Temidola Ikomi, a 2017 graduate of the D’Amore-McKim School of Business, was truly missed by the Northeast community, so she joined Women Who Empower.
Ikomi wanted to build new relationships with like-minded women who wanted to help each other grow and could have their own business, she says, as she is the co-founder of an African-inspired fashion brand in Nigeria, her native country.
“The people I’ve met so far on this trip have been amazing,” says Ikomi.
This year, Ikomi received a 2022 Innovator Award, presented by Women Who Empower, in the young undergraduate graduate category, along with a cash prize of $22,000. She also entered the competition last year, but did not win.
“It shows that being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you’re going to give up when you don’t get what you want. You keep pushing and pushing,” Ikomi says.
Along with her mother and two sisters, she owns a Nigerian fashion brand called Irawo Studio. Irawo means “stars” in Yoruba, one of the three main languages spoken in the country.
They always knew they wanted to do something in the fashion world, says Ikomi.
“Fashion has been a great way for me to express what I feel, my identity without necessarily saying anything,” she says. “We all love fashion. We all also want to embrace our Yoruba culture, [and] it’s something we are able to do with a modern twist.
Ikomi was born in Kano, Northern Nigeria and grew up between Lagos, Nairobi, Kenya and South Africa due to her father’s travels in corporate banking. She attended several international schools and became familiar with meeting people from different cultures.
In 2012, she enrolled in college in Virginia, but didn’t feel like it was diverse enough for her. She decided to move and chose Northeastern for its diversity and co-op program.
“I think I progress best through the challenges sometimes, and I felt the co-op program would really let me see what it would be like to be a full-time employee before I graduate,” says- she.
While at Northeastern, she served as an advisor and president of the Northeastern African Student Organization. She graduated from the D’Amore-McKim School of Business in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and business administration.
His first job was in corporate communications. In 2018, Ikomi moved from Boston to Brooklyn, New York, where she currently resides.
When Temidola Ikomi and her sister Ama Ikomi graduated from college in 2017, the women in her family decided it was time to start a fashion business in Nigeria.
Ama Ikomi went to New York University’s Stern School of Business and took over accounting and finance for their new venture. Temidola Ikomi focused on marketing and advertising. Their younger sister Anire Ikomi, a graduate of the Parsons School of Design, contributes to the brand’s public image.
The daily running of the business is overseen by their mother, Abby Ikomi, who is the creative director of Irawo and lives in Lagos full time.
Ikomi says she got her entrepreneurial nature from her mother. In each country where they lived, his mother had a business: hairdressing, furniture, jewelry.
“I think that’s how I am too. When something excites me, I give it my all and want to make sure it succeeds,” says Ikomi.
Working with her family was a bit tricky the first year, she says, as they needed to understand the dynamic between them.
“Because it’s family, you can be very direct and honest. And sometimes that’s what you need in the business,” she says.
They try to focus on what’s best for the business. They all participate in the creative development process, collectively brainstorming on the brand message or the next lookbook, says Ikomi.
At the same time, Ikomi says, they are a Nigerian family first, and his mother will always have their unconditional respect. Business comes later.
In the first year of operation, they decided to take part in one of the biggest fashion shows in Lagos called Arise to make a splash in a rather saturated market, Ikomi explains. Irawo Studio also participated in Glitz Fashion Week in Ghana.
“We did all these fashion shows to help us get on board [on this journey]Ikomi says.
She describes Irawo clothing as African-inspired women’s clothing that is modern and stylish, very comfortable and professional. She says Irawo clothing is for pioneers who pursue their dreams in their own way. They can be mothers, students or working women.
“We really want to bring out your inner star,” says Ikomi. “We always say our pieces are investment pieces, which means whatever the trend, it’s still something you can wear for many, many years.”
They also make custom pieces for milestone birthdays, weddings or wedding receptions.
The company carries out all stages of the production process in-house, from conceptualization of fabric and garment design to execution and shipment to customers. A team of in-house artisans designs all fabric patterns, giving Irawo Studio complete control of its supply chain, Ikomi says.
In five years, the company has firmly established itself in West African markets, Ikomi says, with the biggest sales in Nigeria and Ghana. They’ve also seen growth in the UK and the US, primarily in New York and Atlanta, Ikomi says. They also ship worldwide.
Their goal now is to expand further into the US market in a genuine way, increase sales and enter more retailers.
“We used influencers to help us break into the US market,” says Ikomi. “We also do a lot of paid advertising.”
This experience of launching and managing Irawo Studio taught Ikomi that an entrepreneur should have a complete 360 degree view of their business.
“You really need to be fully equipped to know your business inside and out,” she says.
That’s why she returned to Lagos in 2019 for a year and a half to better understand how the business works and its expenses.
Ikomi continues to work in marketing and communications outside of Irawo Studio.
“I believe in being very thorough and using what I learn in my work for the company,” she says. “It’s not necessarily about picking one, but it’s about taking time for what’s important to you and prioritizing your time.”
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