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Name: Kelechi Anyadiegwu
Favorite read: Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie
Recent read: #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amouruso
Favorite apps: Goodreader and Read Later
Most inspired by: “The women in my life who don’t take no for an answer.”
One quote that inspires you: “Fashion should celebrate women, and I’m glad that I grew up in a culture that celebrated them.” – Alek Wek
Ultimate goal for 2015: “To create more opportunities for designers in the African fashion industry.”
The best innovations are born out of sheer frustration or to solve a problem. For Nigerian-American entrepreneur Kelechi Anyadiegwu, that problem was finding fashionable African-inspired designs. Instead of waiting on it, Anyadiegwu went out and created Zuvaa, an online marketplace for African-inspired fashion and accessories. With more than 29,000 Instagram followers, rapidly growing social media presence and a loyal community, Zuvaa is gearing up to transform the e-commerce space.
We caught up with the technology entrepreneur to discuss how she started Zuvaa, her tips for starting a successful online marketplace and why community has taken her brand to the next level.
MadameNoire: How did you get your start in the technology space?
Kelechi Anyadiegwu: I’ve always had an interest in technology, since my parents bought me a computer as a small child. I naturally found myself attracted to online communities (chatrooms, The SIMS, neopets, etc.) and building things (websites, avatars, digital Barbies, etc.). These were interests that really shaped my career aspirations going into high school and entering college. I loved digital design and I loved creating content. Everything from the yearbook club to creating layouts, or putting together short media clips. I loved it all.
MN: What inspired you to create Zuvaa, a premier marketplace for African-inspired fashion and accessories?
KA: This inspiration grew out of a personal problem that I had. My family is of Nigerian heritage and I grew up in the States. I grew up constantly going to Nigerian-themed parties, events and family functions. So African prints and textiles were always a part of my life. As I grew into young adulthood, I started to realize how difficult it was to find modern and trendy African-inspired designs. And it shocked me, because these prints were so beautiful and so much could be done with them. And anyone who knew me knew I loved fashion, especially eccentric and vibrant prints. So using my background in marketing and design, I created an online marketplace that I would personally shop at and I knew others would shop as well.
MN: When you first had the idea to create Zuvaa, what steps did you take to get it off the ground?
KA: I just dove in. The minute I told myself I was going to pursue Zuvaa, I bought a domain, signed up for Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and started building the community right away. I knew right from the beginning that having a strong community that believed in our mission would be essential.
MN: Zuvaa is an online marketplace, but it’s also community focused. Why did you feel it was important to build a community within the platform?
KA: Building an online marketplace, community had to be a core part of my mission. Culture is something already so inherent in African communities, it only made sense that it would be the core of my marketplace for African fashion. I wanted the women who wore pieces from the marketplace, to feel like they were part of a bigger movement. Not only were they supporting small business owners and the African textile industry, but they were showing the love they had for African beauty and vibrancy through fashion. I wanted women to feel that personal connection to all the pieces they bought from the marketplace.
MN: What are your three tips to running a successful online marketplace?
KA: -Build a great community – Can’t emphasize this enough and the impact this has had for Zuvaa.
-Understand your customer – Don’t make assumptions. I made a lot of assumptions early on and did not do enough testing. I could have saved a lot of time and money, if I better understood my customer from the beginning.
-Patience and perseverance – E-commerce is hard, especially in fashion. There have been so many days I wanted to quit because we got no sales; then, the next day, we are featured on an awesome blog and sell out of an item that day. Running a company has taught me so much in what it means to never give up.
MN: What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received or given?
KA: Focus, focus, focus. Don’t try to do too much at once. Become really strong at one thing and then branch out to others, once your core is set. When I first started Zuvaa, I wanted to start designing my own pieces, I wanted to have a showroom, I wanted to do so many things. But my advisor, humbly told me, to focus on one aspect of the business and do it really, really well. Then I could branch out to other things. She said, “Black women, we often feel like we have to do all these things at once to prove we are 10 times better than the competition. But you don’t have to do that. Go at your own speed and things will fall into place.”
MN: What’s next for Zuvaa?
KA: Continuing to grow our community. We have such an amazing community of fashionistas who have really been pivotal in the growth of our company. These women are funny and engaged and supportive of the work we do at Zuvaa. We’re working on some amazing new projects and initiatives to further engage our community and our designers.
Based in New York City, Janel Martinez is a multimedia journalist who covers technology and entrepreneurship. She is the founder of “Ain’t I Latina?” an online destination geared toward Afro-Latinas. You can follow her up-to-the-minute musings on Twitter @janelmwrites.