Girls Perspective recently caught up with Kemi Ogunsanwo founder of stationary and lifestyle brand Gazelle London. She discusses her inspiration for starting the brand, where the name originated from and the highlights of her journey so far.
When did the idea for Gazelle London come about?
The idea for Gazelle London came about from the grace of God. Around 2014/2015 I did some travelling to various places in Africa and I was just inspired by the beauty, the vibrancy and the warmth of the continent. I personally have journaled ever since I was about 7 years old as a way to clear my mind and as a place to put all my thoughts, as well as my hopes and dreams. The idea pretty much formed out of nowhere. That’s why I say it was the grace of God because I honestly cannot pinpoint the moment it came to me. It was all very organic.
What made you think about making inspirational journals
It came from a place of faith which I hope is the foundation of everything I do. From 2013-2014 I had been experiencing health issues and it truly was a draining couple of years. After a particularly worrying incident, I formed a different perspective on life and I realised I wasn’t living my life to its fullest potential.
What I found helped me on days when I was feeling discouraged was I’d write a gratitude list for myself, or get an old cardboard box and turn it into a Gratitude box. It reminded me of all the amazing golden moments I had in my life which could easily have been overlooked at that difficult time.
It was after experiencing the change that being consciously thankful created in my life, that I decided to produce a Gratitude Journal Collection. So that other people could feel the gift of gratitude in their lives as well. Each journal I’ve made has a different purpose and there is a story behind each one that you can read at Gazellelondon.com the aim is to enable everyone to encourage, uplift and inspire.
Have you had to juggle starting your own business while working full time?
The concept for Gazelle London came to me a little over a year ago. At the time I was working in marketing for Time Out Magazine and prior to that, I was at ITV. When the concept came to me I was still working. However, In the summer of 2016 I was off work for some time, during that period I also decided to write. I worked on the business, I had my samples and I thought to myself ‘let me just do this… let me just try’. Soon after I took a leap of faith and left my job. It was an exhilarating moment for me.
What has been the hardest thing about starting Gazelle London?
I would say it is a mixture of two things, as a creative, we always want to produce, produce and produce. If I had it my way I would have a 30-piece collection of different journals, inspirational tools, and giftware you could use.
However, that leads to the other difficulty which is finance. I think the whole inflow and outflow of money and being wise in the way you spend it in the collections you make is key.The other biggest difficulty is keeping a breath of money and financial flow, managing your accounts and the money for the business in the right way.
If you had to sum up your vision for Gazelle London in one sentence what would you say?
My vision for Gazelle London is for it to be a lifestyle brand that inspires, uplifts and encourages through beautiful stationery and giftware pieces.
How has your African heritage influenced your business?
I would say the colour and vibrancy that is so predominant in Africa, I feel like people don’t realise that there are so many beautiful people and places across the continent. The slogan of Gazelle London is sharing the colours of Africa with the world. There is a warmth, a kindness, a cultural colourfulness and a confidence that they have that you can’t find in a lot of other places. So it inspires Gazelle London because my whole point is to encourage, inspire and motivate you to live the best life you can.
What pieces of advice would you say to anybody starting their own business?
I would say that motivation for your business should never be to make money. Undoubtedly there will many points where you will have no money and if your motivation is just money then getting through those times will be a challenge. However, if you have a greater purpose beyond the money then that will hold you and keep you going.
Have faith, I speak on this coming from my religious perspective but whatever perspective you have, you need to have faith in what you are doing. You will have many moments of doubt in your service, in yourself, in your product and you need something that is solid that will not waiver. You need to have belief and faith, which will take you a long way.
Also, Study! I would say study your area, study your product, your service, look at other people who have done it before. Be structured and study. I remember I was in the library (and still am!) reading books about accounting, marketing, PR, customer service, sales. I am constantly studying. You should always be learning to be the best at what you are doing and share it with other people.
What do you think makes your business different from the other brands out there?
I’m quite transparent with Gazelle London, and I believe that is something that is a clear when people speak to me or meet me at pop up events. My hope is that people see that it all comes from an authentic place and a simple desire to make people feel good. Ultimately, the only thing that can distinguish you from anybody else is your personal story, and Gazelle London is an extension of me and a part of my story. Everyone’s story is different, and I hope mine is what attracts people to Gazelle London.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
As a person of faith, I am inspired by Christ and the need to serve and to produce something for others that will continually be the foundation for everything I do. I’m not Jesus, I am extremely flawed like every human being. However, I would like to use my life to help, inspire and give back. I would like to help young girls especially in Africa, which I give back to by working with a charity called Camfed.org.
I am also inspired by Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba. He is the most inspirational businessman that I’ve seen so far. His ethos is one I respect and although I do not know him, he seems spirit led. He always says it’s about serving the customer and helping people and that is what I admire.
Last but not least my parents, they have always been amazing. My parents came from Nigeria and started a business. First, my dad went to study economics, but because he was a Nigerian immigrant he wasn’t given a job and so he drove cabs. When he decided that it wasn’t good enough that’s when he spoke with my mum and they decided to start a nursery. They grafted for over 40 years in that sector and are now retired and living a fulfilled life. It’s so gratifying to see them enjoying their lives because they had a vision and wanted to do better for their family.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I wouldn’t say there is one. I would say it’s ongoing highlights, I get a lot of emails and messages on social media from people about how they are inspired to start a business, or inspired to live a colourful life or do something more from the journals I have created. So much encouragement and so much wisdom has been received from their feedback. I am always so grateful and my goal is to never not reply, so even if it comes late I will always try to get back to them. Of course, I have had other wonderful things along the way, such as my upcoming collection with Topshop, being invited by the V&A Museum to showcase my designs and some other projects I have in the works that I won’t reveal just yet!
On a final note where did the name Gazelle London come from?
Often when I start something I always start with a title. However, with Gazelle London, I could not come up with a name and so the printers were putting pressure on me saying they needed my logo as the samples were done and the prototypes were done. As a religious person, I prayed to God for a name and decided that I would open my bible and whatever name I landed on first would be in the name. So, I opened my Bible and somewhere in Philippians said Gazelle and I didn’t really like it so I googled it and found out the two definitions of it fit the criteria of the business. So it was meant to be and the name stuck and I just added London because I liked the idea of it and the rest is history.
To keep up with Kemi visit http://www.gazellelondon.co and follow their social media @gazelle_London also visit the Gazelle London Topshop Pop up from 30th July – 5th August at their flagship store in Oxford Circus.