Think Serengeti, Maasai Mara and a length and breadth of land so ancient and mesmerizing - everything about Africa signifies life as a whole. The last thing anyone would imagine is a clothing line created with the heart of Africa in mind. That's exactly what sibling founders George and Ross Okoye created. Presenting "Ages Apparel, African inspired - British Design" in this month's start-up story. Here's what happened,
1. How did it all begin? Stepping back to your roots and bringing that into the place where you are now doesn't come easy.
My brother George wanted to start a brand for some time and even dabbled in selling tees to friends but it didn't really go any further than that. I was working as a Manager in a Call Center at the time and whilst on holiday in Egypt, I had a lot of thinking time. I decided that I didn't want to work in this environment any more and decided to help George achieve his dream of having a brand. He has great artistic talent and with a push could create something great.
We both had vast customer service experience and I had a logical mindset and management experience too, which all together would make a good mix of skills for a team. Plus, as brothers there is great trust which we believe is important in business, so we teamed up and became partners.
Once this was decided we were told about a business start up group called 'Outset' who hold free courses for budding entrepreneurs, so we approached them and took their business start up courses. This helped us find our focus and develop our key ideas more into the business you see today.
2. How do you manage your value chain? Tell us a bit about your business process from raw material to finished product stage
Our processes vary depending on the product that we are creating but the t-shirt creation process goes something like this... (highly simplified version of course)
Hold a meeting and decide what we want to achieve for the tee and who the target market is.
George will draft a number of designs and we meet again to decide which is most suitable.
Order and test sample tees to make sure the tee is of a decent quality, ethically sound and a good fit.
Finalize the design and send to the screen printers.
Attach custom tags.
Quality assure all tees and package by hand.
Set up a photo-shoot and get the tee online.
3. The designs you have are really fantastic, I am a happy customer myself! Africa is huge and wonderful - how do you decide what you want to portray with each edition in your collection?
Thank you so much! It's always good to know when people are happy customers.
The African inspired idea comes from our heritage. We have British, Irish and African heritage and we wanted to explore our African side a lot more. Our initial collections are of a Western view of wild Africa. We chose this as we were brought up with this ingrained on our minds - from seeing nature documentaries we see on TV and the Africa portrayed in books. From that we have the wild African themes you see in our work; the tribal artwork and the great animals such as lions, cheetah, elephants and rhinos.
We know this isn't what all of Africa is like and that it is a diverse and wonderful continent with so much to discover - but as a starting point we want to focus on what we know. From there, we know our collections will mature along with our knowledge of Africa.
Since we're taking so much from Africa we thought we'd give back to what inspired us in the first place. We give £1 to the 'African Wildlife Foundation' for every tee sold. What's more - it's a great feeling every time we give!
4. What's the biggest challenge you face running your business?
Since this is our first business almost everything is a steep learning curve. Honestly, I would say building and growing a business with limited funds is the biggest challenge. We have to think very hard about everything we do and whether we have the money to do it.
We both quit our full time jobs to run Ages Apparel and with all the profits we make going back into the business or to charity; it makes earning in the short term rather tricky. Luckily we both still live at home so that does rather help!
5. Last but not the least, what's your big learning as an entrepreneur?
I think one of the most striking things about starting a business is how helpful other entrepreneurs are.
We have had a lot of help and support from many different people and I'd just like to thank them now, THANK YOU! Many people probably don't realize the time that goes into everything. This is a full time commitment and if we weren't so driven we wouldn't be where we are today.
You can find out more about Ages Apparel at - http://www.agesapparel.com