Chinasa Gift Nwokocha is a Villanova University college student and founder of Ataria NYC, a company creating a sense of pride in global culture through clothing.
While many people encouraged the young trailblazer to focus on her studies first before venturing into entrepreneurship, Nwokocha followed her heart and carved her own path to entrepreneurial success. Since launching her fashion company from her dorm room, she’s secured two manufacturing companies and one wholesale company, booked paid fashion shows at Stetson University in Florida and an upcoming show on the island of St. Thomas, and she’s planning Ataria’s upcoming anniversary fashion show on Aug. 5. Black Enterprise caught up with Nwokocha to find out how she dealt with the naysayers.
What’s your advice for dealing with self-doubt?
Never forget why you started. I have spoken with business owners, CEO, managers, and CFO’s of companies and they would always tell me “figure out what you are doing and why you are doing it, and then never forget it.” Your purpose is what keeps you going in times of self-doubt. Being an entrepreneur is the loneliest occupation to pursue especially in the beginning because you make all the sacrifices alone, and because of the pure fact that non-entrepreneurs don’t get it. It is very easy for these factors to push you off your feet, and this is why new business retention after the first year is as low as 1%. Running a business is truly difficult and remembering that “aha” moment is one of the only things that can keep your momentum moving.
What’s your response to family and friends who may not understand your decision to pursue entrepreneurship at such a young age?
Fighting for my parent’s approval was the hardest task to champion. Culturally, most African parents are more likely to disapprove of their child starting a business, especially a fashion company. Most parents would probably prefer for us to be top of our class and pursuing degrees in nursing or law.
My parents believed it would affect my academics. I responded to their concerns by maintaining a spot on the dean’s list and finding time to care for myself as a woman. When I moved into an apartment my junior year of college, my mom was always happy to hear that I cook for myself, and when I would come home for vacation I would try to cook for the family as well. I was very cognizant of how I related with my parents to ensure that they understood how much my business meant to me, but that I was also keeping other important things in perspective.
Currently my parents, especially my mom, fully support what I do. My mom has financially supported my business and even talks to people about my accomplishments. I remember one day when a big check from a prior fashion show came home to the house, my dad called me about the check. He was really surprised with what I was doing was paying my business to that extent.
The story is similar to my friends and siblings as well. Now my support system is awesome. I have amazing mentors in my life who keep me pushing. I think the way I responded to my family and friend’s concern about my dreams is the sole reason why my support system is so strong now. Instead of excessively fighting with my parents or cutting my friends off, I made them understand by focusing on championing results and successes that they can witness with their own eyes.