I graduated in 2012 and was thrilled when a prestigious London accountancy firm showed an interest in me. Armed with an MBA and a supportive family; I could smell success. On the morning of my interview, I searched my wardrobe for the perfect power-outfit. I teamed my favourite African print blazer with a black skirt and low court shoes. As I walked into the reception area, everyone’s eyes were on me; I knew I’d chosen the perfect outfit! The people around me were dressed in dull, corporate jackets, but it didn’t concern me. I’ll inject some colour into these four walls, I thought to myself as I walked towards the interview room. Well, I was a bit naïve in those days…
The interview went perfectly, and I knew the job was mine, but the mood changed slightly as I was about to leave. “Christelle, if you worked here, would we always see you in such bright colours and bold prints?” the interviewer asked me. “Oh yes, of course! I love wearing bold prints,” I replied. I was pleased that she seemed to appreciate my sense of style. “I’m afraid we have a very strict dress code in this office; we avoid bright colours and bold prints because they don’t look very professional,” she told me. I felt so disappointed. Professionalism is not defined by the clothes we wear, I thought to myself. My style is a big part of my identity and I didn’t want to pretend to be someone else just to secure a job. But what could I do? I needed an income. That’s when I had my lightbulb moment.
I called my twin sister Michelle and told her I was coming home to Cameroon, so we could start a business selling African print dresses to women around the world. “I feel good when I wear these dresses and I want other women to feel like this too,” I told her. I arrived home with £50 in my pocket and no retail experience, but it didn’t matter because my sister and I had a strong desire to succeed.
In March of 2013, (formerly known as The African Shop) was born. What do I love most about my job? Whilst carrying out my day-to-day tasks, I’m free to wear the bright African prints that empowered me in that interview room many years ago. On a day-to-day basis, I organise photo shoots, oversee designs, execute marketing strategies, and look after the financial side of the business. That’s pretty professional, I’d say!