By Jennifer Ehidiamen
VENTURES AFRICA – You may have read about how young professionals in one African country are relocating to another African country for work. You may have also read an opinion piece here that reiterated why some Africans in Diaspora won’t return home. Today, I’m flipping the coin over and focusing on the young skilled Africans in Diaspora who are taking the bold step to explore opportunities on the continent. One of such is Archel Bernard, the young designer and journalist behind “It’s Archel”
Born and raised in the US, Archel packed up after college and moved to Liberia – a country her parents fled during war, to start a new life. According to her, the experience has been “one amazing adventure after another.” Through It’s Archel, this young lady is playing a pivotal role of communicating progress about Liberia and developing small businesses with other female entrepreneurs.
In this interview, Archel sheds light on what inspired her to relocate and how she is building a business from scratch in Liberia:
Many African entrepreneurs are still reluctant to return to the continent, preferring to operate from their base overseas. What inspired you to pack up your bags and relocate to Liberia?
As I was graduating college, my grandfather passed away in Liberia. Liberia is the oldest independent nation in West Africa, so Liberians had built a progressive country that experienced an awful backslide due to civil war. I felt I had to come back home to see what I could create in a country that used to breed brilliant African entrepreneurs, to help my country progress and continue the legacy of my grandfather.
What is this legacy of your grandfather you want(ed) to continue?
Being a respected business person in Liberia.
When did you first think about the idea of relocating? Were your friends and parents supportive of the idea?
Relocating was as much a decision of passion as it was a way for me to escape the effects of a bad economy in the States. My graduating peers were having a difficult time trying to find “9 to 5″ jobs, so I figured it would be better to try and find a job in a country that’s rebuilding, where all skills are needed for redevelopment. Everyone was very supportive of my move because it seemed so exciting, but we didn’t anticipate most of the challenges I faced or we might have re-examined my plan!
Did you often visit Liberia before your final decision to relocate? What were some of the myths you heard about the country before relocating?
I visited Liberia only twice post-war before making the big move, and each time I saw big developments in the country. The downsides I did know about Liberia weren’t myths: we wouldn’t always have power or running water like I was used to. I just learned how to take a bath from a bucket by candlelight. I knew I wasn’t headed for a glamorous life, so gradually I learned to make the adjustments.
Aside promoting African fashion through your website, you also have a store where visitors can buy your designs. Tell us more about your venture.
Moving to Liberia, my biggest goal was to be a television personality, but I only wanted to wear African clothes on air because the bold colors are just unbeatable. I started to design a few pieces and play with textiles to make myself stand out on camera, and then I just got carried away! Friends were calling from the States to ask for jackets and tops they saw, and I realized affordable African attire was an area I could explore as I expanded my brand.
What is unique about your brand?
I think my brand is simply being built on passion. As a journalist and designer, I have the opportunity to be creative on so many different levels. Plus, being able to experience my home country for the first time makes everything fresh and exciting and full of inspiration. I just follow what I love and see where it all takes me.
How are customers responding? Who are your major clients?
Most of my clients are African Americans and Africans that are based in the States, because they love being able to buy something that no one else will have, but it’s also nice to be able to get involved on the ground level of the budding fashion business in Liberia. Liberians within the country don’t tend to care for luxury items because for a while all we needed were the necessities, but as people start to see the value in expanding our creative industries globally, I’m sure Liberia will lend its voices and talents to several arenas.
Who are your favourite designers or businesswomen? What core lessons are you learning from them?
I’m a huge fan of Adama Ndiaye, for more than just her contemporary designs, but I love that she created a fashion week for her country to have a platform to get their goods into the public eye. If she had waited for others to come and help her promote her vision, she wouldn’t be able to experience the success she has right now. Other than that I live by my mom’s advice. She always told me I could have anything I want in the world, but I have to work damn hard for it.
Any advice for young Africans in Diaspora on the verge of making a decision to relocate and establish a venture in Africa?
Just do it! There’s no better time, and you can always come up with a million reasons why you’re not ready for a move so big, but it wouldn’t be worth having if it didn’t come with a struggle. Pool your network, save your money, tap into all the resources you can, and don’t even think of the q-word (quitting).
Having read about all your work, I can say, your passion is contagious! Thanks for all your good work and best wishes in your future endeavours!
Thanks very much to you Jennifer.
Visit Archel’s website: http://www.itsarchel.com
Follow on Twitter: @ItsArchel
At Ventures Africa, we champion African capitalism by celebrating African success, free enterprise, the entrepreneurial spirit, and the rewards of hard work. Know an upcoming entrepreneur or a business guru that inspires you that we MUST interview? Email email@example.com