Tell us about your early life and background: where you were born and what’s your heritage?
I was born in Oakville, Ontario Canada to Jamaican parents. I grew up in Clarkson where I was the youngest of 3 girls. My creative flair as well as my interests in en-trepreneurship, travel, and the African diaspora, began at an early age. In many ways my current trajectory is an ode to my father, who encouraged my sisters and I to explore and to appreciate all that was around us. He has a natural flair for life and he passed it on to his children.
What was life like before you established your business? Career, other pur-suits
After leaving Clarkson, I went on to study at The University of Western Ontario. I have a degree in Sociology and also a business degree from Ivey School of Busi-ness. Overall, my 20’s were about conformity and doing what I thought I was sup-posed to do whereas my 30’s has been about doing what I want to do. I left Cana-da in 2003 and completed an exchange between the Ivey School of Business in London, Ontario, and ESADE in Barcelona. After completing my studies in Spain, I then moved to Paris for 6 months before settling in the UK in 2004.
I started my career in Pharmaceuticals, first beginning in Sales and then progress-ing to Pharmaceutical Market Research. I quickly climbed the corporate ladder and became a Business Development Director at the age of 29. Although I achieved much success in my career, I still felt largely unfulfilled as I wasn’t truly passionate about the work I was doing. Hence, I began to explore the possibility of starting my own business and ultimately did so in 2012.
Finally, in 2015, I moved to Ghana where I live with my husband. I split my time be-tween Ghana, the UK and Canada and run my business while in each country.
What is life like as an entrepreneur?
Initially I began selling African inspired cushions and handbags in the markets around London and then as I researched and began to understand the segment in which I operate, I changed the business to focus on higher end handbags. I also renamed the business from Mefie (Me fiey) to Anansi.
Life as an entrepreneur is varied—you need to be able to assess the market in which you operate and to be ready to change and adapt quickly.
When did you first go to Ghana and why. Tell us about your first impressions of Ghana.
Initially, I travelled to Ghana in March of 2012 to visit my husband (then boyfriends) family and to explore his homeland. We spent a week in Accra and a week in Ku-masi and I instantly fell in love with the country. Although I had never been to Gha-na before, it felt like home. I marvelled at the people—they closely resembled my own family members and I was in awe of the strong connection between many of the Ghanaian traditions and those which I know as a person of Jamaican descent. I found it amazing that many of the foods and stories known in Jamaica actually originate from West Africa ie. waakye, ackee, and Anansi stories). My initial trip gave me a certain sense of pride as it showed the strength and resilience of my an-cestors who have maintained some of our traditions despite the atrocities of slav-ery.
At what point did you feel that you could relocate to Ghana and why the deci-sion to move?
There wasn’t a specific point in which I decided to relocate to Ghana. My husband had returned to his homeland to run his family business and eventually he also started his own company. As his business began to grow, we continued to talk about where it was best/most practical for us to live. The opportunity in Ghana is immense and as I wanted to create a business with a strong online component, I had more flexibility to move. Initially, I started my business while working in market research and when the opportunity arose I left my job to work full-time at Anansi (then called Mefie). After leaving my job, I spent 3 months in Ghana and then con-tinued to increase my time in the country. This year (2015), I officially became a resident of Ghana.
Tell us about what inspires you about living in Ghana?
I am inspired by the possibilities in Ghana. I wake up each day ready to conquer the world and to truly affect change. Some may ask —how, do you affect change with a handbag? Yet, in starting a business, regardless of the type, there is always room for growth. Not only do we look to celebrate the beauty and craftsmanship in traditional textiles, but as the business grows, there is the opportunity to incorporate many of the crafts done across the continent, thus working with a greater number of artisans. Additionally, at the core of the company is a commitment to training and development in business. Hence, we will also give back through exceptional devel-opment of new employees. The lessons learned, having worked in large conglom-erates and having trained in the best schools and under some of the most powerful managers in their respective businesses, has put me in good stead to pass on key learnings to those who may not otherwise have the opportunity.
What type of Volunteer work do you do?
At the moment, I am not involved in any formal volunteer work yet, living in Ghana the idea of giving back is different, as it is more about supporting local trade and providing opportunities to upskill and train. Over the past few years, I have worked with a team of craftsman in my local Kumasi, Ghana to create handbags and cush-ions to be sold in the West. I have also worked with a weaving cooperative in Madagascar to create raffia totes.
At the moment my husband is in the midst of opening the first boxing gym in Ku-masi. Although the gym itself will be a commercial business, we would also like to run a program for disadvantaged youth across the region to support them with food, education and provide the opportunity to train, hence this program will be set up as a non-profit which we will run.
What advice would you give to students?
Work hard and follow your dreams. I grew up in Clarkson and return each year for Christmas as my parents still live in the area so I am a local girl. I was not raised in a wealthy family but was taught from an early age that I could do anything I wanted to do and I have. Yes, it has been difficult at times but with perseverance and te-nacity anything is possible.
To date, I have travelled across North America, Europe and Africa and have done so by working and saving money to make my dreams come true. I moved to the UK with £100 ($200) in my bank account and as terrified as I was at the time, I managed to find a waitressing job to make money until I found a role in my chosen field of Pharmaceuticals. Now, there are other options to make money Airbnb, Ub-er, freelancer.com hence, you can sell your skills to help you to make your dreams come true so go for it!
In my experience, failure is never a bad thing as you will learn from having tried. Yet, if you are always comfortable and have never done anything new then you won’t grow and you will never know how far you can go!