UZURI K&Y and the problems it is set to address?

Kevine: UZURI K&Y is an African inspired eco friendly shoe brand with a vision to brand Africa as an origin of sustainable fashion items on the global market. It was established in Rwanda in 2013 by two university friends Ysolde shimwe & Kevine Kagirimundu with a purpose to solve the environment and unemployment issues in their community. 

The company’s core problem that it’s solving focuses on recycling the wastes of car tires where everyday in sub saharan Africa, over one million of them are dumped in landfills  and sometimes taking up space from inhabited and vulnerable neighborhoods. In addition to that, it takes up to 80 years for a rubber tire to decompose while polluting water, air and even become nurseries for mosquitoes that carry diseases. Furthermore, in Africa the youth makes  60% of the total unemployment rate and young women are more likely to be unemployed even more often than young men. 

In order to tackle these issues we craft viable solutions to recycle car tyres to make functional and fashionable footwear for conscious millennial consumers. The company is also currently running its own production facility, four retail stores and using ecommerce to reach international customers. It is also equipping the youth with practical and soft skills  to increase their potential of securing jobs or even creating small businesses. So far, 1,065 youth have been trained and among those 70% are women and 10 have started small businesses.

Alaba: How have you been able to attract customers and build the company till date?

Kevine: Our customers are women who seek shop eco products. Our strategy is to use storytelling via social media channels, we also set to offer a wonderful experience via our retail spaces.

Alaba: What challenges did you run into starting out?

Kevine: I would say there are 3 major challenges as we started: lack of skilled labour, dominated market with second hand and imports and access to finance.

Alaba: Are there other areas that UZURI K&Y is aiming to be more sustainable?

Kevine: We have confidence that we shall be able to brunch into a more diverse range of products, such as sustainable sneaker and even turning the wastes into more useful products.

Alaba: One of the things that stood out on your platform was your intense screening process for each item. Can you explain why you decided to go with this process and what it actually involves?

Kevine: We developed techniques and ways to safely produce our products and it has become our unique proposition. It is an advantage and very important to our customers.

Alaba: Is your brand gender inclusive? What is the importance of gender inclusion in the brand’s choices?

Kevine: Yes, it is important with a special focus on creating jobs for women who are often left behind in different fields.  Inclusivity is crucial for the entire world to fight gender inequality, we are proud to be part of this change.

Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?

Kevine: I believe that entrepreneurs will be the key pioneers to changing the African continent, It feels like being part of a history book!

Alaba: Where do you see UZURI K&Y in terms of products and markets in the next 5 years?

Kevine: A household African brand, with a tremendous impact on the youth through skills transfer and entrepreneurship.

Alaba: Finally, what’s your advice to budding entrepreneurs, especially females in the sustainability and fashion industry?

Kevine: Trust yourself that you can do it! 

UZURI K&Y footwears

 

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