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Ebele Udoh, using technology to disrupt fashion innovation in Africa

Ebele Udoh, using technology to disrupt fashion innovation in Africa

Ebele is an award winning Entrepreneur and a disruptive force in Africa’s Tech and Fashion industry. Named “Entrepreneur of the Year” 2019 at the Eloy Awards, a renowned platform that celebrates women making impact and driving change in their sector, in 2016 she founded African Designers Mall (ADM), an e-commerce platform that provides Fashion and Art Entrepreneurs an access to the global market with the tap of a button. ADM is fondly called the “Farfetch of Africa” and it exists for the expansion and promotion of Africa’s fashion and Art industry using technology.

She believes in empowering individuality. Her mission is to create a global technology platform for premium fashion and Art, connecting creators, curators and consumers from Africa to the world.

Ebele is also the Creative/Artist Director for ADM PROJECTS, a made in Africa, sustainable and artisan-driven fashion brand. She has a passion to create and uses the platform to empower and improve the standard of living of artisans through raw hand paintings designed on clothings which are sold across the world.

In 2017, she became the youngest ambassador for Origin Africa, the biggest trade show in Africa. Her role was to drive and upscale the micro and small business sector across African Countries by positioning them for global visibility.

Ebele Founded BrandBox Africa in 2019, a Technology company that is driving digital inclusion in Africa by helping small businesses use tailored digital solutions effectively so that they can reach their target market online, increase their revenue and easily build a customer base and save on-the-go.

Ebele gives back to the community through her NGO called My AFRICA PROJECT. Here, she works with action-driven youths to cause change one project at a time in their direct environment.

Share with us on your memories of growing up

I grew up in a family of 5 siblings. My dad is a medical doctor and my mum is a nurse. Both my parents made a remarkable impact in my life growing up. Their training and guidance made me excel not just in academics, but also sports, socials and leadership roles which made me win awards as a young student. I am also grateful that my parents allowed me to experience independence at a young age. Let me tell you a story. After high school, we were all expected to stay at home for some months to prepare for and write JAMB but that wasn’t all I wanted to do. I needed to make my own money because dad’s weekly allowance wouldn’t cover my extra wants. I decided to pitch my teaching skills to my Aunty who owned a primary school close to home and guess what? She gave me the job after I convinced her that I was going to transform primary 4C to become the best graduating class. The pupils believed the intelligent students were put in 4A and 4B classes. Well, this was correct, but Ebele, now the youngest and ‘flyest’ teacher in town, was going to change that notion and yes, I did it graciously, plus every pupil wanted to be in my class.

I loved to teach, I earned a good salary and often brought treats and gifts for my pupils who improved on their grades. Aunty Ebele was the best! The parents wanted to meet me to understand how I impacted their kids in just a few months. It was an emotional event during my send-off party.

Understanding my pupils, finding best tactics to use to help them learn faster, speaking positive words to them, believing in them and celebrating their small and big wins are experiences I would never forget because helping those kids helped me personally too. It really shaped the Ebele that you see today.

Read also: Maryam Musa-Nasir: Building successful fashion business

In what ways are you disrupting Africa’s tech and fashion industry?

First of all, Africa is the future and as a company, ADM is disrupting and leading fashion innovation using technology in Africa. I founded African Designers Mall, an innovative e-commerce platform that connects African creators and curators to customers around the world with just the tap of a button while giving buyers a unique shopping experience.

Our technology platform is powered by a structure that allows African fashion and art designers to own a secure online store on ADM to showcase and sell their products from anywhere they might be to customers globally thereby increasing their revenue while reducing their operational cost of running a brick-and-mortar store. ADM is fondly called the FARFETCH OF AFRICA since we are focused on promoting well finished premium products made in Africa. Soon, ADM will be expanding to house more international luxury brands on its platform. We are using the power of technology and retail to solve social and economic problems within our community.

Share on founding African Designers Mall (ADM) and what it stands for

African Designers Mall (ADM) started from a personal struggle about 5 years ago when my friends and I were trying to shop our favourite African brands online but there were little or no ways to achieve this. So I decided to create a platform that will be a digital hub for premium African brands to retail their products with a tap of a button to the world. ADM has addressed the problem since then.

The main goal is to connect shoppers to unique African brands through a single storefront that offers a seamless logistical experience for both shoppers and sellers.

ADM has become Africa’s most innovative e-commerce company with growing product listings from premium brands.

We have successfully become Africa’s premium marketplace with over 10,000 monthly subscribers.

ADM recently partnered with WISH, the most downloaded fashion app globally. This partnership will help us expand our customer base while promoting African brands to new markets.

What role does technology play in Africa’s fashion and art industry?

In simple terms, the covid pandemic has shown us why technology is the way to go in these times. Today, fashion technology is growing at a faster pace than ever. Now we have robots that sew and cut fabrics, AI Technology that predicts style trends and these clothes are worn in virtual reality.

These new innovations show how technology is automating, personalising and speeding up the fashion space. Technology opens us up new markets and brings the ease of doing business securely across the world.

Currently, we are experiencing an evolution in fashion runway. The virtual fashion week experience involves shows that can now be experienced anywhere, and aren’t limited to traditional runways. They involve elements of fiction and just as importantly, can give viewers a much closer look at fabrics and patterns, combining the best of salon and runway presentations.

Africa’s fashion and art industry must embrace technology in order to thrive in an increasingly global digital economy.

Tell us about your mission to create a global technology platform for premium fashion and art

Africa has one of the most intriguing creative communities and our mission is to share this talent to the world to see, feel and own, driven by innovative technology.

The problem we are faced with is such that many artists and designers in our continent have little or no access to technology platforms and channels to reach customers across the world.

With African Designer Mall’s global marketplace, fashion and art brands can now be accessed globally.

It’s intriguing when we get feedbacks from customers in Australia, the US, Kenya and so on, expressing how excited they were to receive their orders with such great quality of finishing that have exceeded their expectations. The most beautiful part is they tag us on social media to show us how they have styled their favourite Africa brand.

Share more on ADM projects, conception to implementation and journey so far

ADM Projects is an artisan driven sustainable fashion brand that empowers artists through art innovated into clothing.

Unlike the Western world, Nigerians are not big on art collection. With this renowned challenge, you find a number of artists living below standard and unsure of their daily needs. To improve this situation, ADM Projects was founded to partner with these artists across Nigeria by giving them the opportunity to paint on clothing designed by us. So far, we have created several collections that are retailing on africandesignersmall.com and other international platforms.

What are your personal and professional challenges?

Having a business in Africa is amazing but the challenges come when lots of businesses do not understand major factors that affect the success of running an online business such as quality assurance, branding, delivery timeline and customer experience. There are many African brands out there that we would love to show to the world but the lack of these vital factors is a huge challenge to on-boarding them on ADM to sell.

Currently, we are working on starting trainings that will be focused on educating and equipping African creators with the best skills to tackle this challenge. We are on a mission to change the narrative that African brands only produce inferior goods

Explain in details how you are using the platform to empower and improve the standard of living of artisans

ADM Projects is a wearable art brand, we partner with low earning and talented artists who barely make a living using their craft by letting them express and show their talent to the world by painting on each collection we design. Through this partnership they make money from each sale, which drastically helps to improve their standard of living, while providing a better living condition for their families.

We just launched a platform called PROJECT CREATE where we search and find creative Africans. This helps us to build a creative community that shares raw talent from Africa to the world. We recently just discovered a family called EBUN & PIKIN. Their story follows the artistic journey of an incredible Nigerian family of 9. Ebun, her husband and their 7 children. Together, they create beautiful pieces of arts by intricately threading Ebun’s designs using vibrant African silk thread on canvas.

Ebun and her family use thread to express the African culture and heritage and now customers globally are able to find and buy their art on africandesignersmall.com. The earnings from these sales helps to improve the standard of living of Ebun and her family.

Tell us more about Origin Africa

In 2017, I became an ambassador for Origin Africa under the leadership of Belinda Edmonds. Origin Africa is the biggest trade show in Africa. It is the largest Pan-African cotton, textile and apparel event in the region and is profiled to raise awareness of Africa both as an investment and as a sourcing destination. The event highlights the creativity and innovation of the African cotton, textile and clothing industries, with a specific focus on business, trade and investment both regionally and internationally while capturing the spirit, style and innovation of modern Africa.

During this tenure, my role was to drive and upscale the micro and small business sector across African countries by positioning them for global visibility.

We worked with NEPC and the Ministry of Trade to create more opportunities for micro businesses in Nigeria to upscale their brands by exposing and attending the master classes pioneered at the Origin Africa Trade Shows done yearly. These classes were hosted by top international experts in the global fashion industry.

Share on founding BrandBox Africa

Brandbox Africa was founded from the vision to digitise African businesses. We help businesses use tailored digital solutions effectively so that they can reach their target market online, increase their revenue and easily build a customer base on-the-go.

One of the major challenges I have encountered while building Brandbox is access to capital. This has long been regarded as one of the most significant challenges facing entrepreneurs across Africa. The challenge is even more acute for tech start-ups, which are typically light on physical assets and cannot easily access capital from traditional sources. Nonetheless, Brandbox has bootstrapped so far and in a few months, our mobile app will be launched and within 5 minutes, a business owner can own a website, a mobile app, upload products, sell to millions of customers globally, get paid instantly, ship orders on-the-go and save for rainy days, all with the tap of a button. It’s a B2B subscription based service. A mobile app that can be downloaded and used by business owners across Africa.

Do we have enough women in the technology space?

We all know that tech is a heavily male-dominated environment, and the number of women in senior roles is still shockingly low. Statistics show that women are vastly underrepresented in tech.

In Africa’s tech industry, women constitute only 30% of professionals. In the UK, only 5% of leadership positions in the technology industry are held by women and in the United States, women hold only 25% of all jobs in the tech sector.

I believe there are things we must do to get more women into tech. Firstly, we need to stop gender stereotyping. Girls in secondary schools should be encouraged to not just choose art-based subjects but be intentionally guided on the need to also consider STEM subjects. Oftentimes, teachers and parents make subconscious stereotypes about girls and boys in relation to subjects such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Clearly, this has an impact as women progress through their career, if only they had the choice to experience both and make their decisions on their own. Teachers and parents, actively or subconsciously, often discourage them from choosing STEM subjects. Another factor would be encouraging more female mentors. Mentors are motivators and people we look up to guide us on a chosen path. Subconsciously, we look to others for examples of what we aim to do ourselves. If someone has done it, then we think, ‘maybe I can do it too’. It’s no surprise that research has shown that if your father was a lawyer then you are 5 times more likely to become a lawyer also. If we aren’t seeing women in positions of authority in the tech sector, then women at the beginning of their careers don’t have role models to follow.

Companies need to start looking at how they can build more mentorship programs, linking up senior women with junior counterparts, and making it worthwhile for both parties. This also links in to more companies selecting women for managerial positions so they can coach and develop their teams and be a role model to other aspiring managers.

How important is technology in today’s world?

We cannot deny the fact that technology has played and still plays major roles in society today. It has become an integral part of our daily life. Technology affects the way individuals communicate, learn, and think. It helps society and determines how people interact with each other on a daily basis.

Technology has boosted every industry. Businesses have grown, and it has created more employment opportunities. I mean, look at the fashion industry and how technology is disrupting the industry.

Where did the passion for technology spring from and how are you maintaining the drive?

My background is Economics but I developed an interest in tech during NYSC when I worked as a back-office analyst in Etisalat after which I worked in another Tech company where I studied and analysed the software and hardware solutions used by financial sectors and oil & gas companies.

These work experiences helped me to understand the possibilities of using technology. Furthermore, when my friends and I had the challenge of shopping African brands online while overseas, my solution to the problem was creating an online store that would house diverse African brands all in one place with a seamless shopping experience.

Innovative ideas are the juices that have been maintaining my drive. My team and I find innovative ways to improve our service offering, user experience while creating a global community for African premium brands.

Tell us about My Africa Project (MAP) and impact

My Africa Project (MAP) is a non-governmental organisation. MAP is driven by a single goal; to do our part in empowering communities and give hope to one African at a time through education, poverty eradication, income generating activities, youth empowerment and women empowerment.

MAP empowers Africans to effect change in their communities. Our Mission is to work with action driven volunteers who would become agents of change, hence the positive coercive force needed in the African continent. Our 2022 focus is to increase the number of women in tech. We intend to close this gap through Tech education, funding, career coaching and mentorship.

What day in your life is it that you cannot forget and why?

I cannot forget the day I made the decision to leave my well-paid job to pursue my dream of becoming an entrepreneur. That was a remarkable decision that changed everything.

Final words

Africa is the future and Africa must work. This has been the reason behind any business that I have founded so far and so shall it be. Thank you!