I chat with Jacqueline Brown, author of Fashion Africa – a comprehensive guide to the designers, materials, and sustainable practices available in Africa.
Jacqueline is also a business coach and director of the Fashion Africa Conference that assists designers, brands and retailers to re-imagine their supply chain to produce ethical and sustainable products. This will ultimately impact local communities.
- Jacqueline’s background and journey to start Fashion Africa.
Starting her own clothing label that is made in Ghana and Kenya.
The challenges of time and finances in order to manage an organic side hustle.
- Juggling studying, having a full-time job and building a side hustle.
Jacqueline’s vision of her ‘WHY’ has kept her focused through the difficult times.
- Evolving her side hustle to cater for the online global community.
Fashion Africais a comprehensive guide to the designers, materials, and practices available in Africa.
- It’s a social enterprise promoting ethical sustainability within Africa’s fashion and textile industry.
- Jacqueline assists designers, brands and retailers to re-imagine their supply chain to ultimately impact local communities.
- Passion is about serving the greater whole to provide better lives for everyone.
- Feel the fear and do it anyway! The antidote to fear is action.
Always have a plan B to ensure a regular income.
- Don’t need to have the polished plan to start TODAY!
Learn more about Jacqueline Brown
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Lisa Linfield: 00:09 Hello everybody, and welcome to today’s episode of Working Women’s Wealth. I’m joined by Jacqueline Brown, who is the author of a book called Fashion Africa and is passionate about sourcing fashion from Africa and an African fashion business coach. She’s the founder of fashionafricabusinessacademy.com and africafashionguide.com. Jacqueline, thank you so much for joining us.
Jacqueline B.: 00:49 Thank you. Thank you, Lisa. It’s such a pleasure.
Lisa Linfield: 00:53 Tell us a little bit about your background. You are based in the UK. How on earth did you discover a passion for supporting African fashion?
Jacqueline B.: 01:04 I know. It’s so random, isn’t it? To be honest, I’ve worked in the world. Started with fashion, so I’ve worked in fashion for the last 20 years living in the UK, around Borne, Germany, Turkey, and China working for brands and retailers, but it was turning a particular age of 30 and with the death of my grandfather, whose Jamaican heritage. He was from a cultural group called the Maroon tribe. They were runaway slaves, African slaves who were taken to Jamaica, but they refused to be slaves and they are known for being runaway slaves and they hid in the mountains of islands like Jamaica and also in Haiti, as well as some other islands.
But yeah, it made me want to explore my heritage and the linkage back to Africa. I made my first sub-Saharan African trip to Ghana that year when I turned 30, and I just fell in love. I’ve been to Morocco and places before and I’d love that. But the sub-Saharan Africa, the so called Black Africa, if you want to call it that, was a real interesting experience that catapulted me into this business. That was 10 years ago.
Lisa Linfield: 02:12 Wow. And so how did you start doing work with Africa?
Jacqueline B.: 02:17 Well, I actually started my own label myself in Africa. So I was doing my degree. I decided to do an MA, a master’s in ethical fashion. And after the first trip to Ghana, I wanted to explore the textile industry. And I set up my own clothing brand, which was made in Ghana and made in Kenya. I know the industry because I’ve worked in fashion 20 years and I wanted to explore what Africans were and tell the story, like start to blog about it and let people know that there is an industry there. Many don’t realize that there’s loads of different countries – 54, 55 countries – all with different systems and skills and textiles that I wanted to explore that and share that. That’s really the journey started.
Lisa Linfield: 03:01 So you started africafashionguide.com in 2011, so that was a long time ago. What are the challenges of, doing for the last eight years, the side hustle while still being permanently employed?
Jacqueline B.: 03:15 Well, that’s the funny thing because I launched the blog 2010 and then I actually launched the company 2011. So I did the blog during my master’s and with that is where I started to really explore what was going on, to talk about it and blog about it. And that’s kind of really when it officially started.
Lisa Linfield: 03:34 And what did the company itself do?
Jacqueline B.: 03:37 Well, I didn’t realize it was going to be a company. This is hilarious. It’s a real organic business because I knew I needed to register it because of the interest that I was gaining. So I started it as conferences. I had a book, I had a blog and I was asked to be a consultant, so I’d been working on all different types of projects. So Linea Pelle is one of them. I did a consultancy for them. They’re a a leather trade fair. They wanted to expand working with Africa. I’ve worked with the Brighton Museum on their Fashion Cities Africa exhibition and so many. A lot of private clients and so forth. That’s how it started. But then I’ve now, kind of in the last year, I realized I need to make this a different type of business, more of a digital online business. I decided to create digital products such as a course membership and membership club and various other programs, a group coaching program and the one to one, to bring everything more online and I’m soon to launch and have an online platform for sourcing.
Lisa Linfield: 04:36 So for essentially eight years, you’ve been running it as a side hustle to either your master’s or to working full time. What were the challenges you faced in trying to run both at the same time?
Jacqueline B.: 04:50 Oh yeah. So I did all three at the same time. When I did the master’s I was working four days, the master’s one day, and I was doing that building this as part of my master’s, I guess. But then it became a business. So the main challenges are literally time. I would give anything to have the time because it goes to work and you come home and you’re trying to execute your projects, speak to clients, build your systems, and you just get exhausted. You just feel there’s not enough hours in the day. That can affect your family because they never see you. You’re always in your room or always in your office space and you can’t go right to your friends because you’re busy building this thing. So it takes a lot of your time.
It also takes finance because you’re putting money into setting up a website or for me, doing the conferences. Yes I did do paid conferences but I’d often have to pay for the venue myself to start with. So financially, you just end up spending a lot on the systems and the things that you need and then give a lot of your time. That’s the two big challenges for me.
Lisa Linfield: 05:51 And what was it that kept you going?
Jacqueline B.: 05:54 It was the why, the vision. I feel the heartbeat of Africa and I felt like there wasn’t any platforms really talking about the manufacturing industry and supply chain. It’s so important. Right now, where the industry is, I’m so glad that I kicked things off 10 years ago because there is a big interest in African fashion. You’ve got the celebrities and stars all wanting to wear it, African-Americans traveling back to Africa. So it’s really an important time.
So I’m so glad that my why, my research, and my own history brought me to this and that’s what makes me know that people want to step into Africa now. That’s what makes me keep doing what I’m doing.
Lisa Linfield: 06:34 So after eight years, I mean that’s amazing. And it’s what I always say to people, your why has to be strong. You’ve got to have a very clear vision of your life post doing both at the same time. But after eight years of working on both together, you’ve recently moved full-time into it. What happened to enable you to do that?
Jacqueline B.: 06:54 Well, funnily enough, I had three redundancy, so three jobs I had. They all made me redundant. I was working in fashion and the clothing companies just weren’t doing well on the trade direction and they just [inaudible 00:07:07] people and I was one of them. The most recent job was a contract job. It was working within development for Africa actually. So it was a good move to go into that to learn. But after the contract was over, though it was to be renewed, I decided I just wanted to focus on my business. I think it’s like, just give it a chance. You will never become what I want it to or never provide me the full income that I know it can unless I give it my time and energy.
Lisa Linfield: 07:35 That’s fantastic. And so you were mentioning that you started to expand in the last year in terms of commercializing the business. What are you doing?
Jacqueline B.: 07:44 With that, what I really enjoy is where I’ve built the online course now. So that means that those who want to do the training but they don’t have the time or the finance for one-to-one coaching can now access the training. It means I’ve brought it online because I initially did do a training, like a group training, but it was in London and I realized I needed to bring this online because I was getting interest from all over the world. When I first bought it online, I had people from Aruba, Australasia, Canada, Japan, the US, all over the world, Europe, who we wanted to tap into the training. So I was able to give them access by bringing it online. So yeah, but different programs and packages such as the online training and the membership club is enabling more people to tap into my resources, to learn about how to staff and build their own business and how to begin trading with African suppliers and manufacturers and create jobs. I had to bring trade back to Africa, which is really one of the big focuses of what I do.
Lisa Linfield: 08:44 That’s fascinating because I guess one of the other things is that they get to tap into your network of suppliers and distribution systems in Africa.
Jacqueline B.: 08:53 Absolutely, absolutely. And that’s what a lot of people want is – where can I source in Africa? Who can I work with? How can I make it happen? Those are the three key questions I answer.
Lisa Linfield: 09:04 And what I love about your idea is that your business is doing well for you financially, growing and all of that kind of stuff. But it’s doing well for the people in Africa who you’re giving access to all these great fashion markets elsewhere in the world.
Jacqueline B.: 09:23 Exactly. And I mean Africa has been open for business for a very long time. It’s just those in the West or the so-called developed 12, which I hate that term, but they think that Africa can’t produce fashion and I’m really on a mission to change the narrative of that and to show people that Africa has an amazing textile industry and it can only grow and develop as more and more interest comes to the continent and more people exploring.
They just remove this whole dark continent mentality of corruption and poverty. Get it out of their minds and go and visit and see what all these countries and cultures has to offer and then do business. So this is really why I push this and drive this and that. Bring more business to Africa. Do less of the taking and more of the bringing of business and working with Africa as a continent.
Lisa Linfield: 10:09 One of the things I love that you do do is you organize a tour that takes people into Africa to go and see the fashion industry there. What are people’s reactions to that?
Jacqueline B.: 10:19 They come back changed. I mean they see all sides of it and I think the main thing is when you’re working with contractors, so to speak, or suppliers, you need to meet them at some point. Whoever you’re working with in your business, you need to meet them.
is about relationships. That’s what I found by traveling to the multiple countries I’ve been to. That’s one thing that is really similar, it’s about relationships. Meeting people, talking to people, getting to know people, let them get to trust you. Like and trust factor is really important.
So when they come from whatever country – Australia, Canada, US, UK is where they usually come from – for some of them, it’s their first touch of Africa. So the eyes are open. It’s new. There’s new smells, new sights, new experiences, but they go back not just with supplier partners but with a new understanding of what they can experience in Africa and they just want to go back and they fall in love. So I love seeing that in their eyes. It’s a really great experience. So I get a lot from it as well as giving a lot to them.
Lisa Linfield: 11:21 Yeah. I always say that anybody can be good at what they do, but to be great, you have to have a passion for it. But to actually have that thing where it’s not effortless but it’s an energy that keeps giving, it’s that dual purpose of not only working in your passion but also serving other people. Knowing that there are these opportunities. For one, one way you are able to both use your skills and passion but also to help other people live a better life.
Jacqueline B.: 11:52 Yeah, absolutely. Fashion has the capability to really change lives. And there is a quote saying that the cross industry is the second biggest employer in the developing world. So a lot of what I do is – as well as the big factories – I introduce people to a lot of the really highly skilled craftspeople weaving with raffia or cotton or printing or any kind of thing. They’re working with their hands to create textiles and these are highly skilled people and I think that coming from the West, you can offer them new access, new markets and that’s where I want to just help to build those relationships.
Lisa Linfield: 12:32 I love that. I love doing good and doing a great business at the same time. So in LA LA Land, if we look in the next, let’s even say only five to 10 years, what are you hoping to achieve?
Jacqueline B.: 12:45 I want to really support at least 500 businesses. I mean, probably before five years, 500 businesses to tap into Africa’s market. I want to be able to increase more trade to change that narrative with the work that I’m doing. To see more of the fashion industry, the big conglomerates, more of the big conglomerates to want to source there and to start sourcing there and to build more resources on the continent. So where there may be more cotton mills needed or production houses, print houses, and so forth, to start to develop that. And for Africa to start being seen as a very competitive market in the textile industry, not as a plan B because they just need labor, but as some way as you want to source from because of the quality of crafts or the ability that is there. So I want to be part of that change and to encourage that change.
Lisa Linfield: 13:37 You have a conference coming up soon that is on Fashion Africa. Who are the kinds of people that attend your conferences?
Jacqueline B.: 13:45 Yeah, it’s amazing. And we have people – obviously the press come with different media. We have people like Swarovski have been, we have people from PIRO who I used to work with, New Era, trend specialists come, and a lot of the ethical fashion industries as those from the different organizations will come to it as well because a lot of people do focus the work with sustainability because it’s a lot about working with people and labor and doing good work, so I do get a lot from that community as well. But I also work to encourage the schools like London College of Fashion, I’ve invited them before to come, Kingston University, all the fashion schools to come out as well. To bring the new generation of designers to come and explore the industry and to find out what is happening in Africa so that they can start tapping into that as they’re building in their careers. So yeah, education to fashion, business to ethical fashion. And those are the kinds of people that come.
Lisa Linfield: 14:39 There’s a book by Blake Mycoskie called Start Something That Matters and one of the things he talks about is how powerful having a strong story for your brand is in giving you access to places that you wouldn’t normally. So his business is Toms, it’s the footwear business that does one for one. So for every shoe that is sold, they give a pair of shoes to a child in need and they do it both in South America and in Africa. And he was saying that when he was starting his business, there were these major, major, major brands that he would never have gotten into had he not had a story. And I think one of the points he makes, which you’re making too, is that if part of your brand is sustainable sourcing in Africa, you have such an amazing leg up and an amazing story, especially as a new designer, that can help you to build your brand and build your footprint better as well as do good for providers in Africa.
Jacqueline B.: 15:40 `Yeah, totally. And that’s what I’m training my students or when I speak to my clients. I really say to them, when you meet the suppliers, it’s about tapping into their stories. They’re not just people making a product. They’re real people who have a real life and tap into that. Get permission to share that. As consumers, we’re more savvy these days. We’re not just going to – We’re told, as buyers, we want to know more and I think consumers are being trained to ask more questions or to have more interest. So the retailers realize that when they have stories to tell, it can actually sell products as well because people want to know a bit more and they buy into that because it’s really important.
Lisa Linfield: 16:21 So how did you build your skills? If I’m someone that I’m listening to you and I’m thinking, Oh well it’s fine for her because she obviously knows how to do conferences and she obviously knows how to build online training courses and she obviously magically whipped up from nothing an entire network of people on Africa. Everyone looks at you and they’re always like, Oh my goodness, you know, she’s obviously got something that I don’t have so I can’t do it. How did you build, over the last nine years, the skill set needed to do all of this?
Jacqueline B.: 16:52 I laugh because it’s so hilarious. The only skill set I’ve really built is to do a fashion degree. I love the fashion industry because I’ve worked in the field, I’ve got a degree and all that stuff. So that’s my profession. So yes, I know that, but all the other stuff, Oh my gosh, it’s been like one of the hardest learning curves of all. I just have ideas. I’m an idea factory. I think that’s what comes with being a creative. You just have ideas, but then you realize, okay, can I execute them? How do I do it? Just work it out. You speak to people. I’m a big networker, so at the beginning of my business, I would go to every event. People would know me as the girl that keeps talking about ethical fashion in Africa. I’d keep popping up in places and at the beginning, that’s what kind of helped to build me.
So my first speaking engagement was in the House of Lords in London, a quite prestigious location, because there was an ethical fashion event. They wanted me to speak about that topic and I was so nervous, but I did it. And the book by Susan Jeffers, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, it literally is feel that fear and just get up and do it. That’s the only thing that’s going to help you step out of the water. Get the help that you need. Speak to people who have been there before you, who’s one step ahead and can actually guide you, get coaching.
So that’s why I coach people now. I give them a six-step system called My Africa, the Africa roadmap. It’s an acronym, Africa is an acronym, but it’s six steps that can help you to create and build your own fashion business in Africa. And I say to people, even if you don’t have a fashion degree like me or fashion experience or you’ve never been to the continent or you don’t have any context, you can still make this happen. Go through this roadmap. It will lead you to the place that you need to create and build that business and you can make it happen. So that’s one way as well.
Lisa Linfield: 18:36 I love that because it comes down to two things, having a really strong why and passion to do it and then being able to do, as Susan Jeffers says, feel the fear and do it anyway. I love that book because what she’s not saying is, Oh, you’re never going to feel fear. She’s saying you are going to feel it, but just do it. And I think it’s one of the most important things. Similarly, people often say to me, you’re just a different person because you’ve launched a podcast and done all these things, and I want to look at them and go, no, I [inaudible 00:19:08] , I just have a purpose to teach a million women about money. And that in itself motivates me to then find the ways to do what I need to do.
And there are so many courses and people out there to mentor you, you’ve just got to find them and you’ve just got to plug in with them. And what I always say is that if you invest some of your hard earned cash to learn what you need to know, you will do what it takes. So women who invest their hard earned cash in learning with you will then actually end up doing the work. If you give these things away for free, they’ll never do the work because, Oh well I can always get to it another day. And I find that in my own learning, if I want to do something, I have to put down some cash and then I do it.
I’m writing a book at the moment. Why? Because I’ve paid the money to go on a coaching program for someone to walk me through the recipe. And I always say there’s a recipe to everything, and for you, it’s the six steps to doing business in Africa. There is a recipe to it. People must work with you and plug in and find out how you do that. But you didn’t magically get all of this information from the good luck fairy. You worked your butt off over nine years to build it.
Jacqueline B.: 20:22 Yeah. And that’s the thing which is quite interesting. First of all, they say the antidote to fear is action. So by just getting up and doing stuff, that is actually going to kill the fear and push it back. And you’ll feel more confident as you actually see that you’re doing it. But it’s interesting because the first seven years of doing business, I was just doing it organically, just being very reactive to what everyone was coming to me. So somebody calls me, can you help me? Okay, sure. Can you do this consultancy? Yeah, sure. Only thing I’d organized was conferences and people would suggest, why don’t you do something online or do a training program? I was like, I’m not a teacher, I don’t know how to train a program. I just learned to, but I was still quite reactive. I would create things But it was only in the last two years I started to realize, you know what? I need to up level this.
And I felt nervous. I didn’t know anything. But when I looked back over the seven years of doing the business and of the 20 years of working in the fashion industry, then I realized, you know, I’ve got something. How can I package this? Let me go get some coaching to learn the system and how to package everything up to create this business. So even though I’ve been working on this for nine years or more, the last two years is about actually you really sat down and put everything into a package. So that’s very interesting when I look back. But now or never – whenever you start is the right time to start. But what is that Chinese proverb? The best time to climb the tree is right now.
Lisa Linfield: 21:45 Absolutely. One of the things that people, when I coached them on my cost side hustle, they’re always wanting to have the perfect idea and the perfect recipe on day one. And I always have to encourage them to say it doesn’t work that way. So you might be one of those lucky people that do, but even if you take the story of Facebook and all of that, they didn’t start first as that. It’s almost like iteration three, four or five down the road is the one that becomes the thing that you will end up doing. And I’m sure the same was for you. Is that what you thought when you very first started your business in 2010 2011, what you thought it could or would be and what it is now are hugely different?
Jacqueline B.: 22:26 Absolutely. To be honest, I never even thought of what it would be. Like I said, I was just being very reactive. I’ll do this conference because I wanted to do it, create the blog. And I was happy working. I was at a decent job before I got made redundant but I think the redundancy kind of made me realize that I couldn’t be relying on that job. I needed a plan B.
And that’s always been doing things on the side, like you said, your side hustle. I was sewing for people, doing weddings as well. That’s when I used to do wedding dresses, so at least on some degree I realized industry’s changing. I need to have something extra, I need to have multiple income streams. I need to have a plan B because I’ve been made redundant. What if this happens again and then it happens two more times? I was like, dang, I need to get my stuff together and use what I have. How can I make this better? How can I create that regular income? And I had to go out and learn it through coaching. So yeah, it’s a crazy journey, but you just have to step out and just build upon and learn from what you’ve done. Look back, always look back and rebuild where you need to.
Lisa Linfield: 23:29 That’s fantastic advice. So if they are, listeners out there who are excited about what you’ve been talking about and want to learn more, how would they find you?
Jacqueline B.: 23:38 Yes, so the main one is the website, www.africafashionguide.com. Also the same as on Facebook and Twitter. And then the fashionafricabusinessacademy.com. [inaudible 00:23:54] my website. That’s the thing. I never had my own website but I do now and it’s jacquelineshaw.co.uk. And there’s a few free downloads that you can grab on there as well. A free video training you can go on or a free download to a workbook you can grab as well and learn those six steps to building your business. So yay. Definitely go to jacquelineshaw.co.uk. Check me out. Everything I do, it will lead you to all the other platforms and programs that I have.
Lisa Linfield: 24:21 That’s wonderful. Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate your time, your energy and a passionate supporter of the fact that you’re trying to build not only a great business, but help other people in your industry.
Jacqueline B.: 24:35 Thank you so much. Appreciate you.
Lisa Linfield: 24:37 That was Jacqueline Brown and I’m sure like many of you, it’s so inspiring to hear people who have started a side hustle while still working for something they are passionate about doing and that have been patient and face those fears and built it up to the level where they’re able to start working in it as their main hustle, as the thing that they do and not only generate the money that they need to survive, but also be able to help other people. And I think that that is when there is true magic in this world, when you can both help other people and create a great living for yourself.
We’re right in the middle of launching our side hustle course that goes live on Wednesday the 25th of September. That’s when we start. So you’ve got one week to sign up for the course. I only do this twice a year and if you want to sign up directly, you can go to www.teachyourselfwealth.com/16weekhustle or alternatively there’s a link in the show notes.
And if you are still a little bit undecided as to whether you want to actually invest in doing a course to give you the skills to do this, then there’s always the option that you can come to my free webinar. There are a few being held this week that you’re able to register for at businessschoolforstartups.com/webinarregistrationlisa or alternatively you can find that link in the show notes. So if you want to attend a free webinar just to learn more about some of the objections that people usually have about starting a business that actually in this day and age are not as valid as they used to be, then absolutely join us for the webinar and we’d love to have you on board. It’s free. You’ve just got to sign up and it can help to show you not only the way I teach, but some things that are really useful for you in terms of starting your business. And we would love to have you join us on the side hustle course that starts on the 25th of September.
Take care. Have a great week. I’m Lisa Linfield and this is Working Women’s Wealth.