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Interview With The Founder and CEO BINTI AFRIQUE, Risper Opiyo

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Risper A. Opiyo is the Founder and CEO of BINTI AFRIQUE, a beauty and cosmetics company. Born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, she is a budding entrepreneur currently pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in International Business Administration at the United States International University Africa. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Risper shares her passion for fashion, entrepreneurship and how her brand is impacting her community and her plans to penetrate the East African market with her products. Excerpt.

 

Alaba: Kindly tell us about your business and the role you play.

Risper: I had great passion for fashion and started BINTI AFRIQUE. I did most first runway show in MARCH 2015 and that’s how my entrepreneurial journey started. I have been on and off the runway and in 2018 I opened up a beauty and cosmetic shop  with little savings that I got which was hardly enough and I had to raise the funds on my own. I had run out of options I tried borrowing from friends and family only to end up being ignored. I felt deeply hurt but I didn’t give up.

My role as a CEO is to allocate capital for the business operations and this is one hectic affair. Most banks are afraid of putting their money into startups and the whole process is like climbing Mount Everest. Apart from raising capital, my job is to make sure the products are 100% natural and do what they are meant to do. I also have to set strategy and direction for the company and model the company’s structure.

 

Alaba: What was your startup capital and how were you able to raise it?

Risper: I invested $375, funds that I got from my mum and uncle in the name of school project. This were funds for the fashion label and in 2018 when I opened the Beauty and cosmetics shop, All attempt to borrow money failed and I kept asking myself what shall I do? A few days later as I was heading home, I came up with a great idea on how I was going to raise funds in order to purchase stocks for the beauty shop, I started a self˗help savings group for small business within my neighborhood. I approached 20 small business men and women who were just shopkeepers, cyber café owners, boutique owners and other ran small restaurants. I sold them the idea of us putting our money together that $2 per day and within 7 days we give it to one member until the whole rotation was complete.

Luckily for me 15 agreed and the total amount I got within that week was $210. With this sum, I was ready to take over the world. The business started picking up slowly then all of a sudden the government banned the use of some cosmetics body creams, soaps and lotions which were proved to contain traces of mercury and hydroquinone which may lead to skin cancer in the long run. I and other beauty business had no other choice but to dispatch those creams as fast as we could or else we could face a long jail term or even risked paying a huge fine. Day after day customers came streaming in and were asking for better substitutes for the harmful creams they were using and I had to do a research .

This was where I saw a great opportunity right before my eyes and grabbed it with my own hands and ran with it. My idea was to make the best alternative body cosmeceutical creams using organic ingredients. And there LUXE INDULGENCE BY BINTI AFRIQUE was born. Our first generation products have been luxurious Face masks, Beauty soaps, whipped body butter and chebe hair products. Our products helps in solving beauty problems like pimples, acne, rashes, uneven skin tone, dark spots and age spots. Also we offer solutions for hair loss, thin hair and hairline problems which millions and millions of African women are seeking solutions for.

 

Alaba: What are the challenges and how are you overcoming them?

Risper: This challenges started while I was growing up.  I was raised by a single mother after the death of my dad in 2002. It was a struggle seeing us through school but I was determined to leave a legacy behind. This kept pushing me forward to being a better version of myself.

The company has faced so many challenges just like any other. Lack of enough capital is a great pain in the neck as it always slows down the business. Sometimes compensating my team is a problem and at one time this shook the stability of the company. I had to think outside the box and wrote an agreement that the team will be paid 30% commission on every sale they make as the company cannot still forfeit salary yet.

Another challenge is that the market is super saturated with well-established and upcoming competitors who slightly under price the products and this gets so frustrating. However, we are doing research and developing our “hero” product something that the market would love. Another notable challenge is limited working space and warehouse. We operate our business at my mum’s small backyard as it is rent free but comes with lots of limitations in the production process.

 

Alaba: How is your business contributing to the development of Africa?

Risper: BINTI AFRIQUE is slowly and surely contributing to the development of Africa in the following ways:

Creating jobs for the youth. Unemployment is a crisis in Africa and we have more jobless graduates coming into the job market every year. In Kenya alone we have 4.3 million unemployed graduates between the age of 21 to 35, this is according to Kenya integrated household budget survey. We have employed 3 hardworking youth who are part time students. Africa needs more job creators than job seekers and if we could push and squeeze the Entrepreneurship narrative into the Education system right from elementary school, then unemployment rate could soon trickle down.

 

Alaba: What’s your view on the development of Africa business ecosystem?

Risper: My view on the development of AFRICA BUSINESS ECOSYSTEM is that for business to thrive and Africa to thrive, we need to squash all the trade barriers within the region and to implement the use of a single homogenous currency within the continent. With this currency Africa will stop relying on foreign currency for development and trade. Imagine Africa with free movement of persons, capital, foods and services.

At the AFRICA E˗COMMERCE WEEK 2018, organized by UNCATD, where I was a delegate, a lot has to be done for Africa to realize its development growth in line with Agenda 2063ː The Africa we want. First of all, in order for us to trade we need to produce. We have to improve our productive capacity, physical infrastructure as well as interconnectivity before we can expand digital trade. If we do not do these, we will still be open and aggressively relying on more imports from outside our continent .this in turn destroys jobs, decimate MSMEs and distort development.

Alaba: Where do you see your business in 5 years and what steps are you taking to achieve them?

Risper: In 5 years’ time I see BINTI AFRIQUE making its foot print in East Africa, supplying our products to Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda etc. as the East Africa Community will be one single trade block which will ease trade among its country members. We will also launch our organic cosmetic line consisting of natural lip balm, lipsticks, pressed powder and face foundations. The steps that we are taking to achieve these are, looking for an investor who will be willing to come in and share his/her expertise, network and of course the funds that will stir the company in the right direction and achieve its full potential.

We are working on online campaigns that create awareness on the dangers of using cosmetics products which are made from chemicals and to telling the consumer on the best alternative which are cruelty free. We want to constantly innovate and embrace Artificial Intelligence in every aspect of our business.

Also Read Interview With Mall for Africa Founder and CEO, Chris Folayan

Alaba: What advice will you give prospecting entrepreneurs who intend to start a business or invest in Africa?

Risper: The advice I would give to potential entrepreneurs is entrepreneurship is not a get rich quick scheme. You do not plant a seed and expect to eat the fruits that same day…you have to exercise patience, persistence, constantly innovate and adapt to the shifts in consumer attention.

 

Alaba: What inspires you and keeps you going?

Risper: My inspiration comes from our continent AFRICA, we got a great potential that most of us do not see. By 2050 our population is projected to grow from 1.2 billion to 2.2 billion. Africa is a young ‘nation’ with untapped resources and potential, if only we could get the kind of leaders who are passionate enough to drive the continent into being a powerful global economy we would be talking of different story right now.. if we didn’t have the potential, global companies like google, Facebook etc would not establish their base here  and china as an investor would not have spent a dime on this continent.

 

Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?

Risper: I take a day off my week just to go for nature walks in the park and visualize my week ahead and meditate on my present and future. I also love reading motivational and inspirational books written my renowned business men. On top of my list is Rich dad, poor dad series books by Robert Kiyosaki, I am a fan of Donald trump and have read his books too. Currently I am reading Girl wash your face by Rachel Hollis and looking forward to reading Becoming by Michelle Obama.

Her Short Biography:

My name is RISPER ACHEING OPIYO, born and raised in NAIROBI, KENYA. I am 26 years old and pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in international Business Administration at the United States International University Africa. I am a budding entrepreneur and a passionate youth leader.  I have always been a book fan and that is why my educational journey has not been that tough.

My achievements so far include, starting INUA FUNDI initiative meant for the Kenya fashion industry which aim was to put funds together and be able to boost individual talents and later on opened our doors to small businesses. I have been a delegate at African summit on Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ASENTI) SINCE 2014. I have also been a delegate to the 1st AFRICAN E˗COMMERCE WEEK by UNCTAD held at the UN Offices in Nairobi which was a remarkable experience. In 2018 I got an award for being a great sponsor to youth empowerment activities. My company sponsored this year’s House of legacy Awards, an event recognizing and celebrating youth talents in fashion, entertainment and entrepreneurship. I am also a member of Ideal Democratic and Economic Party (IDEP) a newly formed political party by youth in Kenya.

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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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Opeyemi Adeyemi: Addressing menstruation stigma with her invention, The Flow Game

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Opeyemi Adeyemi fondly called dryemz is a Public Health Physician and owner of the sexual health clinic which runs under O and A Medical Center Ogun State, Nigeria. She had her medical training in Sumy State University, Ukraine and MscPH from the University of South Wales. Opeyemi invented The Flow Game in an effort to address menstruation stigma and has written two books on sexual and reproductive health. Her foundation runs the Brave Boys and Girls club which travels around the South western part of Nigeria to provide sex education to children and teenagers in the effort to fight against public health issues like teenage pregnancy, STIs, HIV/AIDS and Sexual assault. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, she speaks on her social entrepreneurship journey, The Flow Game and why she is addressing sexual and reproductive health issues. Excerpts.

 

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

Opeyemi: I am a public health physician who is passionate about sexual and reproductive health. I am also the creator of the FLOW GAME which is West Africa’s first board game that teaches menstrual health. My journey started in 2017 during my NYSC program where I met with the impact of misinformation and lack of access to youth friendly sexual clinics had on teenagers and young people. This led me to the start of The Brave Boys and Girls Club tour around secondary schools where students are given age specific sexuality education free of discrimination and judgment. From touring, it gave birth to menstruation workshops, consent workshops and now creation of board games that are afrocentric and youth friendly.

 

Alaba: What inspired you to launch O & A Medical Center and The Menstrual Flow Game?

Opeyemi: The Sexual Health Clinic is under O and A Medical Center in Asero, Abeokuta where anybody regardless of your background, gender, sexual orientation or any other status can get care for sexual and reproductive health issues. We offer a wide range of services that are cost friendly for the average Nigerian. The Flow game was created because during the tour, I realized the power of menstruation stigma, so decided to involve the team of expertise and the girls from the club in the creation.

 

Alaba: What is the core issue you are addressing with the Flow Game?

Opeyemi: Menstruation is a subject that still has a great level of shame attached to it. Some cultures still see menstrual blood as dirty blood. Some girls use harmful products to collect their menstrual blood. The Flow Game is a fun way to teach menstrual health and hygiene. The game covers four main areas: the female reproductive system, menstruation and menstrual related health issues, menstrual products, pregnancy and contraception. Other issues touched on include sexual assault, consent and sexually transmitted infections.

 

Alaba: How have you attracted users and grown the platform from the start?

Opeyemi: The platform is currently being reviewed as the plan is to take it digital; decided to start with a board game as it is easier with the tours, besides an average Nigerian teenager might not have the resources to play the game online and did not want to miss out on these sets of people. The buzz around the game is increasing, the game was recognized on Menstrual Hygiene Day 2021 by the African Coalition for Menstrual Health Hygiene and the Indian Commissioner of Women Affairs during a conference held in Bangladesh.

 

Alaba: Data protection is a concern for users of health platforms. Could you explain your data protection policy?

Opeyemi: Right now we are are currently working on our policy but I can assure users that they would be protected besides the data page in design would require nickname, age, sex and email address.

 

Alaba: Would you expand in the direction of male health (fertility, contraception, etc)?

Opeyemi: Yes, in June, 2021. In a bid of getting a project with an international organization, the Play It Safe board game was created and it is currently being tested in the school tours. The game is for both genders and covers safe sex practices.

 

Alaba: As a social entrepreneur, what has been your biggest challenge up until now?

Opeyemi: The field I chose is still faced with a lot of stigma, so a lot of sensitization is involved, changing mindsets and cultures associated with it. The second I would say is finances, balancing the cost of production and the ability of the target community to afford the services rendered.

 

Alaba: The term Femtech is still quite new. What is your opinion of the state of Femtech industry and its growth? 

Opeyemi: Femtech has had a massive impact on female health, so many innovative ideas that are gender specific. A good example are period tracking apps which have allowed women to track the menstrual cycle, have a better understanding of their cycle and make informed decision about fertility. I am happy to be in the industry and I know there is still so much more to be done especially in Nigeria.

 

Alaba: Where do you see the Flow Game and sexual wellness in the next 5 years?

Opeyemi: This is one question I keep asking myself every day, I desire to go beyond the Flow Game. Very few innovations on sexual and reproductive health tailored to the African woman. I would like to be one of the women creating sexual health innovations that are Afrocentric in the next five years.

 

Alaba: As an inspiring social entrepreneur, what piece of advice would you give to fellow female entrepreneurs?

Opeyemi: Invest in knowledge; learn from those who have done things in your desired field. Also understand that gender is nothing more than a social construct it does not define YOU, whatever you want to achieve is not tied to gender. Dream big and take steps to turn the dreams into realities. 

 

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