Just over 12 months ago 'Styled By Africa' was still in its scribble stage. A time when myself and my best friend Alae Ismail were frantically scribbling brainstorms on bits of paper in university libraries between lectures, on the tube, even hiding in cupboards in our part time jobs to discuss our idea over the phone. A year later, and it has grown into a fully-fledged website highlighting creative businesses from Africa complete with an online concept store selling a curated selection of fashion pieces sourced from across Africa.
As a Masters student of Development Studies at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London), writing and talking about development in Africa was the norm among fellow students and professors, but it was life in a bubble. Outside of that world, development tends to be discussed in very academic, (read: dry), language, or in poverty porn campaigns by the big charities. I was trying to find a way to engage with people outside the development bubble in a way that was more informal and accessible. At the same time, Alae was doing her Masters in Public Health at Kings College London while also interning as a fashion stylist and working part time for brands such as Harrods, Calvin Klein and Monsoon. Her struggle was trying to figure out how to have the creative dynamic career that she craved while also pursuing her commitment to global health issues for women.
With graduation looming and the dreaded job hunt with it, we looked for jobs where our passions and values would fit in but struggled find anything worth only having 25 leave days for. After numerous venting sessions, we decided to put our passions together and create our own dream opportunity.
In May 2012, we pressed 'publish' on our very first blog post at www.styledbyafrica.com . We decided to use fashion and lifestyle as our avenue to challenge the perceptions of Africa in international media and highlight development issues to a less conventional audience. On the blog we highlight young creative entrepreneurs in Africa or the diaspora to demonstrate the young people who are changing the face of Africa themselves, and moving beyond the clichés of what 'Made in Africa' products look like.
Six months after setting up the blog, we entered and won a young entrepreneurs competition run by Virgin Media Pioneers to travel to India and receive business mentoring from the man himself, Richard Branson. The experience was incredible, not just living the 5* life for a few days or meeting one of our business idols, but because it pushed us to take the next step in our vision of moving from blog to boutique. In May 2013, we launched our online concept store that provides our readers with a curated selection of unique and stylish pieces, while providing access to an international market for creative design rooted in Africa and the opportunity for artisan producers to scale their businesses.
Our first year in business has been up and down with challenges and successes, but the decision to create our own jobs was the best one we've made all year. Now, we're out to support other people do the same.