Building an African Fashion Brand: Q&A with Ifeoma Ubby, Founder of OliveAnkara

Ankara, commonly known as “African prints” or “African wax prints”, is a 100% cotton fabric with vibrant patterns. Quite simply, it just says, “Africa”.

Ifeoma Ubby (you can call her Ify), the founder of OliveAnkara, wasn’t born an aspiring designer. Born and raised in Italy, she grew in love with African fabric that catapulted her entrepreneurship journey. As a teenager she would almost always step out with an African skirt or a head wrap, often both.

OliveAnkara hopes to inspire you to take on the world with their bold traditional African motifs paying homage to your individuality and unique style, ultimately embracing confidence. From head wraps to jumpsuits, the pieces are designed suitable for any occasion.

Melissa Lim of LadyBoss spoke to the African-Italian scientist Ify behind OliveAnkara.

Never Be Afraid to Follow Your Passion. Go for it, but first do some research.

Q: Tell us about your business, how long you’ve been doing it, and who your customers are?

A: I was born and raised in Italy – Venice but my ethnic roots are from Nigeria. As a toddler in summer, I was always wrapped in African prints. When I was a teenager, I would almost always step out with an African skirt or a head wrap, often both. In my house, there was a big piece of African cloth that we would use to lie down in the garden, or simply to cover the sofa. African clothes and prints have always been part of my life, and the older I got, the more I fell in love with them. When I moved to Singapore 4 years ago I realised that there wasn’t a place where I could by African print clothes, and then I thought I should start created them. OliveAnkara was then born last October 2016.

My customers are women of all cultures. My customers are women who want to add interesting, versatile, unique, original pieces to her closet that make her feel beautiful, feminine and bold as the wax prints they’re wearing. Women who are confident with themselves, leaders in their own field of expertise. Ladies who travel the world, but feel at home when they are dressed. OliveAnkara is neither trendy nor seasonal. Age is not an issue, we pride ourselves in making timeless apparel for timeless woman.

When I moved to Singapore 4 years ago I realised that there wasn’t a place where I could by African print clothes, and then I thought I should start created them.

Q: What were you doing before entrepreneurship?

A: I wasn’t born a fashion designer. I wasn’t one of those girls who knew from the get-go that she wanted to become a fashion designer. However, I have always had a predilection for colours and crafts, coupled with a creative soul.

I am an African-Italian scientist passionate about fashion, research, people and travels who now lives in Singapore. This diverse mix of cultures has clearly influenced my design aesthetics.

Q: In terms of sales and marketing, how do you reach your customers, and what works?

A: You’ve probably heard the expression that ‘birds of a feather flock together.’ Social influence is powerful and social media is social influence amplified. Then, of course my best ambassadors ever are my friends, what’s better than having friends who love to wear your creations?

Last but not least, the word of mouth, people trust recommendations, these are the best market strategies for me.

Q: Tell us about your Number 1 business challenge?

A: Starting a project is a big challenge. I face the same challenges as every business, driving awareness, doing constant research and something new for me, sales. Beside the biggest motivational challenge is to bring the African inspiration to every piece within the collection in an updated and relevant way, in order to educate people through fashion to another culture. We must educate people on how to appreciate, understand and embrace people’s culture, and this is one way to accomplish that. Indeed my dream is to bring people together under the same/one vibrant cloth. Let’s celebrate diversity!

Last but not least, the word of mouth, people trust recommendation, these are the best market strategies for me.

Q: Could you share with us your experience on raising funds for your business?

A: I invested very little money that I had in OliveAnkara, I decided to start very small and then maybe one day — who knows [we can] be bigger. The first collection went very well, people liked it and now I am setting up the online website and preparing for the second collection.

Q: Who are some of the people that you must thank for your success?

A: I have too many people to thank today, people who have helped me along the way. You know sometimes all of us have up and down periods, sometime you have moments of self-doubt, but having at least one person believing in you is sometimes all you need to keep going.

Perhaps I am lucky enough to have the best partner in life, my hubby, he believes in what I do, and always giving me that extra boost of confidence over the years that helped me stay focused on my goal.

I would like to thank you my whole family for their love and support. A big thank you to all my friends that inspired me and taught me skills, gave me new ideas and helped me understand the world a little better. I am the luckiest girl on earth to meet all these incredible beautiful people.

Q: Do you believe in work life balance? How do you ensure that your organisation achieves this?

A: I think it is very important, but the ability to achieve work life balance is becoming more and more difficult. As I am starting my own business all my free time, energy, free space is dedicate to my new project. Maintaining work life balance is not only important for my personal health and relationships, but it can also improve the efficiency of my business performance. As young side-preneur or entrepreneurs we have to understand that there is time for our business, but we also have to dedicate time to our personal life, try to enjoy our Sundays, enjoy being out with friends and family. It is very important for me to protect my private time.

As I am starting my own business all my free time, energy, free space is dedicate to my new project.

Q: How do you cope with stress?

I go for a run. It’s no secret that I love to run. I wear my running shoes, I listen to my playlist and I go. I feel a sense of freedom, I am able to clear and empty my mind I feel regenerate and ready for the next step.

Q: How far ahead do you plan for your business?

A: Usually 12 months ahead. I love small and unique production and I love more the slow fashion industry that’s why I planned a number of 3 collections per year. Some people may call it short-sighted, but in business today, things change so quickly, that if you lock yourself into a five-year plan, you may set plans into action that don’t take into account what will be occurring in your industry within a year.

Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring women entrepreneurs?

A: Never be Afraid to follow your passion. Go for it, but first do some research. Talk to other people, talk to other designers. Know when to ask for help, and seek assistance when you need it. Do a lot of marketing research. If you have enough passion for your business idea, nothing can stop you. Pursue your dreams and believe in what you are doing.

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Written By

Co-founder and Business Development Director of LadyBoss, Melissa is a multi-hyphenate. Her other role is at BiTS (a business intelligence tech startup in Singapore) as their chief marketer and consults for various other startups. She dreams of saving the world. When she's not working, you'll find her soaking up the sun at the beach or enjoying a strong cocktail at a fancy bar! Connect with her on LinkedIn:

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