Self-Taught Swimwear Designer Launches Swimsuit Line for all Sizes

Nigerian-based entrepreneur talks transitioning from supply chain management to fashion & swimwear designer

About two years ago, while searching for high-end bikinis, Kambili Ngozi Ofili-Okonkwo realized there was a lack of stylish swimsuits that reflected the average woman’s true body size.

Despite her success as a Procurement Expeditor, Kambili Ngozi Ofili-Okonkwo resigned from the comforts of a 9-5 job to launch her own business, KAMOKINIa Nigerian-based swimwear brand for all body types. KAMOKINI swimsuit designs are inspired by everything; art, music, African culture, Western fashion trends, and an understanding of a woman’s sensuality.

“The ‘aha’ moment for me was when I was making swimsuits for myself and my friends and was tracked down by a lady who wanted a swimsuit. She was so disappointed when I said I was not commercial, and was determined to show me that she was not alone in searching for my unique styles. She became my first employee and we have not looked back since then,” said Ofili-Okonkwo.

[Related: Meet Millennial Swimwear Designer Altrichia Cook]

“I worked my last day as a procurement expeditor at Total Nigeria in April 2015 after eight months of working on KAMOKINI after hours. It was time to focus.”

BlackEnterprise.com caught up with Ofili-Okonkwo to learn more about her transition from supply chain to fashion design.

BlackEnterprise.com: You have a masters degree in materials science & engineering from Imperial College London and a masters in supply chain & logistics management from Cranfield University, how did you make the leap into swimwear and accessories? Did you take any professional development courses to prepare you for this new passion?

Ofili-Okonkwo: Coming out of Imperial I knew I wanted to work in the manufacturing/ production industry, [the] part of it [that] depended more specifically on what I cared about – food, fashion, and renewable energy sources. I started off in food at Heinz (the baked beans & ketchup company) in the fast moving consumer goods category. I was fascinated by the supply chain network of these businesses, the general turning of a concept into a tangible sellable product, available for mass-market retail. As a result, when it became apparent that my need for swimsuits that demonstrated a love for fashion and desire to feel not overly exposed but rather complemented was shared with a wider audience, it felt logical to follow the same engineering and supply chain process to make this concept a reality. I am currently enrolling in professional courses that will kick off next year to further my understanding of the equipment and techniques required, but in the meantime, I self-study, learn from others and practice.

What sets your swimwear line apart from others?

My business is different from other swimwear businesses because the customer is the first decision maker on what we produce. This ranges from coverage or lack of coverage needs, bra cup support, durability, fabric, and absolutely fashion. Considering I am not a designer by training, it is much easier for me to prioritize my customers’ needs over creating beautiful designs that will solely demonstrate my design capabilities.

Since launching your business, what has been your biggest challenge?

I was surprised to learn how tenacious I am under pressure. I knew I worked well under pressure, but I thrive when the odds are stacked up.

What do you wish you had known then, that you know now?

I wish I knew how important it was to get someone who is good with bookkeeping right from the start. I thought I could manage it on my own, but as finance isn’t my specialty, it quickly became obvious that I was better at analyzing the data collated from bookkeeping as opposed to bookkeeping itself. We are getting better, but it was a lesson well learnt.

What, in your opinion, is a huge myth about entrepreneurship?

The general consensus, especially moving back to Nigeria, is that everyone could be an entrepreneur. Yes entrepreneurs can be made and some people are just born that way, but it still takes certain fundamental characteristics acquired or innate to succeed.

List the top 3 resources you use to manage your business?

Family and friends, Google, and How to Start & Run a business for Dummies.

What qualities have helped you succeed thus far?

I work well under pressure, I am quick to learn, and I am resilient. Additionally, I genuinely seek to add real value in whatever I do and [I] work well alone and in teams.

Describe the long-term vision or goals that you have for your business?

KAMOKINI will be a household name for all sun-seekers on the African continent providing not only a wide range of swimsuits to cater to all body types, but the accessories and equipment that will ensure your time by the waterside is well spent.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to a young woman who wants to be the next successful entrepreneur?

You have to have a tough skin, especially as a woman. You can’t be sensitive about the world being against you. If your idea was largely understood, someone would be doing it already. At the same time, be ready to evolve – you must be open to learning and constantly challenging your capability to grow.