Being a woman entrepreneur can be both daunting and exhilarating. The highs and lows blend together; congested schedules quickly become normal; and there’s always a new strategy to be learned and applied to your ever growing business. Technology has made it easier for smart women to obtain pertinent business information to propel themselves into sustainable success. We see girl magic sprinkling across the Internet through engaging online communities, conferences, and local and digital events. The resources and love of entrepreneurial sport are there, but many times, the woman behind the brand is overlooked for the sake of her brand and business. This is where our new monthly series, Girl Boss in the City, comes into play. (We introduced the series in last month’s newsletter.)
Our goal is to separate the girl from the boss and get to know her on a personal level. We talk about self-care, the unicorned myth known as work-life balance, and how easy it is to lose one’s self in the business. GBITC gets the real — what makes her tick; who she looks up to; what her personal goals are; and what real love means to her. We’re excited about the opportunity to grow and highlight Slay Culture’s community of smart women who unapologetically go after what they want in their lives, love and goals.
Coming in as our first entry of this series is 32-year-old home decor designer Moji Akinde of Fehinti by Moji Akinde. Her handcrafted Nigerian inspired pillows are just as breathtaking as her journey to being a girl boss. Enjoy her interview.
Where were you born?
I was born in Chicago actually, however I left when I was about a year old, and grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. I moved back to Chicago in 2002.
Where do you currently live?
I live in the wonderful neighborhood of Hyde Park. Me, Barack and ‘Chelle are neighbors. (So I like to think.)
Where was your life headed before you became an entrepreneur?
My life was quite interesting to say the least when I started Fehinti. I was navigating what it meant to be a 31 year old Nigerian American woman, in the process of switching from a 4 year long full time job of planning meeting & events to another, at the same time changing apartments from one neighborhood to another.
I started this because I knew that Nigerian fabric was just as good, if not better that those I see in home goods stores, and there was no reason I couldn’t incorporate my Nigerian culture into my American one. My passion was also fueled by my desire to give back – and I needed to have an additional source of income to do that, at the level my heart really wanted. You can’t give what you don’t have.
Did you always know that you’d be doing what you’re doing now?
Not at all! I’ve always loved to sew and while I don’t always wear Nigerian fabric, I love seeing and touching them. My career background was in hospitality and the idea to establish Fehinti came suddenly but naturally.
When did your dream of handcrafting home decor come about?
I had an old bland pillow cover that had started to fray, and I told myself I wasn’t going spend money at a fancy store when I could make one with the beautiful fabric and patterns I was hoarding in my closet. And so I did. I sent a few pictures to my friends and they went nuts. One of them bought 4 pillows that weren’t even for sale right away! Their excitement is what motivated me to continue, that I had something great in the works and that I could achieve it.
Creatives create more when they’re supported. Who do you consider your greatest supporters of your entrepreneurial endeavors and why?
My friends and family. I know that sounds really cliché, but it’s true. I have 12 brothers and sisters, and countless aunts and uncles. The first set of pillows and placemats I created were made from fabric from my sister’s wedding. I was pleasantly surprised when she didn’t get upset that I cut up her fancy celebratory fabric for home accessories.
My aunt helps source the hand-dyed Tie Dye fabric, where they are made just miles from my hometown, and brings them with her when she travels to the US. I have a generous, patient and supportive group of friends, a core of which I’ve known since secondary school in Nigeria, who also act as my therapists, copy writers, editors, buyers and let me stage photographs of my product in their homes.
Describe your group of friends.
I have my hospitality friends who understand unique things like why leaving a 30% tip isn’t too much, and customer service is just as important as rocket science. I have my American friends who have helped me understand the political system, its importance and ways to effectively achieve social justice and economic change as a Black woman.
And I have my Nigerian & Nigerian American friends who understand that Jollof Rice is a food group on its own, and that we originally invented every dance routine in every hip hop video ever created.
I am blessed to have these honest, supportive and amazing people as friends, even though they are spread out all over the world from Chicago to Houston, to London, to Nigeria.
Being a girl boss is a tough and demanding job that often strips us of personal relationships. How do you maintain a love life? Are you in a serious relationship?
I am not in a serious relationship, but I go on dates. I’d say that efficient time management is key in balancing a love, professional and entrepreneurial life.
What characteristics would your ideal partner have?
PATIENCE. And confidence. I’m an energetic, out-going, type A personality, multicultural creative woman who has essentially been independent since she was 10 years old. (I went to boarding school). There are a lot of facets of me existing concurrently that cannot fit in one box, or be understood immediately. Patience, confidence and kindness would be the core characteristics.
What’s one thing you want potential partners to know about dating a girl boss?
She needs your support, and to know that you’re in her corner. While I am new to the entrepreneurial game, I have quickly realized that it’s a tasking and exhausting endeavor, especially if there’s still a full time job in the mix. I’m sure other Girl Bosses will agree with me when I say – We want to know that there’s someone in our corner ready to listen, support & catch us if we decide to take a day off to fall apart.
Self-care is vital to any success! Have you mastered the art of self-care? If so, what does yours consist of? If not, do you plan on achieving this in 2016 and how?
YES! In the colder months, I invite friends over to eat, drink and play games. Bringing all my groups of friends together, seeing their smiles and hearing their laughter truly calms me and reminds me that no matter what life may bring me – these special moments are some of the best in life. (Besides, I make a spectacular mulled wine and I’m a champ at Connect Four & Ludo. Don’t ask my friends for confirmation though.)
In the warmer months, fewer things give me more joy than running under a clear blue sky with tons of sunshine along the lake. I enjoy meditating by sitting out on the beach and listening to the drone of voices and city noises.
And wine. Red wine. I happily indulge in the Olivia Pope diet without the popcorn.
Do you have any regrets when it comes to your business?
None, and hopefully it stays that way. I did make a poor business decision early on because I was too eager, but I learned from it. I applied the principle of “failing well” by not letting that set-back dictate my outlook on the future of my business. I learned to take a deep breath before making major decisions and to trust my instincts.
What have been your greatest obstacles being a Nigerian women entrepreneur?
I think that being a Nigerian entrepreneur has worked to my advantage and to the goal I aim to achieve as I am able to give a firsthand experience and narrative of the Nigerian culture and art through fabric. I have met non-Nigerian entrepreneurs who work with African fabric, and I am excited just as they are to offer a bit of history and cultural references about the products they have. I think that most people are happy to know that the Fehinti products they are buying are mostly from Nigeria, of Nigeria and handmade by a Nigerian woman.
What do you want Black American women to know about Nigeria?
That they would feel just as home there, as they do here. We have so much more in common culturally than we realize. From the way we revere our grandma’s as the goddess of the family, to knowing “the look” when your mother needs you to get your act right, and to the fact that there is no such thing as being too full, “company” gets the good plates and linen, and food solves all problems.
I joke with my Black American friends that they are Nigerian at heart; however I’m sure there is some historical truth to that. The differences we have are there because we don’t know one another. Nigerians know about Black Americans through TV images, the same way Black Americans know “Africa” via the Discovery Channel. I encourage us to invite ourselves over to dinner, to truly talk to one another. We will see that the things that set us apart are mostly superficial. We really are sisters from another mister.
What’s your go-to beauty and skin care routine?
- WATER. I don’t always like to, but I drink lots of water. It does wonders for my skin.
- For my body, I mostly use H2O Plus products. It’s a marine based skincare line, founded by a Chicagoan woman. In between, I use the ever faithful shea butter & coconut oil.
- For my face, I use a mixture of lemon juice, olive oil and water as an astringent/toner/moisturizer before bed.
- For my “hair” when I grow it out past half an inch, I use Andre Walker hair products (another Chicagoan). He’s Oprah’s hair stylist who I’ve had the fortunate pleasure to work with twice as a model. (No, I’m not being paid to talk about his products. Yes, they are that good.) And on my desk at work, I have Popped Handmade natural hand/body lotion, handmade by another Chicagoan woman Carla Miles.
What are your top 3 values in life?
- Integrity – Always do, say, and create things that I will consistently be proud of.
- Compassion – No matter what situations I find myself in, I am still privileged over others in some way. Hence it’s my responsibility to use that position to make another person’s life better.
- Love – Love others, as I would want them to love me.
Every artist and entrepreneur needs a safe space to create and work. What does your creative space look like?
My ideas come to me when I’m sitting, staring out the windows in my living room, or out on the sidewalk patio of my neighborhood coffee shop, Sip & Savor. The creative space is my bedroom. It’s not as exciting as you might think, but I’m happy to share pictures of my space.
You’re a “model, fashionista and self-proclaimed hostess”. Where can we find those creative expressions of you online? How do you interact with your customers and audience?
I’m also a writer, and so I have a blog at www.mojiakinde.com & www.mojiakinde.com/modelbehavior is where you’ll find some pictures of me. I interact with my customers and audience mostly via www.facebook.com/FehintiDecor & Instagram @ile_fehinti.
Ariel C. Williams is the Editor-in-Chief of Slay Culture and author of The Girl Talk Chronicles (Amazon). Sound parenting, storytelling without bounds, and providing a space where Black women and Black boys (like she and her son) are celebrated for their greatness are things that keep her going. Tweet her @ArielSaysNow.