Interview with Ivy Ekong, founder of Ivy Ekong Fashion
Find out becoming a mum inspired Ivy Ekong to follow her lifelong passion for fashion and launch Ivy Ekong Fashion.
What’s your career background?
My career background has mostly been in fashion and beauty; I was a ‘fashion girl’ right from my early years. I was like the Kim Kardashian of the family; the one that styled everyone’s outfit – even those of our family friends. Everyone always came to me for a style advice. It was just natural to me.
When I was younger, I won a beauty pageant and was crowned a Queen (The Face of Esan),which opened more opportunities to model and wear different haute couture dresses for designers.
Before moving to the UK, I was a very established model and a Beauty Queen in Nigeria. Through that role I had the opportunity to work with a lot of non-governmental organizations and charities under my then labour of love, which was “Eradication of Stigmatisation of those living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria” and some economically deprived societies in Africa as a whole.
I also had the opportunity to meet and work with women who are displaced in society either due to lack of education, poverty, early forced marriages, and those who suffer from low self-esteem due to their voice being silenced by situations in their lives. As Beauty Queen and working with my state government, UNICEF and YOUNG GIRLS FOUNDATION, just to name a few, it became very apparent to me that more needed to be done to empower women and young female.
That’s why anyone who knows me know that “Women Empowerment” is very important to me and it’s a huge part of my brand and of who I am. This is how it all started.
A few years later, I met my husband and we moved to the UK. After being unsure of what to do in a new place where no one knew me, and while I was four months pregnant with our first daughter, my husband turned to me and suggested I just do what I was best at, what I did back in Nigeria.
So, I googled charities close to my then home and chose “The Young Carers Foundation”. Three times a week, children who have to care for an unwell adult in their lives can come to the Young Carers Foundation to take a break. This foundation helped these kids to feel like kids again and to be able to do what kids do. Volunteering here felt like home, it felt like I was me again doing exactly my part to give these kids some joy and happiness.
Much like in Nigeria, this wasn’t enough to keep me occupied, so I took up a course in design and image consultancy. This knowledge allowed me to start a small business, where clients would come to my studio, and I would do their swatches to show which colours and fabrics they should be wearing, as well as give them style advice.
One day during a consultation session one of my clients suggested I start a blog so they could view my style advice on-the-go. The blog was mainly for my customers at first, just to advise them on what to do, what to wear to a wedding or event, and fashion, style, and beauty tips. After about 3 years, I started being contacted by brands for advert spaces and getting offered money to publish articles and post on social media. Naturally that was where I started thinking of my own brand.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
It was after I became a mum. When you’re a mum, you start to see things a bit differently and that includes fashion. You want to look and feel sexy especially with your changing body. My style changed along with my body, and I didn’t find that anything out there that suited me anymore.
I had a strong conviction that it was time to start my own brand. Also, I was being pressured by my fans/followers to do so; I was constantly receiving messages from people saying they would buy my fashions!
So, I knew I wanted to have my own fashion business, but I didn’t know when and how to go about it until I became a mum. Also, I think motherhood gave me the confidence I needed to start. When I had my first daughter, I had this rush of energy and feeling that I can take on the world and achieve just about anything. I think bringing a human being into this world gives you another level of confidence that anything is possible.
How did you move from idea to actual business?
It took a few years to actually start the business when I decided on the idea and the type of designs I wanted to create. Of course, I wrote a business plan, sourced for funding, included my life’s savings, scouted for manufacturers and produced sample upon sample, until I found what I was looking for. The business officially launched around the end of 2017/2018 a few years after my second daughter was born.
What’s your USP?
There are few things that make us unique:
- Affordable luxury without breaking the bank – we keep our price point very reasonable and make sure there’s something for every shape and size.
- Quality – long lasting products.
- Founded by a woman with women in mind.
- XS – XXXL sizes in most products.
- Working towards a more sustainable offering – in some pieces we are already using vegan leathers and faux furs fabrics.
- Lose a dress size with our bandage fabric – our bandage fabric is second to none and it’s made to drop a dress size.
Who’s your target audience?
The Ivy Ekong Fashion woman is bold, confident and daring. She loves to look good and takes good care of herself. A lot of our customers are mums, a lot of them are women who live a very fast paced life and want to look good while doing that.
We have very diverse customers: white, Black, Indian, Chinese. That was something I wanted to do, especially as a Black woman living in the U.K.
How do you spread the word about what you do?
We use traditional PR methods, as well as running google and social media campaigns, we also thrive on word of mouth from our customers and sometimes organise shopping events. As an influencer, I also promote the brand on my personal page, especially back when we didn’t have any marketing budget.
What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?
Google shopping campaign and influencer marketing.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
First, it was financing the business – I was making some money from paid ads and influencer collaborations but it wasn’t enough to start because of the quality I wanted for my products.
Secondly, it’s being a black female founder of a fashion brand in the UK. Even though this is very exciting, it comes with its own challenges too. I have walked into rooms and meetings where people are completely shocked when they realise that I am the founder of Ivy Ekong Fashion; that I am female and black in this industry.
This attitude pushes me to work even harder. I do wish in these meetings and social settings that there were more of women who look like me sitting in those meetings and tables.
Another challenge is balancing being a mum of three and a running a business. Since the pandemic, it’s been tougher as I have less help at home, so I work everywhere. Sometimes the computer is with me in the kitchen, sometimes it’s with me in the bathroom, I’m feeding the baby with one hand and on a call on the other, juggling emails, working on my influencer campaigns. It’s a lot of juggling every day and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.
Why is work so important to you?
I believe so much in women empowerment and I am a huge believer that women who are able to work should work, not only because it empowers you, but it also gives you a certain level of self-worth and satisfaction.
I want my kids, especially my daughters, to look up to me and see that multitasking can be done. It’s not always easy, but it can be done if it’s something you want to do.
Being a mum is already a lot of work as there’s so much we have to do to keep our home and kids happy, so it’s not always easy to grow a business or work while doing all that, but I have learnt to push myself and priorities too. My mum had a good work ethics and she instilled that in us. I want to do the same for my kids too by showing them that it can be done and you can be anything and do anything you set your heart on.
Who inspires you?
I draw inspiration from everyday women, women who are doing their best to juggle motherhood and career, women who are multi taskers, those breaking boundaries, women who look like me and those who don’t, women who are full time mums but still want to look great when they’re out and have a good time. I also get inspiration from architecture, sometimes when I travel and see the world through a different lens. Inspiration is really everywhere depending on what you are looking at and what you want to see.
I want women to feel and look their best in my pieces. I want them to have a rush and boost of confidence to take on the world. I want women to feel confident enough to be exactly who they are and who they’re aspiring to be in Ivy Ekong Fashion. Women are the strongest and most resilient people I know. With the right outfit and heels, we are unstoppable.
How do you balance your work with your family?
Work-life balance is sometimes that’s hardly possible for me, but I continue to try to make it possible. That may mean disappointing a few people or turning down a few social events to spend time with my family, but I think if you know what the priority is, then you can work to prioritise your time. It is very challenging to balance motherhood and business, but multi-tasking is a word that’s constantly used in my home. My kids call me “mummy the multitasker” and that’s just the way it is.
My family is my priority because they are my biggest achievement and accomplishment, but my brand is also my baby and I want to see both thrive. I have started introducing my girls to Ivy Ekong Fashion and they help pack and I get to spend time with them while they get to learn about my business. They love to sketch and are hoping that one day I will have a kid’s line and use their sketches.
What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?
- Believe in yourself. No one will believe in you if you don’t first believe in yourself.
- Consistency. This is what will carry you through the hard and difficult times in business. It won’t always be easy, there are times you will want to give up, but if you remain consistent, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.
- Lastly, be extremely passionate about what you do. Passion will take you through the trying times. So many people start businesses with the primary aim of making money, but when it’s not going as planned, they quit. This is where passion comes in.
Find out more about Ivy Ekong Fashion.