Power Women of the Diaspora: How a Professional Mastered Art of Gifting to Make a Living

Afi Lartey shares tips on relationships and leveraging swag bags for branding

Afi Lartey (Image: Lartey)

Afi Lartey (Image: Lartey)

When it comes to giving, Afi Lartey has mastered the art. As the owner of luxury gifts company, Largess Affair, she is keen on using gifts to enhance attendees’ experiences at events. From corporate gifting and conferences to diplomatic events and weddings, Lartey has provided a variety of gift bags and unique branded or imprinted products for clients around the world. The creative entrepreneur has provided luxury gifts for clients including Women in Media (for the White House Correspondent’s Dinner after-party), Ghana Fashion & Design Week and the Trumpet Awards.

The road to success started with humble beginnings. Upon immigrating to the United States from Ghana as a teen, Lartey was determined to create a good life for herself. Soon after, she pursued a career in the health field, but her love of creating unique gift packages constantly tugged on her heart.  Eventually, she mustered the courage to start her company and break into the unfamiliar industry of gifting. Although daunting at first, the business-savvy woman has been able to turn her initial fears into unabashed success.

Taking time to chat with BlackEnterprise.com, Lartey shared tips on overcoming fear, working with global clients and making unforgettable statements with gifts.

BlackEnterprise.com: What’s your favorite part about creating gifts for events?

Afi Lartey: I love when my clients love what I make for them. When they are happy about my work, it makes me want to continue doing it. For example, at the Women in Leadership Conference, 300 stylish reusable burlap gift bags were given to a group of women leaders in business, media and government. The bags included branded business card cases and leather gift trunks containing Napa Champagnes, with delectable goodies for VIPs. Everyone loved it, and we got great feedback during and after the event. Seeing such positive reactions keeps me motivated and reminds me of why I love this industry.

What has been the biggest obstacle you have overcome?

Fear. When I started Largess Affair, I had the usual fear that many professionals have when they start a new business. I cared a lot about what people thought. I feared that people would not like or accept my work. I was able to overcome this sense of fear and need for affirmation by letting my passion, faith and hard-work ethic guide me through moments of doubt.

I have also benefited from coaching from remarkable and talented female life and career coaches who have helped me let go of fear and find confidence in my voice, my story, and accomplishments.

You’ve provided your gifts and products for high-profile events in the US and abroad.  How did you land those opportunities?

I have been able to use my relationships and networks with event planners to help me get new opportunities. Event planners often know what events are happening and what is needed to make those events successful, so having relationships with them has been very helpful.

I have also done a lot on my own.  I’m a go-getter, so I don’t wait for opportunities to come to me. I have approached organizations and offered to do their swag bags for specific events. I let potential clients know what I do and that I can do it better than other companies.  For instance, I approached Ghana Fashion & Design Week and the Trumpet Awards to do their celebrity gifts and swag bags.  They didn’t find me, I found them.  I am not an individual who sits and waits for things to come to me. I do my research, work hard, and go after it.

Initially, you may have to offer your product for free in order to build relationships with large-scale clients. When they see quality work, they will be more inclined to pay and support your product in the future.

How have you been able to leverage relationships to get products for your swag bags?

For swag bags, I usually send professional letters to companies asking them to donate items.  Over time, I have been able to build relationships with retailers, which is helpful.  For example, my relationship with a buyer at a major retailer was instrumental for getting quality items for a swag bag I did for a high-profile event. While these relationships are important, not every client wants or needs items from places that I already have relationships with, therefore I often approach companies that I do not have existing relationships to get donations as well.

Companies that donate items for swag bags usually want to know information about the event like who it’s for, how many people will attend and the purpose of the event. I have found success with companies that I have no relationship with simply by writing thorough letters requesting donations.

What key tips do you have for people who are trying to create gift bags for events?

Plan ahead. Don’t underestimate the time needed to create gift bags. You must know how many people are attending, they type of event, and how many items you want to included in your bag. Whether you are creating your own unique items or ordering, you should be aware of how long it will take and if you are capable to creating quality gift bags in that time period.

Quality over quantity. It’s not how much you put in the bag that makes a statement.  Rather, try to invest in a few quality items that will impress the recipient. Having one item that will be used is better than a full bag of multiple items that will never see the light of day.

Unique touch. It’s important to always provide lasting and unforgettable gifts that will remind recipients of you (the giver). Go beyond generic gifts, and be creative. People will remember you by what you give them.

What advice would you give to professionals who are interested in following a career path similar to yours?

Follow your heart because that’s what I did. Be confident regardless of the perceived obstacles or hindrances ahead. Don’t let anyone tell you can’t do it, and be sure to let go of the fear and laser beam into what you want to do without letting the noise or anyone distract you.

Nina Oduro (@NinaBasiwa) is the founder of AfricanDevJobs.com, a platform for Africa-based development job opportunities, professionals’ voices and career advice, with a special focus on highlighting the contributions of Africans and the African diaspora. Committed to women’s empowerment, education and youth leadership development, she serves an adviser, trainer and facilitator for programs and initiatives aimed at positive youth development in the U.S. and Africa.

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