Missy is a twenty-something British Nigerian who decided to go against the tide and turn her back on the status-quo. Her heart has steered her into to perusing her passion for designing garments. Her mind guides her through the entrepreneurial maze within the fashion world. Her hands design and create the innovative designs that stand out from the other brands that populate the fashion industry. Literally. The bought item is handmade, thus, has been created especially for the buyer. Finally, an outfit as unique as you. MISEMI is the brand for those unwilling to be confined within societal and cultural norms. It represents and cultivates an appreciation for the African culture, despite the western culture that we are submerged in. Her first collection is called Journey of Self Discovery. Her latest collection is called Misemi Basics, which is now available for purchase. I had the pleasure of interviewing this up and comer who is serious about her passion and her journey, but doesn’t take herself too seriously. Read on to discover Missy’s experience as an entrepreneur. Along the way, learn what it takes to create your own fashion brand or start your own business: the obstacles and the sacrifices, the inspirations and the influences, the pitfalls and the elevations.
Missy is a textile student turned architecture student, turned blogger, turned fashion designer, who has often wondered, “who am I?” Upon being asked to distinguish between her exterior and interior selves, Missy acknowledged some profound points that accentuated the contrast. In Missy’s younger years she was the shy girl that would often reserve her opinions and thoughts for herself and her closest friends. At this point, Missy felt some negative energy from her peers – she believes people labelled her as “stuck-up” simply because she was quiet. After realising that it was impossible to please everyone, she made the decision to stay true to herself. A pivotal moment marking her growth into the business woman she is today. It was this decision to be no one else but herself that is reflected in her latest collection. It was her way of putting those thoughts she previously withheld out into the world.
When it came down to describing the core of herself – the side of her people don’t necessarily see – Missy confessed to having trouble pinpointing exactly what makes her, her. She notes that, of course, this is all part of the process. But what matters most are the things she has picked up over the years in her journey into the self (or herself). Upon graduating, she became focused on answering these three profound questions relatable to every human being that has ever lived:
“Who am I? What am I doing? What is (the significance of) my life?”
After admitting that she doesn’t have all the answers to these questions quite yet, she emphasized that the process of self-actualization is just as important as the discoveries one makes. So, instead, she phrased her answer in a way that revealed her aspirations, and was refreshingly truthful: She is “the girl that is trying to be confident, the girl that is trying to have it all together”.
Soon after however, she added a paradoxical awareness of being more confident that she realises. Especially because people get to know her and usually refuse to believe that she was ever a shy person. But she acknowledged that she has to balance the days she struggles with self-doubt, with the days she realises that she must be a confident person to have taken on a business in fashion.
When asked to describe herself in three words, though a little thrown by this curveball, she narrowed her main traits down to: trendy, inspirational and self-inquisitive.
Missy is aware that she often tells people to love themselves; to love they’re culture. But she also posed this self-analytic question:
“Do I even love myself?”
Her latest collection is reflective of times in her life that she felt empowered. This sense of empowerment translated in the execution and style of her fashion-forward collection. However, Missy is very vocal about her humanness. Emotively she expressed how one day you’re sure of yourself, but the next day you face certain trials that bruise your confidence and knocks down your defences; She adds how such trials leave you asking yourself, who am I now? She calls this cycle a constant battle. Missy explains that she got to a point in her life where she realised that the weaves that she spent a fortune on wasn’t benefiting her in her journey of self-empowerment and acceptance. Cutting her hair was one of the ways she tried to overcome the pattern; it was her way of wiping the slate and starting again. She reflected on allowing herself to feel burdened by having weaves that others would approve of; on how she would have to listen to the criticism of those who would tell her, “it’s not looking too good Missy”. In addition to this was the constant debate over the quality of hair, weighed by its price.
Missy retorted, “£300 or £400 on weaves”, adding, with a giggle, “money you can go on holiday with!”
Overall, an unnecessary amount of unneeded stress fuelled by insecurity and archetypal beauty standards. Thus, she became determined to remove this negative chunk in her life, whose only effect on her was apprehension and insecurity. Missy describes how she stepped out of the hairdressers feeling like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. For Missy, cutting her hair was her personal method of conquering fears of inadequacy. She set a new bar for herself, in which her perception of herself was the most important thing. Self-acceptance was the key to developing as a person – leaving more room for her to focus on pushing her business onwards and upwards.
“This is me and I’m going to love myself”
MISEMI is a fashion brand branded with a message: You love the culture but you don’t love us. These are the words printed on many of the garments for sale. Missy points out how African prints were only deemed acceptable when renown fashion designers incorporated African culture into their designs. However, black girls grow up in the western world feeling uncomfortable wearing their native attires. Brown girls often grow up feeling insecure about representing their routes, but they should not be made to feel self-conscious in the presence of those unwilling to appreciate cultural differences. She explained a time when people were ashamed to be African; when people would try to suppress their African traits to be embraced by those who did not understand their struggles. However, Africans are blossoming – they are taking ownership of their heritage in the western world. People from all over the world are celebrating their routes, and Africans are proud to contribute.
“Culture is something that we always have to protect and represent”
Missy’s contribution to the celebration of her culture stands out. This is because the words that are important to her replace and replicate the geometric prints African clothes are famous for. Her reason for this is how African prints continue to be a trend in the western fashion scene irrespective of the knowledge about their origin: people feel like they can take ownership of what is originally not their own. But to ensure no one could accuse her of lacking originality, Missy set out to design a print that is one hundred percent her own. The words speak for the wearer. The words cannot be quietened because it has been written and printed out in its thousands. It is unashamed. It claims back what was suppressed and exploited.
“I want people to find power and strength in the fact that you can love and embrace your culture; and not be ashamed of it because people are out there representing your culture who have no ties to your culture.”
Missy laid down her thoughts about the other side of the argument: that culture appropriation is not an issue in our society. This is because I asked Missy to tackle the opposite side of the speculation. One that plagues so many online comment sections. I posed a question I have often seen on various social-media platforms: why are black people allowed to wear weaves, the westernized perception of beauty, and white people are rebuked for wearing their hair in corn rows?
“People forget that black people have had to do so much to be accepted into society”
Missy points out how black people have struggled to be viewed as equals in a discriminative world. She then went on to differentiate assimilation and appropriation. Black people have learned how to survive, which means that along the way they felt forced to assimilate – to feel less alien, and less alienated, in western society. When it comes to hair – black hair to be exact – the wearer who left their hair out was perceived to have unruly hair. Therefore, braiding one’s hair was a way to neaten what was seen as messy and unappealing to look at. Making such adjustments was a survival technique. Subsequently, the adjustment morphed into the norm; black people have become accustomed to hiding their natural hair and taming their curls. Whether right or wrong, this example of assimilation has been passed down. And it has stuck. A black girl growing up as a minority will know what it it would be like to come to school with her hair out. She knows that what will ensue is likely to be attention from curious hands. She may even be subjected to insensitive questions about the texture of her afro hair. Those who appropriate African culture do not often understand the history behind the pressure to conform. Sure, famous people may get some back-lash on social media – but is it on the same scale as those that have had to deal with a lifetime fighting to be accepted?
I asked Missy to divulge the Misemi order process. From the time the buyer purchases their item online it takes between one to two weeks to receive it. Each purchased garment is made from scratch for the customer. Because of this, the sizing goes beyond the standardized size structures we are usually bound to in most clothing stores: you can easily contact Missy and have your items tweaked to your exact specifications if you send her your measurements!
When I asked Missy who her inspirations are – three people came mind.
Rihanna was the first person that was identified. Her striking collaboration with Puma stuck a chord with Missy because of the fact that Rihanna is unapologetically herself. This trait is evident in the garments she produces, and Missy admires how passionate Rihanna is about her fashion line.
Missy’s mother was another person of inspiration. She remembers that her mother was the one that pushed her to take a leap of faith into what she is currently doing. Her mother was there as a constant source of support when mistakes were made, when she needed some guidance, and when she sought advice.
Missy’s initial step into an architecture degree is another influential aspect of her creation: some of the patterns and colours that are crucial ingredients in the style and branding of Misemi are influenced by an architect called Ricardo Bofill. His building creations and the imagery Missy captured are both profound. She didn’t initially see the architectural influence in her designs, but upon realisation she decided to embrace this factor as a part of the brand’s image.
I asked Missy to address the biggest obstacles she faced when starting her line. She started by stating that making clothes was simply what she loved to do. So, at first, it was less about trying to make money from her designs, but it was more about sharing her creativity. Stepping into the business world was a gradual process. However, Missy now realises that one should make a conscious decision about getting into any business venture. Because she didn’t initially go about her fashion line with a business mind-set she felt that she wasted a lot of money. She admits that she didn’t have a clear business strategy, which is imperative when attempting to become and entrepreneur.
“How is this going to sell? How is this going to be sustainable? Can I buy these fabrics, and if I do will I be able to afford buying them again? How much money am I putting into this?”
These are the crucial questions Missy would have asked her younger self before starting to enter into business.
Another obstacle was that it was hard to pinpoint the right events to show off her products. The right events mean your work is shown to the right people. She learned that if it is not the right market for your brand, being there is pointless. She had to learn how to make the right decisions.
“Not every opportunity is a great opportunity.”
She found herself at the mercy of what turned out to be empty promises. People would promise to promote her work, or claim that she would receive some perks if she participated in fashion events. At the end of the day, they didn’t do much at all to reciprocate the favours Missy did for them. She also faced some difficulties with marketing and promoting. Not all the people she wanted at events were there because she hadn’t promoted her participation in the best ways. However, Missy continues to overcome these obstacles, and in consequence, continues to learn from such trials.
She has learned that it is important to evaluate every option:
Choose the correct events to be at.
Be aware of all marketing platforms and know how to utilize them.
Know who is relevant to your brand and how they can help you reach certain levels of success.
I asked Missy what advise she would give hopeful entrepreneurs looking to make a name for themselves in business. The five points below are her recommended guidelines.
“Plan and research”
“Think of every avenue” Figure out exactly how you will produce your items. Figure out how you will market your product. Think of manufacturing, marketing – think of everything and know your preferences for each step.
“It is never too late to educate yourself” Make the right connections. The internet makes knowledge accessible. There are lots of online courses to help you expand your knowledge. There are lots of internship applications available on the internet for you to get some first-hand experience.
“Don’t be too sacred to seek advice.” Universities are always available to give business advice to those that are interested. The Hive is an example of a place Missy went to seek advice. This centre at her university helped her to gain some practical business advice free of charge. Take advantage of all of the resources available to you – especially if they are free. In fashion, there are lots of short-courses and internships available.
“Not everything is for everybody.” Make an informed decision. There may be a different way for you to achieve your dreams without having to do things completely on your own. You may want to partner with, or collaborate with someone, or people, who can help actualize your business goals. Whatever you are planning, be honest with yourself – is it the right step for you and are you driven enough to go for it?
Whatever you do, be brave. Be brave enough to follow you heart and chase your dreams, brave enough to ask for help, brave enough to realise your mistakes and learn from them, brave enough to never compromise who you are and what you stand for. These are the ingredients needed as you pursue success, and they also the ingredients needed for you to maintain your success.
Thanks for reading!
P.s. Use the code, 'MISEMI10', to get 10% of all purchases made on the MISEMI website!