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Lola A. Åkerström: Award-winning Travel Photographer of African Descent Exploring The World Through The Lens

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Award-winning Stockholm-based author and photographer Lola Akinmade Åkerström explores culture through food, tradition, and lifestyle for high profile publications such as National Geographic Traveler, BBC, The Guardian, Lonely Planet, amongst others. Alaba Ayinuola chatted with Lola about being an award-winning travel photographer, what sparked her interest in photography, how she’s connecting with local cultures across the world and telling the African story in the Diaspora through photography and more!

Alaba: Tell us about the Geotraveler media and the gap its filling? 

Lola: Geotraveler Media is my umbrella company that covers all aspects of my work within travel media and culture. In essence, I am sharing through words, photography, and video how I am experiencing the world as an African and through those lens. Whether it’s exploring Greenland or working with local communities in Nepal. It is sharing my voice and others on a mainstream level.

Alaba: What inspired you to go into writing and travel photography?

Lola: I’ve always loved writing and used to pen fictional short stories all through secondary school while growing up in Nigeria. Then over time, I replaced fiction with creative non-fiction once I ventured into travel writing because I love exploring culture through food, tradition, and lifestyle. Photography, at the time, was a means to an end. I used to be an oil painter and so I took photographs of various scenes I wanted to paint when I returned from my travels. 

Then over time, I realized my photography could stand on its own and I began to use it as a medium of expression over oil painting. But this career path came together many years ago, while volunteering with an expedition race in Fiji. It was while in a remote part of the country I realized that could create a career from becoming a travel writer and photographer.

Once when I returned back to my job as a GIS programmer and system architect, I started plotting my career transition.

Alaba: Which came first, the writing or the photography?

Lola: Writing came first as I love exploring and describing worlds through words. Photography became that ultimate complementary skill, because sometimes, painstakingly describing a detail can be answered through a single powerful shot that takes away all doubt and stops the viewer in their tracks.

I started out as an oil painter and used photography as a way of capturing scenes I wanted to paint once back. After awhile, I realized my photography was strong enough to stand on its own and so I stopped painting and started exploring photography as my new medium of expression. Semblances of my past life as an oil painter can be seen in the way I edit my photos – very vivid with a lot of heavy contrasts.

Alaba: How have your writing skills as a writer helped further your photography journey?  

Lola: Within the world of travel, if you can do both and do them very well, then you’re at an advantage when it comes to getting assignments. Because editors know you can illustrate your stories powerfully with your own photographs. As an artist, you can choose whichever medium you’d like to focus on more, based on when you feel inspired or not.

Sometimes, it’s writing, other days, it’s photography. My writing skills have helped me develop my visual voice as a photographer as well. So my images feel like my own writing voice visualized.

Alaba: What makes a great image stand out from a good one? 

Lola: For me, a great image is one that answers as many of these questions as possible: When, why, what, who, and other details, while leaving a bit of mystery. For me, a great image is not a technically perfect one, but one that moves me emotionally. There are thousands of amazing landscape photographers who have perfected technical settings to the point of not being able to differentiate whose photo of Patagonia is whose.

I would rather have a less technically perfect shot with a clear visual style than a technically perfect shot and no visual voice. 

Alaba: How has photography enabled you to connect with local cultures across the world?

Lola: For me, I love observing interactions and connections… from how light is interacting with the landscape in front of me to capturing that moment of awareness and connection in the eyes of my subjects. I especially love environmental portraits of people and capturing a sense of them and their personality as wholly as I can.

Photo credit: Liam Neal / Intrepid Travel

Alaba: What is the impact of social media (Instagram and Pinterest) on travel photography? 

Lola: Social media has ushered in a raise in overly staged travel photos. What once inspired people to go explore a new place, enjoy its cuisine and learn about different cultures is now forcing people to relegate places to just backdrops in search of the most creative angle. The main advantage is that it’s inspiring more people to get out there and see the world. The main irony is that they may end up not seeing as much of the world with their backs turned towards it.

I use Instagram and think it’s a great platform to play creatively as a photographer and take bold risks, regardless of whether Instagram rewards you or not based on its weird algorithms.

We can do much better by turning around and taking time to soak up and appreciate the places we’re exploring. Think about longevity and timelessness. We can always find a balance between the types of images we share. That cool visual trend today will become tiring and predictable tomorrow. 

Alaba: How do you balance your time on the road between work and travel? 

Lola: I always say you can’t raise the walls of a house without a solid foundation. In other words, taking time to develop roots for your company, business or brand. So I’m not always on the road and often plan my longer travels so I have at least four weeks in between.

Overall, I keep my travels short and targeted, so I am exploring a place through a focused, deeper theme instead of skimming its surface. That’s why I’m an advocate of slow travel. It’s not duration for me, but rather, the pace with which you explore a place. Whether it’s 24 days or 24 hours, you can still slow travel based on how you explore a place.

Photos from Jokkmokk, Arctic Sweden

Alaba: How are you telling the African story in the Diaspora?  

Lola: I am showing that as an African, I am richly layered and multi-dimensional. That as an African, I can be a professional travel photographer on a mainstream level. I’ve worked with many high profile publications (National Geographic, BBC, CNN, The Guardian, Lonely Planet, to name a few), yet I still get “Did you shoot that?” questions while my white male colleagues are revered with no questions asked. 

My photography has been represented by National Geographic Image Collection for over years, I have contributed to the Nat Geo brand and magazines with writing and photography, and I’m one of the contributing photographers at National Geographic Traveller (UK). I am showing up and taking space as an African within travel media to represent as well as inspire the next generation of travel writers and travel photographers of African-descent.

Alaba: How do you feel as an African travel photographer?     

Lola: As a professional travel photographer of Nigerian descent, it is extremely vital for me to show the world through my own eyes. That my voice and way of capturing the world is valid and relevant on a higher level too. Sometimes people react and interact with me in a way that’s different from the traditional white male travel photographer, and I can capture those special interactions on camera. This diversifies the stories of places we visually tell. 

Alaba: What is your view on the travel and leisure ecosystem in Africa? 

Lola: There are still so many untapped opportunities and stories we could be telling, including advocating for us to explore our own backyards a lot more. With people like Pelu Awofeso championing travel within Nigeria, PaJohn Bentsifi Dadson championing travel within Ghana, and Cherae Robinson of Tastemaskers, championing local niche experiences across the continent as a whole (just to name a few), I am excited about the deeper, more nuanced direction of travel and leisure within the continent.

Also Read: Interview With Oyetola Oduyemi On The END Fund, Impact Philanthropy And Sustainability in Africa

B I O G R A P H Y

Award-winning Stockholm-based author and photographer Lola Akinmade Åkerström explores culture through food, tradition, and lifestyle for high profile publications such as National Geographic Traveler, BBC, The Guardian, Lonely Planet, amongst others.

As a photographer, she has collaborated with many well-known brands – from Mercedes Benz and Dove to Intrepid Travel and National Geographic Channel. She is the author of two books – award-winning Due North & bestselling LAGOM: Swedish Secret of Living Well. LAGOM is available in 18 foreign language editions around the world. She is editor-in-chief of Slow Travel Stockholm and founder of NordicTB Collective which brings together the top professional travel bloggers and digital storytellers from Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland. 

She is the 2018 Travel Photographer of the Year Bill Muster Award recipient and was honoured with a MIPAD 100 (Most Influential People of African Descent) Award within media and culture.  Her photography is represented by National Geographic Image Collection.  

Visit: Lola AKERSTROM

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Interview with Mathapelo Pitse, Founder and CEO of J’ADORE D’AMOUR

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Mathapelo Pitse is the Founder and CEO of J’ADORE D’AMOUR, a proudly South African luxury shoe brand. Mathapelo boasts immaculate skills in areas such as sales, business development, business expansion and customer relations. These key aspects were integral in the founding and management of J’ADORE D’AMOUR’ to ensure the smooth-running within the business as well as success for the overall brand.  When it comes to the creativity and style of footwear development, Mathapelo Pitse has always had an eye for minimalistic designs exotic textures and bright colours. This has seen the brand appeal to an audience who believe in a style that should be audacious sophisticated, timeless and unapologetic. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Mathapelo speaks on her brand, J’ADORE D’AMOUR and entrepreneurship. Excerpts.

 

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

Mathapelo: My name is Mathapelo Pitse and I’m the Founder & CEO of J’ADORE D’AMOUR. We are a proudly South African shoe line that caters to high-end ultra-feminine consumers with a love for sophisticated trendy footwear. We prides ourselves on being a highly collaborative brand as well as a socially responsible one, with future plans of expansion to compete within international market standards in the footwear industry.

Alaba: What inspired you to go into entrepreneurship and start J’ADORE D’AMOUR?

Mathapelo: My passion for entrepreneurship stems from an early age and I’ve gained a lot of experience as an employee as well as a business owner. How my journey with J’ADORE D’AMOUR started is very interesting. I was spring cleaning my house with my mom and we were getting rid of old things that I wanted to give away. I then realized that I owned an overwhelmingly large collection of shoes and that’s when I had an aha moment, and the rest is history.

Alaba: What makes your brand USP stand out and how has the market responded to your products?

Mathapelo: Our unique selling point and trademark is definitely our metal heel! We want to appeal to the modern woman who is audacious, classy, fashion forward and fashion conscious. We want our clients to be unique and stand out with our shoe designs.

Alaba: Any challenges so far since you launched and how are you managing them?

Mathapelo: Just like many businesses out there, funding my business was a challenge. I had to rely on my passion and creativity to sell the vision to the masses no matter how small it was. Another challenge was converting our social media followers to buyers however we came up with different strategies to bounce back.

Alaba: In what way do you think the South African government can support entrepreneurs?

Mathapelo: I believe the government can assist local entrepreneurs with funding. Entrepreneurs are beneficial for the economy and employment of our country and with the support from the government, a lot of opportunities will be met.

Alaba: Where do you see your brand 5 years from now?

Mathapelo: I’m currently expanding my brand and trying on new and exciting projects which I will officially launch soon. 5 years from now, I’ll be the proud owner of a media empire.

Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?

Mathapelo: I feel very fortunate to be afforded the amazing opportunities thrown my way. I have a very supportive team that understands my brands and its visions. Entrepreneurship is not an easy journey.

Alaba: A little piece of advice to young and budding entrepreneurs out there?

Mathapelo: Just go for it! It all starts with an idea (no matter how big or small it may be) and it’s determined by your time and dedication to put that idea into action! 

 

 

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Trueflutter – Matchmaking App for singles of African descent: Interview with Trueflutter’s Co-Founder, Dare Olatoye

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Trueflutter’s Co-Founder, Dare Olatoye

Trueflutter is a matchmaking app built for single Africans on the continent and in diaspora, in search of committed, fulfilling relationships. An online community of Single Africans in search of something real, make genuine and authentic connections. The App takes you beyond surface appearances with the use of audio bios to hear what a person sounds like and what’s important to them even before you connect. In this interview, Alaba Ayinuola speaks with Trueflutter’s Co-Founder, Dare Olatoye on his experience growing a Matchmaking brand, successes and challenges in Africa. Excerpt.

 

Alaba: Could you briefly tell me about yourself, business and the gap it’s filling?

Dare: My name is Dare Olatoye, I’m the co-founder of Trueflutter which is a matchmaking app for Africans on the continent and in diaspora

Alaba: What’s the inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for Trueflutter?

Dare: My sister got married for the first time when she was 47 years old. She met a great guy and they have a beautiful family. The interesting thing is that the person she married lived just 15 minutes away from her and had also been searching for a partner for many years.

Thinking about that, I realized this was a problem that technology could solve, which is why my brother and I set out to build Trueflutter.

Our vision is to provide a platform where single Africans can easily connect with highly compatible partners.

Alaba: What makes your brand USP stand out and how has the market responded to your products?

Dare: The major challenge people have with online dating is that most of the profiles have sparse or superficial information. Our platform helps you get a much deeper insight into a potential match with the use of Audio Bios and responses to carefully thought out prompts.

Alaba: How long has Trueflutter been in business?

Dare: We launched the MVP in September 2018 and had over 15,000 users sign up. That helped us gain valuable user insight which we built into the current version that was launched in January 2021.

Alaba: What are the key initiatives for the success of the business and great accomplishments?

Dare: To us success simply boils down to assembling a great team at Trueflutter and building a great community around the product. This means the most important thing we can do is listen to our users and ensure our product continues to evolve based on their feedback.

Alaba: Kindly share your most difficult moment in business and what did you learn?

Dare: Our founding team has always been very goal driven and when we set targets, we drive ourselves incredibly hard to achieve them. We had set a goal to launch the new platform on January 8th 2021 and had all our promotional partners ready to go.

However we experienced a serious setback in timelines with our development and ideally should have postponed the launch date, but we literally worked 18 hour days to still meet the timeline.

Unfortunately we launched prematurely, with quite a number of bugs on the platform. We have since resolved these but that premature launch meant we lost many of the early adopters of the platform. The major lesson is that it’s okay to release a product that is not yet perfect, with the caveat that users know it is still on beta (just like what Clubhouse did). Public launch dates should only be set when the platform has been stress tested by thousands of users and you know the user experience will be flawless.

Alaba: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected Trueflutter’s growth and/or the user experience?

Dare: I think online dating is one of those few industries that thrived because of the pandemic. We saw an 820% spike in activity on our platform and a 270% increase in organic downloads. Our voice and video call features are also now used by more people with duration of calls at an all time high.

Alaba: What’s your favourite feature of the App so far?

Dare: Hands down it’s the Audio Bio feature, which also lets you reply with a voice note to users you like. People don’t actually realize how much your voice says about you, and when they listen to someone’s audio bio, it helps them easily decide whether or not they want to connect.

Alaba: Where do you see your brand in the next 5 years?

Dare: As the primary platform where single Africans on the continent and in diaspora meet.

Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?

Dare: I am incredibly proud to see what my peers on the continent are doing. Despite the challenges of funding and infrastructure, we are beating the odds to build incredible products that are solving real problems. And the rest of the world is sitting up to take notice.

Alaba: Finally, what advice would you give entrepreneurs and investors in your industry?

Dare: To entrepreneurs, I would say every challenge is teaching you something. Every investor that walks away from your pitch meeting without investing, does so for a reason and if you find out why, it will make you better prepared for the next pitch.

Every customer that leaves a bad review is communicating a problem that thousands of other users are also experiencing, so you shouldn’t take it personal but embrace the feedback with gratitude.

For investors looking at the online dating space, few people realize how profitable it could be until they start diving into the numbers. But they also need to realize that it’s a long game, and like most consumer tech products, needs to be approached from the perspective of a long term investment. Trueflutter has been very fortunate to attract these kinds of investors.

 

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Prudence Ramotso: The South African entrepreneur who turned her love for shoes into a brand

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Prudence Ramotso, Founder and CEO of PRUDENT (Source: Prudence Ramotso)

Prudence Ramotso is a South African young lady who is passionate about fashion and envisioned a different kind of a brand that cares about customers and offer high quality products services. She decided to follow her dreams by creating the brand PRUDENT. A brand with designs inspired by African names, Prudent Shoes is a South African Shoe Brand established in 2019 and manufactured by one of the best and finest stylish shoe makers in Italy. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Prudence shares her entrepreneurship journey, the gap her brand is filling in the industry and the future. Excerpt.

 

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

Prudence: My name is Prudence Ramotso, I was born and raised in the Vaal (Sebokeng). I love shoes and fashion , I am ambitious and goal driven. I realized there was a gap in the South African female footwear when I was shopping around for shoes back in 2016, my entrepreneurial spirit couldn’t let this to rest. After my research in 2019 PRUDENT shoes was born, we offer what was missing in the market which is good quality shoes at affordable prices and shoes that have characters from the African names that are engraved on the outsoles.

Alaba: What inspired you to go into entrepreneurship and start Prudent?

Prudence: The rate of unemployment in South Africa increases daily and knowing that I have the ability to make a difference and create jobs in the future inspires me everyday. I took my love and passion for shoes and turned it into a brand that fills the gap in the female footwear industry. It started in my bedroom on my cell phone. I left my full time job as a financial advisor for an insurance company and gave birth to PRUDENT shoes in 2019 and I never looked back again.

Alaba: What makes your brand USP stand out and how has the market responded to your products?

Prudence: Our shoes are made of high quality material and attention to details (better workmanship). Our insoles are glued and stitched on, with our unique style names engraved on the outsoles. Like the brand name says PRUDENT, you take prudent steps when walking in our shoes, which means taking careful and calculated steps you think for the future.

The market response is very good, customers are happy with the quality and saying the shoes make them comfortable. Most customers say the shoes speak to them laughing.

Alaba: Any challenges so far since you launched early this year?

Prudence: The challenges we have is reaching a big scale of the market and getting the brand out there.

Alaba: In what way do you think the South African government can support entrepreneurs?

Prudence: Government must encourage localism, encouraging customers to “buy local” is a pillar of regional development strategies. There are products that are not manufactured in South Africa due to lack of suppliers, however they are South African brands and they make us a competitive country. Also, the government should give small businesses a real advantage in procurement policies and the process must be clear, protective and accessible to all small businesses.

Alaba: Where do you see your brand in 5 years?

Prudence: I see my brand growing and being the trusted female footwear brand in South Africa and in 10 year recognized globally. Also, as a brand helping fight the high rate of unemployment.

Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?

Prudence: Being an African entrepreneur feels amazing at the same time is hard and exciting. We are 6 of the 10 fastest growing economies as Africa and the ease of doing business in Africa is improving to an extent that a good number of countries including South Africa, Ghana, Mauritius and Tunisia now outperform China, India, Brazil and Russia, we can say our future is bright as AFRICAN entrepreneurs.

Alaba: A little piece of advice to young and budding entrepreneurs out there?

Prudence: Believe in yourself and your dreams, it is true your network is your networth. Be persistent and never give up, start where you are with what you have and go for it. If you can imagine it , you can do it!

 

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