Cultural Awakening and Empowering Communities
Cultureville is all about benefitting communities, and bringing positive change to Africa, one person, one community at a time. Jane and Adeola want Africa to win! The long term goal of this company is to provide education and health care to their employees, as well as an opportunity to build a thriving livelihood, and to positively impact people for generations to come. The business tagline, Look Good, Feel Good, Do Good, refers to the effect of all aspects of the business from products, to the customer services, even down to the packaging.
Adeola explainsthat when she began spending time with local communities in Nigeria, a lot of the tailors she met could not speak English fluently. The more time she spent with these people, she realised that education is very difficult to access, due to it being very expensive, and that social mobility is almost impossible. People born into low privileged backgrounds do not aspire to anything such as going to school or university. This impacts the direction of people’s lives for the long term. There are some people who are lucky enough to get onto a course at university, or complete an apprenticeship to a trade, and eventually start a shop, or a place at the market.
The goal of Cultureville is to find talented people from less priviledged communities that would otherwise have no opportunities - people with exceptional talent and skill, who have something great to offer to the company - to train and mentor them, providing them with a job and a development opportunity that empowers them to help themselves. This would give them an alternative to education in a society where access to traditional education is the only way to succeed.
“We want to make it possible for their kids to go to school". Eventually, we want to build a school as part of Cultureville, and training workshops, so that people who are working for our company will have access to high quality schools and hospitals.
This will break down social and economic barriers that would have previously been impenetrable. Many people don’t see this as a problem, but having spent time in Nigeria, I could see that the people who have grown up in these communities do not see this as a problem because it is all they know. But there are so many talented people there, and unemployment rates are so high. We want cultureville to be accessible, in that people don’t need to have the right connections or know the right people in order to work for us. If they have the talent and the skills, they can come as they are.
Cultureville is already starting to expand beyond Nigeria into the surrounding countries, particularly Ghana. A lady who works for Cultureville is originally from Ghana, and has connections to Ghanaian suppliers and tailors. They also want to start expanding across West Africa in time. A big challenge facing this is the fact that, unlike China or India, African countries do not specialise in mass manufacturing, and people are not used to making things consistently, and to a template, meaning that Adeola and Jane have had to work hard to build up the consistent high quality of their products over a long time.
“For us to have the level of quality we want for our brand, we have to make our product to a premium standard, so we can pay into our long term visions and goals for the business to be able to achieve this kind of change in local communities. We need to deliver an excellent product to our customers. The last year and a half has mostly been about raising the quality of the products and the whole Cultureville experience. I feel like now, we are satisfied with what we are producing, and now, the focus is mostly on getting it out there now, and working on marketing in a big way”.
At the moment, regarding their bigger vision to change communities, things are happening very slowly, with people being impacted on more of an individual basis. But this is a fantastic start, that will build momentum with time. The girls told me about one lady in Lagos, whose life has changed a lot. Before working for Cultureville, her only income was from selling eggs on the street. This was the only way she had to feed her family. On top of this, she had a lot of personal challenges since her husband had left.
Adeola explains that this lady worked for their mum some time ago when they lived in Nigeria. Adeola asked her mum about this lady, what her talents were, and what she could do. She wanted to speak to her directly, to see if she could work for Cultureville. After she interviewed her, she realised that this lady was a perfect fit for the company! She had already been working on her sewing skills in her free time.
The girls were able to employ her and give her a consistent salary, so that she did not have to worry about feeding her children, could send them to school, and start planning for the future. “This has changed her so much”, said Adeola, “She seems so much more relaxed now she can provide for her kids. As we continue to scale up the business, we can expand the number of tailors that work for us, and this will enable us to have more of an impact on wider communities”.
The UK and the US are Cultureville’s biggest market for the clothing they produce. Over the coming year, the sisters are planning to expand their reach into the US, as there is a very high demand over there, due to there being a significant awakening to African culture. This is also happening in the UK. For example, Afrobeats music is experiencing an upsurge in demand, as well as there being an increase of people of African ethnicity and heritage wanting to know more about their heritage, and where they are from originally, learning more about it, and wanting to celebrate this more. The designs Cultureville create are merging African culture with western culture - one of their recent designs is a hoodie that has African print across the pockets and the sleeves - it is something that most people would wear every day, but with a little splash of culture to it.
“We notice that people are looking to us almost like curators of African culture, through what we produce. At one of our recent events, we were part of the Manchester Day parade, and were asked to provide for the African float. We got to help design it, and as part of that, people were asking us loads of questions about African culture. This caused us to research and learn about the things we had not known before. Our mum and dad and other relatives have so many stories - we can learn so much from our family, about how fabrics played a part in their lives when they were younger, growing up in Nigeria. We intentionally immerse ourselves in our culture so we can provide an even better service to our clients”.
Jane explains that since starting the business, she has personally enjoyed travelling to and experiencing parts of Nigeria she has never been to before. “I hadn’t been to the markets before, so didn’t really know what it was like. I only saw one way of life, which was just the really nice parts of Nigeria, and the luxury lifestyle. But seeing how much talent goes into making the things we sell, and being a part of that is great. Also, I love seeing the development of the people who work with us - for example, seeing a tailor learning from making a lot of mistakes in the beginning, to being able to make high quality items is truly amazing”.
The release of the Black Panther movie was a defining moment for the African community in the UK. Since then, in the last five years, Afrobeats music has become hugely popular. The world is seeing how much Africa has to offer, and truly embracing it. The girls told me that the other day, when walking through the Arndale Centre, they heard music by a Nigerian artist being played loud and proud from a shop entrance. They went into the shop and started dancing to the music!
African print is for EVERYONE!
The girls have noticed that a lot of people from diverse cultural backgrounds really love African print, but are afraid of cultural appropriation. They made it crystal clear that African print is for EVERYONE. “We want to send out the message that African culture is beautiful, and if you own it, it is beautiful. If, as a caucasian person, you want to wear African print, we would love you to wear it! The difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation is that with appreciation, you give credit back to the culture you got it from. On the other hand, cultural appropriation is when you take something that belongs to another culture and say that you invented it”.
On their Instagram page, Jane and Adeola use models from a variety of races and backgrounds, so that when people view their page, they can see someone that looks like them wearing African print, and think “Hey, I could wear this!” Even the sizes are diverse, as the girls want people of all shapes and sizes to be able to feel amazing in their designs.
A lot of the models are from the girls’ existing social network, including personal friends, as well as from the local community, rather than using professional models. A great thing about this is that it gives ordinary people a chance to shine, and to grow their confidence, and come out of their shell, and have loads of fun doing it. Some people who have worked as models for Cultureville have gone on to be professionals, as modelling agencies recognise Cultureville as great experience on a CV. This says a lot about how well their reputation is doing. An example they gave was that a boy from a youth club they worked with started out doing the modelling for fun, as well as rapping and dancing. He has recently been signed by a modelling agency!
Award Winning Business
When doing a bit of research on Cultureville before I met the girls, I noticed on their Instagram bio that they had been featured on the BBC! They explained to me that they had been featured on the One Show. What led to this was their success with the Manchester Youth Market, where they were given a platform outside Selfridges in Exchange Square in Manchester on Manchester Day. The company paid for everything, and all the girls needed to do was bring their stock. Manchester Youth Market were hosting a competition, where they judged young entrepreneurs on their business set up, presentation and general customer experience. Cultureville won that competition for Greater Manchester, and were filmed on the One Show as a result!
The girls said that so far, 2019 has been an awesome year, full of breakthroughs. Taking the leap of faith to leave their full time jobs is when things really started to get amazing for them, and when the opportunities started coming in.
At this moment in time, Jane and Adeola are excited about their plans for the future of their brand and business, and their plans to expand into the US. But most of all, the impact on Africa is the thing that drives them more than anything else - to see real and lasting change in the lives of individuals, families, and ultimately communities.
The girls started being mentored by Anita Frost as part of the Entrepreneur Academy last November. They met her first at a church meeting for business people. Following on from this, they met her for coffee, to get some advice from her. From then on, they joined the Academy. Every so often, they would meet with Anita to check in about their goals and overall vision. She taught them the practicalities of what they needed to do to become a premium brand.
“We used to be in the habit of doing things last minute”, Adeola explains, “but Anita told us that you have to plan things many months in advance. This year, we are so much further ahead with everything. We did our Christmas photo shoot in September, and the pictures are already out for our Christmas marketing. It is great to have someone in your life with that level of business experience who can tell you what mistakes you are making, and to keep us accountable. She does for us what we do for our team”