A Day in Two Cities with Founders Behind ZI & LUWA
Welcome to CITIES where PROTOChic invites an industry insider to share a day in their respective city -- in this case, two industry insiders committed to running an accessories label oceans apart - meet ZI & LUWA Founders Ngozi Kemjika and Toluwa Okunoren.
Running a growing accessories line from two countries is just another day in the life for the co-collaborators behind ZI & LUWA. Inspired by their rich Nigerian heritage and shared penchant for adventurous travel, the 2-year old brand spans jewelry and handbags, perfect for city living and delivered globally via their online store. As for co-founders Ngozi Kemjika and Toluwa Okunoren running their venture while balancing full-time jobs, they are an inspirational duo on how to start a venture and still keep a 9-to-5. We caught up with Ngozi and Toluwa for a peek into their respective days.
Current Cities: Ngozi in New York, NY and Toluwa in London, UK
SETTING THE TONE
Ngozi: I’m usually up by 5am and I’ll begin my day with smiling when I wake up. As cliché as that sounds, I think that it’s important to set the tone for your day and a smile goes a long way. It’s a blessing to wake up, so I smile when I do. I then pray or spend a few minutes meditating to gospel music, then start getting ready.
Toluwa: I’ll start my day by meditating for 15 minutes and reading my Bible, praying or similar to Ngozi, listening to gospel music. I shower, do a light beat (make-up), lay down my edges, prepare a vegan protein shake, and then head to my corporate hustle in the city.
Ngozi: I head out and that’s when I look at my phone, which usually has a ton of messages from my family or Toluwa. I play catch-up on the train because I honestly hate being on my phone during the day. We usually have an in-depth conversation over the weekend, so we know what we have to do for the week ahead. Toluwa will usually still send a gentle reminder via WhatsApp with the tasks for the day, since her morning has already begun and then we delegate the tasks between us.
Toluwa: On my way into work, I usually compile a to-do list for us to go over and then distribute tasks. Due to the time difference, there are some tasks I action without a second opinion, such as drafting emails ready for Ngozi to approve and send off when she wakes. Honestly, we really work quite well as a team considering that we don’t see each other for months on end, but I think it works for us! I also send out any shipments on my way into work. Once I get to my office, I have my Earl grey tea, very British I know!
THE EARLY DAYS
Ngozi: What many people don’t know is that we were working on this project for 3 years before actually launching. We spent many days meeting up, going to the British Library drawing handbags and other designs, mood boarding and figuring out what would work or not. We literally spent every weekend for 3 years doing this! We had many setbacks and knockdowns, but it was those early stages that really enabled us to work extremely well as a pair. We learned to trust each other’s judgement and quickly learned that in terms of our creative vision, we had many things in common. Those early stages really deepened our business partnership and is what ultimately enabled us to work well together despite being miles apart.
FRIENDSHIP AS THE FOUNDATION
Ngozi: We both work on the creative design of the brand, PR/Influencer outreach and different aspects of our social media. I take charge of social strategy and different ways to grow online while Toluwa focuses more on our social media content. Toluwa also focuses on the Buying and Distribution since the bulk of our product is held in London. It’s much easier than squeezing it all into a New York apartment! Our products are made across the globe, but predominantly in Italy, so it’s also easier for them to be shipped to the UK. Although, the goal is to eventually have the bulk of our products made and sourced in Africa - we are working towards that!
Toluwa: When running a small business, you have to put on many hats and step in on areas that you might not have the most knowledge in. If we feel that one of us is more experienced in one area than the other, the more experienced person heads that task. It is admirable to know your strengths and weaknesses and to seek help where you can. I think that’s one of the benefits of having a partner. There’s more experience in the pot and more manpower to carry out tasks. Ultimately, we both want the same end goal.
Ngozi: Honestly, a lot of our meetings are held on the phone or email communications. When we are getting ready to launch a new collection, we will typically travel to the country of production. We like to be fully hands on with what we do, so this is super important to us. It is not the easiest balancing full time jobs as well as running your own company, so we fit in meetings as and when we can.
Toluwa: We meet with photographers, stylists and PR consultants who can potentially help to take ZI & LUWA to the next level. We also meet with other creatives and small business owners who aren’t necessarily in fashion. It’s good to get advice, tips and tricks from all sources - you just never know what you might learn!
Ngozi: I like to wrap my evenings by either cooking a quick home-cooked meal, then jumping in the shower to unwind and relax my mind. If I don’t jump on a call with a friend or family, I’ll have a cup of tea after I’ve eaten and put on a manuka honey and cinnamon face mask. I’ll keep that on while watching something like ‘How to Get Away with Murder’ or perhaps I’ll read a book. I’m currently re-reading Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart.’
Toluwa: On a good day, I’ll listen to gospel music, read books usually by black authors, or listen to podcasts. When I feel like I really need to zone out and not think, I’m guilty of watching a little ratchet TV, such as ‘Real Housewives of Atlanta.’ I respond to all of my tribe and pray before then unwinding in bed.
This interview has been condensed.