Updated: Jan 13
How can I turn culture into a successful business? With Evelyn Onyejuruwa, the Founder/CEO of Ankara Miami, focusing on redefining African cultural trends
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How can you base a business on a culture? What are the best tips for small cultural businesses? Do African cultural trends get enough exposure? What is the Nigerian culture? How to get involved with ethnic fashion shows? How to represent your culture in this busy world? How can I plan an African fashion show?
In this podcast interview, we got to talk to the amazing Evelyn Onyejuruwa, better known as Evelyn O. She is the Founder/CEO of Ankara Miami. Born in Nigeria and raised in Florida, Evelyn has been investing great time and effort into representing and redefining the beautiful African cultural trends through Ankara Miami, a special events company that specifically carries out events for black or culture-focused businesses. Evelyn also manages Ankara Delights, a shop and series of pop-up shops specializing in African print fabrics, apparel, and hand-crafted goods. Being in the retail industry, Evelyn loves visiting markets around the world and exploring various fashion trends in the African Diaspora. Take a cultural fashion trip with Evelyn and Collective Drift in this interview, as she tells us about the wonderful African fashion and her love for the rich Nigerian culture!
This episode of the Collective Drift podcast is sponsored by Truist. Truist is here for better. BB&T and SunTrust formed Truist with a shared purpose—to inspire and build better lives and communities. With our combined resources, collective passion, and commitment to innovation, we’re creating a better financial experience to help people and businesses achieve more. Go to truist.com for more information.
Here are a few of my favorite parts of the interview:
Collective Drift (CD) / Evelyn Onyejuruwa (EO)
CD: So Evelyn, how would you describe yourself?
EO: Well, I think I am a multi-dimensional creature. I’m a weird mix of reserved and social at the same time. But aside from that, I describe myself as a visionary. I have a lot of grand ideas. I have a lot of things that I like to collaborate on. And I just try to find out how to work with different types of people and deal with different types of cultures and demographics, etc. I gravitate towards being consistent, being able to adapt to different types of people, and being able to watch my surroundings.
CD: Where does the idea behind “Ankara Miami” (Florida’s premier African fashion week) come from?
EO: The overall idea is related to my culture. I was born in Nigeria. I've been primarily raised here in Florida, but I do go back and forth. It started when I won the Nigeria Florida cultural pageant back in 2011 in South Florida. The thing that I loved about it was that it wasn't based on beauty, body, and things like that. This pageant was based on promoting the culture, so it was quite different. It was just young women representing the area that they're from by mixing in tradition with modern fashion and showcasing the beauty of what our culture is. So, with winning that pageant, I realized that I needed to do something specific to my platform. Therefore, I created Ankara Miami with the primary reason for showcasing African culture on a platform that was positive progressive, seen as trendy, seen as professional, and seen as elegant.
CD: What was it like starting Ankara Miami? When did you start it?
EO: I started planning Ankara Miami right after I won the pageant in July or August of 2011. The first show was held in February of 2012, about half a year later. Initially, I had no idea how I was going to handle something so new to me. I had done events before, I had always loved putting events together for friends, my high school reunion, etc. But I had done nothing on a public scale before, and with a business behind it too. So, dealing with vendors, designers, ticket sales, and every single aspect of the show was very challenging. But I was so glad to be able to pull it off successfully because it became the catapult for the rest of the years that followed.
CD: What is Nigerian culture to you?
EO: It is rich. The things that we do tradition wise, the languages that we speak, even fashion is years old. I even wear some of the things my mother used to wear. So, everything tends to last a little bit longer because it's all rooted in something very cultural. The culture is also quite diverse. There are over 200 languages in Nigeria alone. You can even identify what tribe someone is from based on their name and the clothes they’re wearing. Therefore, I try to make sure that everybody who's participating in the show isn't just from Nigeria. I try to make sure that we show different countries like Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Senegalese, etc. So, despite the similarities, we have a lot of differences. Finally, I'd say that culture is also very progressive. Technology’s on the rise, sports and entertainment as well. There are so many different paths opening up for us now that people are starting to find ways to do business in Africa to be progressive and profitable.
CD: What are some of the things that you have learned from your mother and your mother's culture?
EO: Even though I was primarily raised in the US, I have a lot of Nigerian influence. We, Nigerians, are very proud of who we are. So, you'll never see me with my head down no matter what's going on. I definitely am a proud Nigerian woman. There’s a sense of pride I have in who I am, and where I come from, and that I think everybody should have it. I believe I have gotten this from my mother, my grandmother, and my aunts. The women in my family are very, very strong women. So, the strength that my mother has is the reason behind the hard-working nature I have. I don't have children yet but I can imagine raising them in a similar fashion to the way my mother raised me and my brother.
CD: If I were to go to Nigeria, what will I get to do there?
EO: I usually have to visit a lot of markets because I’m in the retail business so they’re one of my favorite places to go to. Apart from that, we have great clubs here, we have open mic nights, movie theatres, and so many restaurants. So, if I were to recommend specific places, I’d say do visit Balogun which is one of the popular markets, and Yaba, which has a lot of arts and crafts like handmade jewelry, home décor, and things like that. Apart from fashion and art markets we have food markets as well, there are just so many things to explore when you’re here.
CD: How are you able to pull culture into a business?
EO: Well, my business is all about culture. So, I think what has made it successful is the niche that I'm dealing in. To give a clearer picture, you can go into any Macy's, you can go anywhere and shop for Western wear, but you're not always going to find African readymade apparel or fabrics. So, I think that's what I try to make sure that all these beautiful cultural pieces are available to those who are interested. The fashion culture of Ankara Miami is not just Nigerian, I get a lot of pieces from Ghana, from Senegal, a lot from Kenya, their Maasai jewelry is so beautiful, especially the beaded work, they’re my favorite. And it's not only African made items that we have, but I also carry a few brands that are black-owned or Caribbean owned, or just as long as we fall into the Diaspora I support that brand. So, everything in there is either made in Africa or made by somebody who is of African descent.
CD: Can you tell us about all of the parts of your brand?
EO: So, there are three main pieces. Starting with Ankara Miami, it is the event component. Our main event just happens to be the African Fashion Week so that's what we're known for the most. But we do events year-round and pop up shops as well. We've worked with natural trendsetters on their annual hair Expo. I've done fashion shows for other companies like Macy's, Alpha Kappa Alpha, the Links, and the Deltas. So, whatever the special event is, as long as it has either a cultural basis or is promoting some sort of black culture, Ankara Miami can produce that special event. Then, the second component I have is Ankara Delights, which is the retail component. So, for that we do pop up shops, you can also order online at our website. And finally, the third component is me, Evelyn O. You can hire me when you need anything coordinated even if it's not cultural because I personally take great joy in planning and making lists and organizing events.
CD: What do you do to give yourself a pause and feel relaxed?
EO: That’s my trip to Nigeria! I'm always aware of what’s going on around me but when I step foot into my village, Anyafo, it’s like my stripped-down downtime. My phone is usually off. But when I'm here in Florida, I have really good girlfriends that I hang out with in my free time by watching movies, having dinner, etc. Otherwise, I spend some quality time with my family. So, the relaxation time is usually spent with other people by just enjoying their company. Being surrounded by all that positive energy can really be refreshing and keep you going. So, I think that's kind of what I do to take care of myself, just make sure that I'm surrounded by lots of positivity.
CD: What is one piece of advice that you will give to other cultural business owners or small business owners?
EO: Firstly, treat what you're doing with respect. Respect your audience, respect the people that are working with you. If you take your work seriously, I believe other people will take it seriously as well. My work has never been a hobby to me, it's never been a game, I'm very serious about what I do and why I do it. And I think that translates to the team that I work with, which in turn, translates to the actual execution of the event. So, just be respectful of people's time and people's money, and try to provide the best experience possible. Secondly, when you want to start something, don’t worry about making it perfect because if you keep on waiting for the big moment, somebody else will take that opportunity or you might never do it. Even if you fail or it doesn’t go according to plan, it’s alright because you’ll get to learn from that mistake and make things better.
CD: When traveling outside of Nigeria, what is one of the best travel experiences you've ever had?
EO: I've been to a lot of places but I think I had a lot of fun in Jamaica. The food there is great, the weather is great, everything's great. Apart from that, years ago, I enjoyed Greece as well. There are some European countries that I don't really get a positive vibe from because I don’t like them but I like the feeling when I’m in Greece. I feel welcomed when I’m there. I’ve also been to Ghana, it was great, as they were very, very, very welcoming. I thought the food was great, the people were great, it's beautiful. And I saw some similarities between Ghana and Nigeria, so it felt a little bit more like home than any of the other places I've been to. So, I think those would be my top three places outside of the US.
CD: So, what is a question Evelyn would ask other women?
EO: What are you doing for you? What are you doing to take care of yourself? What are you doing to better yourself?
CD: What is a woman?
EO: A woman, to me, is a multidimensional person. There are so many pieces to us. I don't think we're one thing. I believe we have to carry a lot of different hats, but we juggle them well. We juggle whatever it might be professionally, personally, in the home, or at work. So, a woman is someone who is able to make her place in the world. She's able to balance all things and look good while doing it.
Where to find Erica and Collective Drift
Where to find Evelyn
Where to find Ankara Miami
Where to find Ankara Delights
509 S 21st Ave STE 101
Hollywood, FL, USA
Places mentioned in the interview
Tejuosho Yaba https://tejuoshoshoppingcentre.com/
Balogun Market https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balogun_Market
Alpha Kappa Alpha https://aka1908.com/
Click HERE to make sure that you get our upcoming episodes!
The Collective Drift platform was created by Erica Knowles to celebrate all women, the beauty of their cultures, and international travel experiences. I believe that women possess magic, that gives them strength and grace to change the world. We learn how to tap into our power in various ways based on our cultural backgrounds and our journeys. Join me and an amazing collective of multicultural, multiethnic, and multigenerational women that are artists, cultural leaders, and travel enthusiasts as they tell their stories about their culture, their tribe of women, their passions, their art, and their favorite international experiences. Welcome to Collective Drift.