Insights into Social Entrepreneurship from Olori Founder Tomide Awe

Tomide Awe is the Founder of Olori, which sells gorgeous Africa-inspired handbags that empower women.

Here is what Tomide had to say when we asked her about social entrepreneurship:

GenHERation®: What is Olori?

Tomide Awe: Olori offers gorgeous Africa-inspired handbags that showcase the beauty of African culture whilst empowering women. Incorporating traditional fabrics into modern design, our products invite women all over the world to experience the beauty and culture of Africa with an emphasis on craftsmanship, heritage, and legacy.

GenHERation®: What inspired you to start Olori?

Awe: I was inspired to start Olori by the beautiful cultures of my people. Growing up in Nigeria, I was always surrounded by traditional prints and textiles symbolic of deep roots and stories so dear to my people. I have always admired the art and craftsmanship behind them. By incorporating traditional African fabrics into contemporary designs, my mission is to invite people to experience the beauty of African cultures. Women-owned businesses and artisans are integral to the fabric of the brand. This is because women, especially in our focus communities in Africa, are generally less likely to have access to economic opportunities, but shoulder many financial burdens. For this reason, the hand-woven fabrics used in our products are sourced exclusively from local, women-owned businesses in Africa to enable them to care for themselves, families, and communities.

Additionally, in line with our vision to create a world where women live to their full potential, we donate 2% of our profit toward the education of girls in under-served African communities. My grandmother lived in a little village in Nigeria and even though she desired to be educated, she remained uneducated while her brothers were. Realizing the importance of education, she made many sacrifices to ensure that all her children, including my mother, got an education. As a result of her determination and vision, my siblings and I are privileged to have multiple degrees and impact our communities. I’m honored to carry on her legacy through Olori, to ensure that every girl has the same opportunity I got.

GenHERation®: How do you convince people to believe in a product or idea when it is in its early stages?

Awe: I think it’s important to create products or ideas that meet people’s needs and create value in spaces that are often overlooked. It’s easier to convince people to buy into something that works. Demonstration is required, of course, and part of that is telling a compelling story, but the primary ingredient, I believe, is value.

GenHERation®: What are the three most important skills you utilize running your own business?

Awe: Problem solving, attention to detail, and commercial awareness–knowing how your business operates and makes money. I would also say that if you run a business in the retail space, it’s important to possess design and creative skills. 

GenHERation®: How can you best prepare for a career or role related to retail?

Awe: You have to get experience. Take classes. Attend workshops. Intern or volunteer with brands that you can learn from. Not only do these experiences give you industry perspective, they also let you know if you are even interested in a particular field. 

GenHERation®: How can women be advocates for other women? 

Awe: I think it was Maya Angelou who said, “Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.” That’s one of the most important ways I think we can advocate for women. Another way to advocate for other women is through the power of our purchase. There are so many organizations and brands, like Olori, who are working to make the future better for women, and we can show support by putting our resources where our hearts are. Furthermore, mentor younger women. That may mean blazing trails or clearing paths that no other women have, or sharing your knowledge, but that’s how we make room or create space for future generations. 

GenHERation®: What advice do you have for people who want to make a difference in the world?

Awe: Start where you are and with what you know because changing the world doesn’t start when we become world-renowned. Which spaces are overlooked in your community? We don’t need to wait until we become rich or powerful, we can make a difference in a hundred little ways every day by deliberately putting out kindness in the world and doing even the small things with heart.

Tomide Awe is the Founder of Olori, which sells gorgeous Africa-inspired handbags that empower women. Tomide grew up in Nigeria, a country where a girl has a 73% chance of not going to school (UNESCO). Fortunately, Tomide had parents that could afford to send her to school—a fate unimaginable for 17 million girls in Africa today. This disparity did not escape Tomide, and as a result, her entire life revolved around finding a way to make sure that every girl would some day have the same opportunities that she had.

As a Nigerian, Tomide was constantly surrounded by traditional prints and textiles and got to wear them to weddings of family members as well as other ceremonial functions. To her, these textiles are symbolic of tribal roots so deep and stories so dear to the people of these regions. She always admired the art and craftsmanship behind these textiles and after moving to England to study, and developing friendships with non-Africans, she wanted to find a way to share her culture with her friends in a way that they also could appreciate. This is where the idea of developing a handbag company began to bud as she considered handbags to be the one thing that her and her friends could not do without.

While finishing her last year as an MBA candidate at The Wharton School, Tomide was inspired to leverage the beauty and cultural richness of Africa as a way to solve the education problem for girls around the world. After many months of planning, traveling, and prototyping, Olori was born. Olori sells gorgeous Africa-inspried handbags that empower women.  

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