In the last 15 years, thousands of Africans in the Diaspora have left corporate jobs in Europe and the Americas, returning to the continent. For one, the increase in investment dollars into economies on the continent have beamed the spotlight on its potential. Consequently, entrepreneurship and start-ups are on the increase.
The creation of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) has been heralded as a game-changer for countries in Africa. Most jobs in the economies of the world come from this group and entrepreneurs are needed to create them. Arise in consumer spending runs concurrently with an increase in population. The results impacting positively the returns for investors. Companies have been built and returnees have expanded markets for their current organizations.
At the onset of the 2007/2008 Global Financial Crisis, thousands of Africans in the Diaspora made their way back to the continent seeking better opportunities. The potential for returnees with skillset to create and employ local hands in their businesses fueled the economy with hope and ideas. Freedom to creatively execute ideas has also influenced this influx of entrepreneurial returnees back to the continent. Jessica Evoundou, founder and owner of Atelier Okasama Bamboo belongs to this batch. After 5 years of working for a French company as a junior buyer/product manager she decided that it was time to make a big career change.
Not being fulfilled at her current job, she ventured towards other companies, interviewing with the hopes of finding that needed job satisfaction. At a company where Jessica was rejected, she was told that she was too different from the profile they had in mind. Given more as a compliment than rejection, they concluded the discussion stating that they wished they could offer her a more creative role. That was the turning point for Jessica. She began to question what she really had passion for. After long hours of self-introspection, she chose to follow what really stood out, creating her own clothing brand.
Her five-year experience in purchasing and product management came in handy. For three years, Jessica had worked as a product manager with designers’ partnership collections, in an interdisciplinary role. From home decoration, to the stationary items departments, her retail roots were being sown deeply.
It comes as no surprise that she takes up the role of fashion designer at her company which began operations in June 2016. Atelier Okasama Bamboo is a Shopping and Retail Company based in the Republic of Congo. That is where the customer base is even though the company receives orders from other countries. Jessica has her mind set on distributing the brand’s products to other countries of Africa and the rest of the world, as was originally intended.
The vision is to create a lasting fashion brand made in Congo. Jessica wants to show the world that The Republic of The Congo, has the know-how and creativity it takes to succeed in this industry. She would like to show to the people of the Republic of Congo that they too are capable of making durable products. This runs contrary to the prevailing preference of patronizing imported goods from Europe, the US and other countries.
Most of the local residents dispute the quality of homemade goods and Jessica wants to dispel that stereotype. She says, “People tend to neglect their own value, and I would like to change that. In the long term, I would love to work with other African countries, and thus, participate even more in the storytelling of the Continent.”
Still a company in its early beginnings, Atelier Okasama Bamboo has only one employee who works as a seamstress, bringing Jessica’s designs to life. In the nearest future, Jessica wants to employ more people, produce more, and meet the growing demand of the teeming population. With such a bare staff strength, it is incredible that the company can process items in a duration of 1-3 days. It could be one day for a skirt and three days for a jacket.
Atelier Okasama Bamboo views her competitors as mentors rather than rivals. “In business we are always asked to know our competitors, I hate that. I know it’s important but, I don’t see them as my competitors. I see them as my fellow fashion designers”. Jessica dreams of a world where all fashion designers will help each other in one way or the other and work as a team. As mentors and people she looks up to in the Republic of Congo, she mentions Adriana Talansi and Zebi Wax. Nana Wax, Christie Brown, Sonia Mugabo and Loza Maleombho are the international brands that inspire Atelier Okasam Bamboo.
The company’s strategy sets the brand apart. On one hand to produce, good quality tailor-made clothes locally at affordable prices. And on the other hand, to present ready-to-wear fashion items that are the opposite of fast fashion items, to a multicultural audience. Each and every item is made with passion and love.
How does this start-up fashion retail company hope to change the African narrative? Jessica feels that the African narrative is already changing in a good way, and wants to be part of it.
“I want to be part of the ones who know that Africa has a real value, and that it needs to be seen.” From her short time doing business, she has established that in order to survive, an entrepreneur needs to have a clear vision. “Audacity, discipline, perseverance, and creative ideas to find solutions are also needed. And in all things, one must put in the work!” Jessica reinforces.
Jessica intends to portray the greatness of the continent by showing the traditions our ancestors left behind. With new mind-set, and existing skills, a lot can be accomplished. Just taking action, and building momentum, is changing the African narrative.
“Before, we used to wait for other countries to make decisions for us (we still are sometimes), we can change the narrative by making our own decisions, by taking responsibility for ourselves and stop blaming others. Now is time for doing, not waiting nor complaining.” Jessica states.
Brand Name: OKASAMA BAMBOO
Motto: Made with passion and love
Phone Number: + 242 06 523 16 13
Biz address: 48 avenue Tchicaya U’tamsi, Mpita, Pointe-Noire, Congo
Linkedin: Jessica Evoundou