Ini Obinna-Onunkwo is the CEO of Little Weavers, a flourishing couture brand that makes Afrocentric attire for children. She also channels her energy and creativity on how to impact the lives of people especially the youths. She is on a quest to use her brand to steer back the consciousness of society to their culture and traditional heritage. In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE, she speaks about the various structures she put together to achieve this feat, and how she was emboldened to switch from a juicy corporate profession into the dicey terrain of cloth-making. Excerpt:
We have so many cloth making-companies in Nigeria, what makes your own brand unique?
Little Weavers is an Afrocentric couture brand for kids. I focused on children because when many parents go for traditional ceremonies, they wear beautiful native attires. They look sharp and regal, but you see their children wearing denim to the event. I want to fill that niche by making lovely native attires for children so that they too can look chic in African wears. That is what Little Weavers is all about?
How long have you been in business and what prompted you to start it?
I was actually inspired by my children. It all started when I designed and made some clothes that they would wear to a traditional wedding. I didn’t follow them to the wedding, but the feedback I got was that the father was a bit embarrassed. According to what he told me, our children attracted so much attention with the Afrocentric clothes that they wore. Many people that came to the wedding were trooping to take pictures of my children and asking questions about where they bought the clothes.
So that was where the idea came because we realized that there was a market for parents that want their children to wear Afrocentric attires. So to fully understand the market, I did a feasibility study. We brought 32 outfits at school funfair, and sold 22 clothes. I wasn’t too happy because I had expected to sell all. But my husband was impressed; he encouraged me, I need to launch out a brand that would fill that niche for parents that want to see their child wear native attires. That was how we started Little Weavers, and we have been five on for more than five years.
What were you doing before you started up your venture?
I studied Economics. And I worked in the financial industry, as a stockbroker for six years before I now bade them farewell and established Little Weavers.
When you wanted to switch from the financial sector to cloth-making, did people try to dissuade you and how were you able to handle such discouragements?
Yes a lot of my friends advised me against doing native attires for children. Many of them preferred that I do clothes for adults. Honestly, it wasn’t easy with all the discouraging comments. But I refused to be discouraged because those comments challenged me. I wanted to focus on children and youths because they are the future.
You exhibit so much love for the African tradition, how do intend to merge running your business with your strong passion for culture?
When I started Little Weavers, I noticed that our various cultures as Nigerians are fast becoming eroded. I noticed that the millennium parents don’t bother to educate children of the cultural origins. I was worried because we’re fast losing our heritage. I don’t want to sound racists, but I feel we’re been brainwashed to accepting the urban lifestyles of the Caucasians. And we are very confident in celebrating the African culture especially in our children. We need to educate our children about the African culture. We need to bring their minds back.
So I felt that I must go beyond starting up a business to adding value to society. So I came up with the campaign called Heritage Education for Youths (HEY). The objective is to educate, empower and revolutionize. We seek to change the cultural perception. We want to empower youths, and we’re building a lot of content. We want to bring people’s mind to Africa, so they can appreciate their heritage. It is a fresh objective and we want to teach them basic skills in craftwork, arts, sewing, and fashion kidprenuership and at the end we have a market where they can sell it. Theses would go a long way in building their confidence and became culturally aware about Africa and Africans. And each time they wear it, they show so much pride and are enthralled by it. We want to educate them on the various tourists sites like the Ogbunike cave in Anambra state and many others scattered all over the country and in Africa.
What packages have you lined up to actualize this objective?
I have a couple of programmes that I’ve lined up. And one of them is the Mini-me Collection. It is a programme where the mothers and their children would wear the same outfit. The idea is to have a merge between the young and old. We want to celebrate mothers and children, and get them to show their knowledge about African culture. The Arabs, Europeans and Indians show and talk proudly about their culture, so what happens to our own cultural heritage? Why are we not passing it unto our children? So the idea for the Mini-me programme is to inspire the next generation to be better, than what we imbibe from our colonial masters.
What is kidpreneurship about?
It is about catching kids young, and grooming their interests in entrepreneurship and harnessing the potentials to become great entrepreneurs. This is a drive that every SME should adopt as their corporate social responsibility.
Whenever I’m in midst of foreigners, I try so well to show my identity. I’m clad in my Afrocentric outfit, and I hear them compliment that I look beautiful, regal and colourful. They celebrate me and want to identify with me. So why wont I be proud I be proud of who I am? Women should not copy the whites and ignore their own cultural heritage.
So many youths are more engrossed in social media, how do you intend to use the social media influence in steering their attention back to knowing about their culture?
We aim to flood the social media with highly educative and entertaining pictures on great African personalities. Has anyone thought of shooting cartoons on iconic personalities like Queen Amina, Wole Soyinka, Imotan, Chimamanda Adichie and so many others? We’ll find graphic animators to make animations and movies series on them and many other notable Africans. And then these videos will be uploaded on Youtube, Instagram and Facebook.
Then we will go to schools to engage both the children and their teachers. We target primary schools because I believe education is key, especially at that level. Because by the time we educate and empower them, then social media won’t influence them so much anymore. We also intend having an academy for them where they would undergo language classes, art illustrations, pattern cutting, sewing and so much more. It is a total package, and we have schools that are interested. And we also aim to talk to the ministry of education to have some of these packages in school curriculums.
Also we have other projects aiming to educate the community and empower the African woman and youths.
Group rolls out programmes to boost confidence among girls
Lack of confidence has been identified as the biggest factor that could hamper the womenfolk from excelling in life. Hence in a quest to tackle this impediment, a group has arranged a programme that would teach and groom girls on how to navigate through life, and how they can handle the many issues they would confront in the fast-evolving world.
According to Rita Okoye, the founder and convener of Raising Confidence Girls (RCG), their quest is to provide a platform to support and give solutions to the challenges that young girls face. “We want to have an engaging forum for both mothers and girls,” she said.
“Our aim is to build a nation where every girl no matter the status is confident. When you’re confident, you know your worth as a human being and can achieve.
“I am passionate about this because it is an issue I dealt with as a child. And I’ve come to notice that in Nigeria, one needs the confidence to survive and excel in whatever you do. Confidence is the key if you want to stand out and get ahead. “Also grooming confident girls would curb sexual abuses because they would be bold and brave enough to speak out or report to their parents when they molested or abused physically and psychologically.”
Okoye disclosed that this median programme, which is tagged ‘we grow together’, is slated to take place on Saturday 7 April 2018, from 9 am to 2 pm at the Teeky Arena, 19 Kusenla Ikate Lekki axis of Lagos metropolis, and that the event is for mothers and their girls between seven to 14 years old.
Disclosing some of the program packaged for the event, Okoye said that RCG aims to hold a one of its kind annual conference where mothers and daughters can sit together and have specific confidential conversations. She hinted that seasoned speakers and psychologists would also be there to discuss various incisive and educative topics that would engage and provide useful tips for all participants.
“RCG just wants to add value to the society because we believe in the bidder picture where we will groom confident girls that would grow up to be great women and good leaders,” she added.