Entrepreneur launches website for Luxury African Fashion
Chekwas Okafor is the founder of onychek.com – an e-commerce site focused on ‘Made in Africa’ luxury fashion and brands. Self-taught computer programmer, Okafor talks about what inspired him to start his business and what his plans for growth are.
How did you come up with your business name?
My father inspired the name. You see, my father is my inspiration and I have always wanted to be like him. Another big reason is that my dad’s company once imported textile from China to Nigeria, so I want to reverse that. It is my goal to export textile (in the form of fashion) from Africa to the world. So naming my company after my dad’s company, ONCHEK is a good way to remind myself of who I am and the problem that I am trying to solve.
Who inspired you to start?
Once again, my parents. They have always inspired me to be of service to my community. The craftsmanship and designs by African designers also inspired me to get into fashion. This is why I felt the need to merge the two. It is incredible what fashion can do for the continent.
Who is your target market?
Sophisticated consumers who appreciate African culture, and believe that quality products can be made in Africa. These consumers are also conscious about where and how their clothing are made.
How have you financed the business?
What is your competitive edge?
My company’s competitive advantage is that all the products on our website are made in Africa. Another competitive edge is our focus on content creation. We understand that the luxury African fashion industry is still in its infancy, therefore we have made the commitment to educate the world about this industry. We put out weekly long-form content that ranges from the history of a particular product to how products are made, to an African fashion dictionary.
What is the 5-year plan for this idea?
We want to be the world’s most compelling destination for ‘Made in Africa’ luxury fashion.
What challenges do you face?
One challenge is that people still do not understand what African luxury means. This is why we are working to educate consumers about the intricacies of making these products and also their significance to the African culture.
What key things have you learned since starting this idea?
I have learned the following:
The importance of being versatile.
The importance of networking and reaching out to people in my industry.
I now understand that it can really take a long time to launch a company.
Be open to new ideas. The idea I started out with two (2) years ago is different from the company I launched now.
Most roadblocks have ended up being beneficial to me.
What five (5) things do startup entrepreneurs need to know?
Startups are hard; No joke, Startups are really hard.
Ideas are worthless, Execution is key.
Marketing is important. If you build the company, it does not mean that they will come. You’ve got to market your business.
It is crucial to ask for help when you need it. Reach out to people you have not spoken to before, you will be amazed at how many people are willing to help.
Products speak louder than plans. People are willing to help when they see something tangible.
What advice do you have for youths looking to start an idea but say ‘there is no money’?
This is a difficult question to answer because “there is no money” can mean a host of things like, “I have money for a prototype, but not enough for an actual product,” or “I don’t even have enough money for a prototype.” Therefore based on where someone is, the advice will be different. So instead of trying to give blanket advice, this is what I do when faced with a difficult roadblock.
I rephrase the question.
If it is a cash related roadblock, I ask myself “What will the money do for me?” Once I have an idea of what the money could have done for me, I then ask myself, how else can I get that done? Most times, I come up with different ways that I can solve the problem. It is fascinating how rephrasing a question makes problems a lot easy to tackle.
How do you think African youths can continue to support each other?
If you see someone doing something that you admire, just reach out to them. It is much easier to connect today than it has ever been. Events geared toward youths can also be really helpful. So when you attend an event, have the goal to meet people and make new connections that can help you to move your idea, business, and agenda forward.
How many jobs have you created so far?
How has technology enhanced your business?
How can we support and improve innovation in Africa?
Education – this is a major component of innovation because more skilled people inherently build useful things for society. With the internet, one can easily learn a lot, however, it is paramount that our education system prepares graduates for the ever-changing technology scene. Also, I cannot emphasize the importance of leadership development at higher education institutions.
Access to capital – many wealthy Africans are relatively still risk averse. Most still prefer to buy land than to fund a local startup. There has to be some education that needs to happen. This can be angel/VC funds reaching out to wealthy Africans and educating them on the positive impact of investing in local startups. Media can also play a role by telling stories of successful angel/VC investors that have had lucrative exits. It might take a while for people to grasp the importance, but we have to get this right if we are to have more innovation on the African continent. Access to capital encourages entrepreneurs to take risks. Risk begets innovation.
Media – It is important to tell the stories of successful local startups. When I was in Nigeria, I hardly knew of young founders leading a top company. Telling the stories of African entrepreneurs to young Africans is equally important. You never know whom you are going to inspire.