Over the last ten years, the African community in South Australia has steadily grown giving rise to numerous African retail, barbing and online stores run by young and aspiring entrepreneurs.
Awa A. Chibikwa from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) arrived in Australia as a teenager in 2006. While pursuing her postgraduate degree in International Trade and Development, Awa has set up her own online fashion label ROSEÉ.
SALT Magazine got in touch with Awa to talk about her business and what is motivating her down that path.
Awa said ROSEÉ was originally created to celebrate the chic, elegance and beauty of African culture through fashion. Her aim is to provide affordable African fabrics to the community and mainstream Australians who might want to try something different.
“My friends and I often discussed how expensive it is to obtain an African inspired outfit. I truly believe that fashion doesn’t equal expensive. I imagined that there were other women who felt the same as my friends and so I did some research and started working on some patterns and styles largely influenced by traditional and contemporary African fashion.
“There’s beauty in African print my brand aspires to justify this through the different collections we produce, hence the name ROSEÉ (“ro-ze”) which embodies all of this”.
New and small businesses always face challenges and ROSEÉ is no exception. Awa said she is aware that she works with limited resources and time due to full-time study, work and other volunteering commitments.
Reflecting on her role in the business Awa said she doesn’t consider herself a designer, but a business person providing something needed by her community and the Australian public as a whole.
“I see myself as someone who loves her culture and heritage and want other people to experience the feeling I grew up with, dressing in African clothing and the joy that comes with it”.
So far Awa is grateful with the way things are going and is continuously looking at new ways to expand her business. “Starting and running a business can sometimes look easy when looking in from outside. Over 90% of start-ups fail so my goal is not to end up there. There’s always room for improvement and I am always looking to new ways to achieve this”.
Awa describes her collection in three words saying they are bold, chic and elegant. “The boldness comes from the bright colours I select which symbolises happiness and a sense of celebration. African print for me is never out of fashion which is why I describe my collection as chic, it is simply timeless. And there is elegance in African print, every piece tells a story which can be interpreted differently”.
As much as she loves western attire Awa want to encourage Australians to embrace African attire. She said people do turn their heads to look when they see someone wearing an African outfit from head to toe.
The general response to ROSEÉ amongst the African community has been amazing. “I think people are so used to seeing expensive African clothing that when they stumble across my site, there’s that moment of surprise. Those I’ve spoken to either in person or online constantly ask me how I keep my prices affordable whilst offering great quality at the same time”.
Awa’s advice to others in the community wanting to start their own business is a quote from Karen Lamb. “A year from now you will wish you had started today.
“Secondly, do not go in blindfolded, do your homework. There’s always a gap in the market that needs filling and it’s up to you to find this gap. Otherwise you will find yourself in a market that is already saturated, competing with well-established businesses and feeling overwhelmed. Finally, stay true to who you are, money is not the be all and end all of life!”
SALT Magazine thank Awa for sharing her business story with our readers and we wish her all the best.