Girls Perspective caught up with Georgina Owusu founder of African accessories brand Kuba Wraps. She speaks on ethically sourcing her fabrics, being a full-time teacher and more.
What is Kuba Wraps all about and how did you get started?
The umbrella brand is Kuba and part of that brand is Kuba Wraps. Kuba is all about offering high-quality, satin-centred head wraps that are ethically sourced African prints. We spend a lot of time adding satin and choosing good quality prints that’ll last! Our current prints are sourced locally in the UK and actually most of the prints come from Europe and Eastern Asia so even though they are African prints,our aim is to eventually source all of our prints from West Africa. Kuba is all about high quality plus giving people a window into African culture.
How did you come up with the name?
In terms of the name I really wanted a short name, something that would encapsulate what I wanted for the whole brand. I’m from Ghana and so all the Twi words that I could think of were too apologetic like ‘kuse’. I came across a Congolese tribe called Kuba and they were known for weaving beautiful material, so it ticked every box for me! It has this beautiful history and it started with a K and so when I looked at that it just stood out to me and it was perfect.
Why did you decide to make head wraps?
Head wraps have always been around for hundreds of years. Africans have always worn them as part of their culture. When I decided to make head wraps I happened to be doing it in a time where head wraps are very popular. I always see them as a very timeless piece and is something that I wore and when I looked at head wraps that were available they were all international and I thought that I could make something more accessible to people on this side of the Atlantic. I thought that if I’m going to do this, then I really wanted to make it practical, so we spent a lot of time making sure that we made them properly.
You mentioned that currently you source your materials locally and hope to out source to West Africa is this important to you and why?
I think it’s essential. From my perspective, if I’m going to be doing business in a time like now, especially as it is such a globalised economy where it’s so easy to make sure that the right people get their money. It’s not like right now I can’t go to West Africa and I can’t build relationships with suppliers, it’s just through ease and affordability that we chose to work with suppliers locally and that have nothing to do with the original culture. I feel like Kuba’s role is to equip our supply chain, people are working hard and not getting what they deserve and I think it’s our place as a tiny little speck in the startup world, to do what we need to do to make sure they get heard and they get what they deserve.
So what are your views on ethical trading standards?
I think that the whole industry is deregulated. They aren’t many standards that consider ethically sourcing. There are things that have been put in place, I love the Fairtrade organisation and I think they do a lot to push the idea of exposing the fact that a lot of suppliers do not get enough to make ends meet, yet these multi million pound companies are becoming rich off their backs. So, I think that its great they are making people aware of that and also encouraging consumers to buy fair trade items. In terms of ethical standards I think they are quite patchy, often when there is a new trend it is about the aesthetic value and so it is all about trying to get the balance between aesthetic value and ethical trading.
What can those who trade internationally do to improve those standards?
For people that trade internationally there are so many networks that are connecting people in the diaspora of different parts of Africa. Those networks are quite strong at the moment so there are lots of opportunities for us to be connecting to the right suppliers and making sure that we are really strengthening communities from our heritage countries and giving them their due. I think a lot of us can make sure that we are giving the people that make these products what they deserve in terms of fair payment.
So in terms of designing your collection how do you choose the styles?
The styles are based on weather, preference and sometimes there is a particular direction that we are going in. Some of our stuff is quite experimental, I don’t really look at our competitors, I think what we do is different and we don’t just do the ordinary head wraps that you see everywhere. We do some stuff that is quite bold and that’s more to inspire people. We want to also help the culture of head wraps in terms of finding ways of incorporating them into your daily life. It doesn’t have to just be for special occasions. We do head wraps they you can wear on a night out, or for a special occasion as well as ones you can wear with a T-Shirt, dress and jazz it up, or if you just want to cover your hair. That’s what inspires our collection, making sure we have a variety of things for people to choose from.
With the debate around cultural appropriation, how does this affect your brand and its influences?
I think Cultural appropriation has touched every aspect of our culture. We see businesses making so much money and so much of the pop industry, hip hop industry and these people making so much money from taking anothers culture and not giving them their due for it. I think it has in advertently impacted what I do at Kuba, it might be part of my heart in terms of shining the spotlight back on the men and women in small villages in Ghana that have spent their entire lives in the trade making African print that was handed down from their forefathers. I think also Cultural appropriation is something that needs to be addressed properly, it’s a discussion that needs to be had more often and not just of cultural appropriation but also how do we move forward. I would really love for Kuba to be worn by people of different ethnic backgrounds, people from diverse backgrounds. That is one of our aims, that specifically in our context that African print is accessible to all. We don’t limit ourselves, we promote the diversity of people that wear our wraps. However, people need to know the context of wearing it and understanding its value, that it’s not just a trend that is happening right now.
You’ve now introduced chokers to the collection, what other new pieces can we look out for?
Definitely you can expect more chokers. However, because we are just working hard to build our supply chain things are not going to be coming out in the speed that we would like. We have just released an African-inspired T-Shirt and Jumper collection. We’ve got two prints, one print is actually a silhouette of our original image that we used on the website; which represents strength and beauty. The second design is a silhouette of Africa which has an important phrase by the founding father of Ghana.We are moving in the direction of complementary products that shine the light on Africa, and West Africa specifically because that’s our focus at the moment.
Which celebrities would you love to see wearing a Kuba Wrap and why?
There are quite a few, I would love Alicia Keys to wear our head wraps. I feel like the process she is going through is so authentic and she’s enjoying the journey she’s on. I feel like our head wraps would just compliment that journey. Also people I’ve seen wearing head wraps growing up in the early 2000’s such as Jill Scott, I would love to see her in one of our head wraps, that would be such a privilege. Then also some younger people now that you see have such a strong voice like Yara Shahidi! We would love for her to wear our head wraps. She has such as strong voice and she’s not afraid to be both academic, cool and a trendsetter and that is a thing we love at Kuba as well. It would be great to see the younger generation representing more wrap styles.
Currently, your business is an online platform would you consider opening a shop?
It is an online platform and we do take part in a lot of shows. We would love to have a shop or a pop-up in the future. I think that doing something like that would be a quite dynamic experience and would allow us to provide various services around head wraps and experiment as the business grows. My aim would also be to ensure that the community always grows.
As we are in digital era right now, how has this enhanced and supported your business?
The digital era has done so much for me. It’s connecting Kuba with so many people. We’ve had so many reaching out to us and we are constantly having conversations with people online and via email as to how we can partner. I think the digital era with as many cons that it has, for us it has been a positive experience, it had connected me with the rest of the world. It is such a beautiful experience, the online community has been amazing. We are able to connect with people all over the world and that opens doors for relationships, so it’s been great.
You mentioned you work with suppliers, what is the most challenging part about working with other people?
In terms of the business, we work with some great people. I have an amazing printer IllYouStrate who prints all of our t-shirts, jumpers and Tote Bags which we also have. Then we also deal with raw materials for the head wraps. So I think that Liaising and the logistics of having different suppliers for the different things are very challenging. Especially because I am in full-time work as well and teaching is quite demanding as well.
How do you Balance between being a teacher and running you own business?
I don’t really have a balance, I’m still learning every day! I am striving to get the balance, as both are extremely demanding but in completely different ways. It’s a constant re-evaluation when it’s your own business it’s your baby, you live breathe and dream of everything and so it’s a challenging. I am a business and finance teacher so I can use elements of business and my experiences to inspire my students. Teaching and Kuba is a collision of passions, balancing both is definitely is still a learning curve.
What has been the highlight for your business so far?
One of the major highlights has been the community that has come with me. My models are fantastic, these are just people that I know and love and have given me so much of their time. My interns and I’ve had the other businesses I’ve collaborated with. So definitely the highlight has been building this community from strength to strength.
What advice would you give to other female Founders?
We’re so new to this, but have definitely learned one or two things.The idea of not being afraid to go against the grain and re-evaluate at each stage of the journey. But I think it’s having a clear vision, it’s important and being different and just believing in it.
There are so many pressures to confirm and almost imitate what already exists, but its great to do what you love and believe in it regardless of how many likes it gets sometimes. Importantly, have a great community around you. People that you love and respect, people who are honest, full of love for you and will encourage and motivate you when the tide comes in and things get too much.
What exciting ventures or partnerships can we look forward to seeing from you this year?
We do hope to be adding more products to our line. Kuba Wraps are always going to be head wrap specialists and we are constantly looking at new ways to become better at selling wraps. One of the most exciting ventures we are doing at the moment is moving from satin lined head wraps to satin centred head wraps. Which might not sound like the most riveting things but it is really exciting for us because our head wraps are evolving. We have brought out the T-Shirts and Jumpers, which is just another spotlight because the end goal is for Kuba to shine the spotlight back to those who deserve it. We are going to be working with those a lot this year and those working a lot behind the scenes across the globe. In terms of partnerships you will see us working with more and more people we love on Social Media.