As a child, I never had the opportunity to live my dream —Juliet Vincent-Obi, fashion entrepreneur and founder of Kidpreneur
Juliet Vincent-Obi is a fashion entrepreneur, the founder of House of Ebony, and also the founder of Kidpreneur Africa. In this interview by KINGSLEY ALUMONA, she speaks about her formative life, and how it affected her education and career; about her fashion business and her humanitarian work with children; and the kind of Nigeria she wants children to grow up in.
Briefly tell us about your formative years.
I started coaching kids after school when I was 10 years old, but wanted to be a nurse, simply because I love their uniform. I came from a home where my father was not interested in the girl child education. He believed the girl child will marry and forget the family. My mother was everything opposite of that—she promised to train me to any level I wanted to go, but died, while I was still struggling to secure admission into the university.
How did this experience affect your tertiary education and inspire your current career?
After my mother death, I was left with no choice than to fall back to my passion—which was my love for children. I got employed in a school and secured an admission as a part-time student at the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu State, where I studied and graduated as an Educationist. I believe that God created every man in a unique way. Lying inside of you are great potentials yet to be unleashed, which with discipline, doggedness and determination you can make a difference. In our generation, three things will push you to the top—they are talents, skills and discipline. Those years were my years of purpose discovery.
You pride yourself as a fashionprenuer. Tell us about your fashion enterprise, and the kind of services/products you specialise in.
House of Ebony is fast-growing African fashion accessories and craft-making company that uses African fabrics to produce stylish and creative outfits for individual and corporate brands. Our brand focuses on designing contemporary modest styles using high quality fabrics and unique textures, allowing you to dress with confidence and sophistication.
There are many fashion businesses and entrepreneurs out there. What makes yours different? And, how do you make it different?
I am creative and I follow my curiosity. It opens my mind. I have got a ‘makers’ mentality. I also love crafts and enjoy working with fabrics. This is a skill I learnt from my late mum, who was a seamstress. The uniqueness of African prints always makes me want to incorporate Africanism into my own style, and we offer impeccable designs.
As a brand strategist, is your enterprise is a brand? How can your services/products be differentiated from others in the market, and where can they be found?
Our collections focus on incorporating traditional West African textiles with modern tailoring techniques. Fused with its very own African-inspired custom luxury prints, the House of Ebony collection skilfully delivers contemporary garments. You can reach out to us through our different social media handles.
You are the founder of African Kidpreneur. Tell us about it and why you founded it.
I am not only passionate about children but a firm believer of ‘catch them young’ and ‘equip the child early in life.’ As a child, I never had the opportunity to live my dream. Growing up, I found myself developing the love for mentoring children and adults to be strong and to solve their own problems.
I founded Kidpreneur Africa in 2017 to provide a platform for children to identify and hone their skills. The capacity-building programmes and projects of Kidpreneur Africa are designed to inspire, empower and mentor kids in the age brackets of 6 – 12, to become entrepreneurs, create and run their own businesses early, with help of adults so that they can be financially responsible and also fulfilled.
Through this platform, we have trained and mentored over two thousand kids to develop a problem-solving mindset, establish and run their own small businesses. Some of these kids have been featured in both the local and international radio and television stations, including the BBC.
What is the selection process for the Kidpreneur contest like?
Our recent contest Kidpreneur Pitch-a-Ton is designed as a monthly programme incorporating pitching sessions and five weekends of mini-Master in Business Academy.
Interested kids who meet the criteria fill an online application form. The candidates selected from this pool will be requires to send in a sixty-second video pitch which would be judged by a credible panel of business experts to select the finalists.
The finalists who emerged winner for this year’s Kidpreneur Pitch-a-Ton went home with a prize of one hundred thousand naira (in cash and products) while the 1st and 2nd runner up went home with a prize of Eighty thousand naria each (in cash and products)
The contest looks like what is meant for influential children. Is there any special provision or the chances of talented and creative rural/indigent children applying for the contest?
All our coaching and mentoring is open to all children from any background and location.
In what ways do you think children could contribute to the economic and leadership landscape of Africa?
I believe that every child has a special talent and potential to make significant contributions in their families and nation. Instilling the spirit of entrepreneurship and the skills necessary to tackle tomorrow’s challenges into them will help them become problem-solvers and change-makers in the future, thereby contributing to the socio-economic development and leadership of Africa.
We need to give them the necessary push, because no matter what your kid would be in future, he/she needs skills that would equip him/her to be relevant in the changing world and to compete favourably with others. I believe the Nigerian child can be that generation that can make Nigeria great and it has to start now. We need to teach proficiency, awareness, disposition, agency and most of all, help the Nigerian child understand the true meaning of leadership and show them ways they can influence change in their various environments from a young age.
We need enabling systems and structures to ensure they are able to lead. We need a mindset reset: we have told these children over and again how they are the leaders of tomorrow. And this is because we as a nation do not even understand the meaning of leadership. We at Kidpreneur Africa, through our various projects, are doing amazing things in helping these kids realize they are leaders of today, not because of any position or non-position, but because in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Anyone can be a leader, because anyone can serve”. Leadership is about service, nothing more, nothing less.
Given the current dismal Nigerian situation, what kind of Nigeria would you love children, including your own children, to grow up in?
A Nigeria that is devoid of bribery and corruption—where we can sleep with our eyes closed, without fear of terrorism, tribalism, religious clashes, kidnapping and armed robbery. A Nigeria with a quality and accessible education for all. A Nigeria where the youths can build a great future for themselves.
We desire a nation built on truth, righteousness and peace, a land of freedom and justice. A home of equity and fair play, where no one is oppressed or discriminated on the basis of ethnicity or religion. A country where citizens will have access to quality and world-class healthcare, where everyone will use local hospitals rather than go abroad for medical treatments.
I want a post-oil Nigeria where the manufacturing and service sectors contribute more to export and the GDP. To build the Nigeria of our dreams, it requires exceptional candidates who would emerge from a pool of excellent, credible aspirants chosen by the people to represent them at the general elections.
What three major lessons have you learnt from working with children, and how are these lessons shaping your life and career?
Working with children is definitely entertaining, and there is never a dull moment. I have learned many life lessons from the kids that I have the pleasure to work with—such as patience, tolerance, compassion, and believing that every child’s dream is valid.
Adults are lacking the ability to outwardly express the need for connection. We are so consumed with our own lives and too afraid to step out of our comfort zones that we may fail to be vulnerable and put ourselves out there. We are so afraid of being judged or rejected that it is easy to miss the joys of life.
Children have a way of showing us the simplest things in life, the fundamentals that we sometimes take for granted and forget as we age. We become so consumed with building ourselves into better persons than those around us and creating a career that we think will give us a perfect life.
By looking for the lessons children have to teach me, I have been able to regain compassion, creativity and a heightened love for life.
How does your husband support the work you do? And, what do you love doing in your leisure?
My husband has been a backbone to all that I do. He is always there to support me, even at home. He stands by me, and I stand tall. Without his support, it will be difficult to create a balance.
At my leisure, I live listening to soul-lifting music and to watch movies.
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