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Meet Fisayo Che of Elisamama in Anaheim

Today we’d like to introduce you to Fisayo Che.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
The idea of Elisamama was established at the intersection of my love for fun, stylish, functional clothing and the heart to make a difference. In 2018, I took a trip to Nigeria with my daughter, Elisa. While we were out there, I contracted a few seamstresses to make some items for Elisa.

I was excited to have things made for her because at that time, I was a bit bored with the clothing options that were more readily available to me in my local stores in Anaheim and was eager for something different. When the items came back, I was thrilled! They were beautiful and truly one of a kind! I was so excited that I went back to the markets, purchased some more fabric and had more items made for Elisa. During the course of those transactions, something interesting happened. I began to get to know the seamstresses, really connect with them as mothers, wives, and just women. I also had a chance to really see them. I saw that despite how talented and hardworking they were, they were significantly handicapped by lack. They were people with drive, goals and aspirations but due to their circumstances and geography, struggled to meet their most basic needs. It did not seem fair.

The issue is sadly larger than I initially realized – 50% of Nigeria’s population is either unemployed or underemployed and Nigeria recently took over India as the country with the highest rate of people living in extreme poverty (living at less than $2 a day). Those statistics were jarring and hard to swallow because I had seen talent, passion, hardwork and drive rampant in Nigeria. The situation weighed heavy on my heart and I thought about what I could do to make a difference; it was out of this concern that Elisamama was born! I figured that there were other parents like myself who would appreciate these one of a kind clothes that I loved. I knew if I could connect the work of these seamstresses to a global market, they would have access to a more consistent job, income and have a sustainable pathway out of poverty. It was a no brainer!

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Although I was incredibly convinced of the idea of Elisamama, the “how” was questionable. Here I was with zero experience in apparel design, production, merchandising or eCommerce but convinced I could build this business. I was completely lost but figured I would take it one step at a time and see where it led me. I was encouraged by the immediate and direct impact of the work – I knew that as long as I was able to contract the seamstresses to make some clothes and pay them for the work, my goals were already being met because that was additional income they would otherwise not have had. The mistakes, however, were tough and learnings abundant. The production aspect was my initial focus and initial challenge. Not being able to physically monitor the production, relying solely on video calls to communicate was a struggle.

While the heart of Elisamama is our social goals, it was incredibly important to me that our products in and of themselves offered great value to our buyers and most importantly did not compromise quality. The reality though was that our seamstresses had never had to work within the confines of such quality requirements prior to Elisamama so it was initially tough for them. Figuring out our designs, sizing and fabric were another set of production struggles. After several misses, I became more savvy in fabric selection, very quickly realizing that texture, color fastness, pattern size and continuity are all critical to picking out a fabric. The production struggles, while tough, were largely expected. What I did not expect were the myriad of things outside the core business I had to quickly get up to speed on. I needed to learn about branding, social media management, product photography and editing, eCommerce platform setup, marketing, customer service, finance tracking, business licensing, government logistics….the list went on.

Tell us about your business. What do you do, what do you specialize in, what are you known for, etc. What are you most proud of as a company? What sets you apart from others?
Elisamama is an apparel brand that designs and creates fun, stylish kid’s clothing in African-inspired wax prints for sizes six months to size 8. We ship out of California but all parts of our production are sourced in Nigeria and made by Nigerian Artisans. Our purpose is to build a sustainable business while providing a pathway out of poverty for our team of Artisans through jobs and skills training. Our work model is driven by our commitment to empower those in marginalized Nigerian communities and create a space where they can work, learn and discover their own strengths.

Our primary goal is to provide consistent tailoring job opportunities for our team. We also offer training programs to those who want to learn the work. Upon completion of the training, graduates are given an opportunity to join the Elisamama team. Although jobs and skills training offer tremendous value, we are also cognizant of the limitations and obstacles that prevent those facing severe poverty from being able to commit to the job, the learning experience and demands of production. One of our key tenets is to therefore create an environment where members of our Elisamama team can learn, grow and cope with the demands of the business. We do this by providing a dedicated Elisamama workshop, accommodation, food, power, tools and other resources needed for our team to not only work effectively and earn a consistent income but also to know that they are valued and their work matters.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
Our initial focus has been to firm up our production process and standardize our design offerings. Looking ahead, our next set of goals are to build greater awareness around our brand. So marketing is a key focus for us presently. In addition, we are looking to establish more wholesale partnerships, particularly with retailers in Southern California. We will also continue to ramp up our direct to consumer sales through our website.

When it comes to incorporating wax prints into mainstream kid’s fashion, I believe we are yet to scratch the surface. Over the next few years, however, I expect to see more brands including them in their offerings. One of the key drivers of this adoption will likely be the movie industry. With the increasing inclusion of narratives around the African Culture in blockbuster movies such as Black Panther, wax prints will most likely develop a greater appeal and become even more normalized. From a social benefit angle, I predict more organizations will start to recognize the value of self-sustainable social enterprises that prioritize giving work to those living in poverty. This awareness will likely trigger a slow shift from the traditional charity, give-aid model generally run by nonprofits to more social enterprises that provide a pathway out of poverty through jobs.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Iridescent Photography

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