If You can Dream it, You can Be It
Tomide Awe , truly believes that “If you can dream it, you can be it. ”
“Everybody has something to give and you don’t have to be a Beyonce or, you know, a Rhianna or someone huge to be able to give, just give what is within, what you have to offer, what you can afford to offer, no matter how small it is, it’s still valuable What you think is really small might actually be really huge to someone else. We hear success stories, what we don’t know; the story behind these success stories. Often success does not come overnight. There are struggles” says Tomide.
Tomide has been raised to find ways to be persistent and to be creative – keeping her eye on the price. When she was in school, especially in high school, she failed a lot of exams, especially in junior school. Her parents were great, ensuring that the opportunities that she did not have materialised. Her mum did not let her give up and would sit her down, and work with her to find out what she was good at, whilst continuing to improve in areas she was not so good at.
Moving to an international perspective Tomide comments “If you can change the life of one woman, a woman in Africa you’re having an impact on not just her, but her family generations that come after her. Women need to be equipped with the right resources to enable them occupy places of power. Every purchase that is made in my business Olori, supports the education of girls in Africa. We partner with CAMFED, which is campaign for female education, to support the education of girls in Africa because I’m a direct recipient of that investment in a girl child.”
Tomide’s goal is to ensure that the girl child has opportunities that were afforded to her, to be able to live the dream that she has, but also ensure that women today are also economically positioned to live the lives that they want.
00:00:00 Paula: Welcome to “TesseLeads” with your host Tesse Akpeki and co-host Paula Okonneh. “TesseLeads” is a safe, sensitive, and supportive place and space to share, hear and tell your stories and your experiences. You will hear from top experts and thought leaders, strategies. You’ll hear about tips and they’ll give you techniques on things that they have found useful in navigating a diverse range of challenges, difficulties, dilemmas. Also, in “TesseLeads”, this is a place that you can create and you can shape opportunities for yourself and others. Our guest today is Tomide Awe and we will be talking to her about “if you can dream it, you can be it.” So Tomide is the founder of Olori. She’s also the creator of the starting up podcast and she is the strategy and ops manager at Twitter, the real Twitter, not any fake one, the real one. She was raised in Nigeria and after moving to England to study, the seed of Olori was planted when her friends from diverse backgrounds started to admire her African attire. Over the years, the desire to showcase the beauty of Africa and its cultures grew and she was inspired to merge her love for fashion and her African heritage with her mission of empowerment and thus Olori was born. Olori offers gorgeous African-inspired handbags that create culture and heritage while empowering women. Welcome Tomide, I mean, when I hear this story, I’m like, wow! I need more than one handbag.
00:01:59 Tomide: Thank you
00:01:59 Tesse: Welcome! Tomide, I’m so glad to have you on the show.
00:02:04 Tomide: Thank you.
00:02:05 Tesse: I’m gonna kick off. I’ve heard these wonderful things about you and I’m inspired and in awe of you, but how did you get along your chosen path? What got you from being a very young baby obviously, babies are young, to where you are now, what was your journey?
00:02:23 Tomide: I was born in Nigeria and I left Nigeria at the age of 17, like a lot of us did to seek better education outside of the country. And I did my undergrad in the UK at Leicester university and then my masters at Warwick business school. And after Warwick, I decided to move back home to Nigeria because, you know, I was very patriotic. I wanted to serve Nigeria. I moved for my NYC. I wanted to give back to the continent. I saw a lot of opportunity. So I moved back to Nigeria and I worked in consulting with Accenture for about three years. That was really my introduction into the business world. It really just gave me the right foundation on how to scale businesses, how to build processes to help businesses scale efficiently. And then after three years, I realized that I actually wanted to have a more formal education in business and just learn a bit more about how to start a business, because I’ve always had an entrepreneurial bug. But even just stepping a bit back, you know, I mentioned that I was 17 and I moved to the UK, but in a while I was there, I quickly realized that my experience as an African was very different from the perception that people have of Africa. Because when people think about Africa, the first thing that comes to mind is charity, right? They maybe think about children with flies on them because that’s what the media puts out there. But every African would tell you that there is so much beauty in our cultures, there’s so much that Africa has to offer that the world is yet to see. And so while I was in school and people would see my African attires and they would have that level of curiosity, like, “what is that? It’s so beautiful. Where is it from?” That’s when I started getting this idea of bringing out the culture that we all appreciate about Africa, putting it at the world stage for everyone to also appreciate and take part in, in a way that we are okay with, right? So that idea had always been there, and then I decided to go to business school and I was in business school for two years at Wharton and I majored in entrepreneurial management and strategic management. And really, I used that business idea in all my entrepreneurship classes, like do it, that was my case study. So I used that two years to really fine tune it and get all the advice that I could and go through my prototyping. And then when I graduated, I launched the business. And to be honest, I knew I was going to launch it, but the way I launched it was different because I was unemployed for nine months. You know, I couldn’t get any company to file for my H1B visa until I thought, you know, I’m not going to just not do anything. I launched my business and used that time to actually set up the foundations. So today I actually have two full time jobs. I work at Twitter as a strategy and operations manager and evenings and weekends, I work as the founder of Olori, where we offer gorgeous African inspired handbags, that celebrate culture and heritage whilst the empowering women.
00:05:31 Paula: I love your story. And I’m serious about the bag, I have to get one or two.
00:05:40 Tomide: Thank you.
00:05:40 Tesse: If a foreign exchange allows it, I’ll get one as well.
00:05:45 Paula: It’s the global world. Global economy. So, as we hear your story and we see what led you into being the founder of Olori, what else has been your experiences in terms of like, have you had any highs or lows after starting that?
00:06:06 Tomide: I had too many highs and lows, to be honest. I started Olori in 2017 or at least I launched the business in 2017. And one of the biggest highs for me really as a business owner was last year when we got a lot of visibility. As a result of the black lives matter movement. People also supported black businesses. And I got a lot of visibility, a lot of conversions, but most importantly, a lot of data that has influenced the way I have grown the business even after that. But the lows are, I would say those that, you know, a lot of entrepreneurs go through. It’s, other than a hundred days, I probably have only like five days where you’re like truly happy, right. Because if you’re not hitting your next goal; and that’s something that I’m trying to like control or be cautious of, you know, I hit my goal today, I’m happy today, but tomorrow I’m already thinking about how I’m going to hit my next goal. And so the joy that I’ve just experienced is gone. I’m only as happy as the goal I’ve just met. And you keep trying things and you try a lot of things until you find the one that works out. But that journey of trying is very hard, it’s very emotionally trying. And that’s a constant low for me and it’s one that I’m constantly trying to get ahead of and understanding that the journey is also supposed to be enjoyed. You know, you learn a lot as you go, but you’re also supposed to enjoy it. So that’s what I would say. You know, my highs are when things are going well, and I’m getting a lot of sales in the business and actually progressing towards the long-term vision, but the lows coming in, trying to figure out what would work because no two businesses are the same. And just going through that process, that emotional process.
00:08:04 Tesse: You know, the entrepreneurial journey is a tricky one. I just said lots of highs and lots of lows. I would like to kind of rewind back as a bit, what are called the early years. And you’re in Nigeria, right? One of my brother reminded me today that living in Nigeria is a skill because you have to be so, so versatile and so on. What was your growing up like? What was your journey like in those early years before you arrived in the UK to study?
00:08:32 Tomide: I wouldn’t say that I lived a very tough life because I had parents that I think tried as much as possible to shelter me, from those. But that said, there are just things that you have to go through as a Nigerian, right? And I actually went to boarding house. I was in Queens college and I was in boarding house for most of my time there. And I would say, we are four kids and two of us went to Queens college and we both went to boarding house and the other two did not. But you can tell the difference between those that went and those that did not, right. When I was in school, if we wanted to eat noodles, for instance, we would find an iron that was overheating, put a metal container on it and use that to cook our noodles. You know, you don’t have an iron, you fold your clothes, put it on under your bed and sleep on it overnight. That’s how you iron your clothes. So I’ve been raised to find ways to be persistent. Like, if you want something, you can get it, but it’s not going to be easy. But, I’ve just been raised to be creative around how, like what I want and keeping my eyes on the price. So I would say that’s the environment I was raised in, but my parents were great. They ensured that the opportunities that they did not have, they ensured that myself and my siblings could get them. And I have three degrees today, but it’s because of my mom, she didn’t let me give up. When I was in school, especially in high school. I was that child that, I failed a lot of exams, especially in junior school. That was one thing I was great at. I just failed a lot of exams. But my mom would get me a lesson teachers, she would sit me down, when I would tell her, just focus on your three other children, because I’m just so bad. Like, just focus on the ones that are doing well, and she would not let me. So I grew up with that thinking of just not giving up. Like being persistent, finding what am I good at and then succeeding there whilst continuing to improve in areas that I was not good at.
00:10:35 Tesse: Wow. Paula, what comes to your mind as you hear this young woman and how she persisted, even when things were not looking up. Mum wouldn’t give up and so she didn’t give up.
00:10:48 Paula: I like the fact that she’s honest. Because a lot of times we hear success stories, what we don’t know; the story behind that success story. And that she said she has three degrees today, primarily because she struggled in school, but her mom didn’t give up and she in turn didn’t give up. Lots of people here that she owns too. She has a podcast, she’s got a business, she’s an entrepreneur, successful one at that and she works as the strategy and ops manager at Twitter,” and they’d be like, whoa! Whoa!” But listen to her, it didn’t come overnight. They were struggles. That’s what I love. I really do love that.
00:11:29 Tesse: Yeah, because you kind of like a segue into another area that I’m curious about, and that is about you’re learning along the way and the bit that you mentioned in your bio, which is empowering women. So I would love first to hear about what are you learning in this? I know you’re still young, there’s still so much ahead of you. You’re in a very bright place, but I can even see an even brighter future, where you kind of like take over the world. I can see that. And with humility and courage and then empowering women. Tell us a bit about those pieces of your story.
00:12:04 Tomide: When I think about my life, I think that I’m standing on the shoulders of powerful women that have brought me to where I am today. And I talked to my mom a lot and I try to get the stories of how she became who she is as well. And so my interest in women empowerment really stems from my lineage. My grandmother was not educated, but her brothers were. And obviously there’s some parts of Nigeria, and especially in those days, the male child was seemed to be more valuable than the female child. And my grandma saw the impact of education on her siblings and ensured that her children could get an education as well. And in turn, my mom got very passionate about education, which is why she did not let me drop on the side. But if you look at myself and my siblings, my grandma lived in an obscure village in Nigeria, but me and my sisters were here in the US. I have a sister that is a neurosurgeon, another sister is an engineer, my brother is in London, he’s also an engineer, but we are outside of Africa. We are making impact, we are having impact on lives, which brings me to the question, if you can change the life of one woman, a woman in Africa you’re having an impact on not just her, but her family generations that come after her. And if we truly say that we want women to be in positions of power, they are going to have to be educated. They are going to have to be equipped with the right resources to enable them occupy places of power. And so that’s why my business today for every purchase that is made, we support the education of girls in Africa. We partner with CAMFED, which is campaigne for female education, to support the education of girls in Africa because I’m a direct recipient of that investment in a girl child. That’s building towards the future. But today there are women that need to be economically enabled. Right? And that’s why we partner with women owned businesses, like the textiles we use on our bags. We ensure that we’re partnering we women owned businesses because we want to put money in their pockets today. We want them to be financially secure. When you think about domestic situations, a lot of times women are stuck in there because they don’t have financial Liberty and that’s a different type of bondage in itself. So my goal is to ensure that the girl child has opportunities that were afforded to me to be able to leave the dream that she has, but also ensure that women today are also economically positioned to live the lives that they want.
00:14:54 Tesse: That is such an empowering and facilitative approach to take. What comes to my mind is when you say one story, one life, one resource at a time. It’s doable. Yeah, Paula.
00:15:09 Paula: I am admiring her all over again. I admired her before, I’m admiring her because as you said rightfully, it just takes one. Empower one person, you teach someone, you give someone a fish or you teach them how to fish. The one who’s been taught to fish is so much more impactful than the one who just has the fish as a gift. And I love what you’re doing, I love the CAMFED and the fact that you’re partnering with women based businesses. That’s what we need to hear more and I’m loving that as a young person, you have put that into place. There’s everything to be proud of, where you are concerned.
00:15:45 Tesse: Absolutely! One of my friends, he says “each one, teach one.” People think that changing things is a massive thing, whereas it could be just that simple one step at a time. And when I hear you, I wish that I had had this kind of approach when I was your age. Because that’s all looking for the big, big, big dream, whereas big dream start from small steps, don’t they?
00:16:13 Tomide: Exactly.
00:16:15 Tesse: Yeah. So what would you say to other people listening to this story? What would you say to encourage people who might say I might not have the influence or the place to be, to make change? What would you say to those people?
00:16:28 Tomide: You don’t have to have a big stage to make change. And the change you make, honestly, doesn’t need to be known by anybody else. Do what is within your power to do. May, have impact on the lives of the person next to you. And even if you don’t have the finances to do that, you might have the time, or you might just have a smile to offer. I would say, everybody has something to give and you don’t have to be a Beyonce or, you know, a Rhianna or someone huge to be able to give, just give what is within, what you have to offer, what you can afford to offer, no matter how small it is, it’s still valuable. And just think that what you think is really small might actually be really huge to someone else.
00:17:21 Paula: Absolutely. I’m not sure how the modern interpretation of this, as we grew up to say “one man’s meat is another man’s poison” I guess that was one person’s meat is another person’s poison, you know? So yeah, you start what you think is probably not worthwhile is a big deal to somebody else and it can result in changing their lives in whichever way. The audience don’t know this, I was going to say, just having heard about Tomide and having her on my personal show, led us have her on this show. And I know there’s a lot more that she’s doing through her podcast. So you are changing the world with what you are doing. Before we go, as we are about to wrap up, are there any last thoughts you have for listening audience or have you said it all?
00:18:12 Tomide: I think I’ve said it all, but if I were to give a last thought, it would be, I guess it’s my guiding principle. It’s believing yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will. At least I’ve had some people that have believed in me when I forgotten to believe in myself, but they remind me to believe in myself. But the foundation is, I do believe in myself and they have to remind me when I forget. So believing in yourself because I mean, it’s, it’s just like, as an entrepreneur, that’s something I keep learning. If you don’t believe in the product that you’re putting out there, nobody’s going to believe in that product and you are a product. So you have to believe in yourself, whatever it is that you put your hand to do, go in 100%, believe in yourself and that way you have people that would follow you.
00:19:02 Tesse: Oh, that is so inspiring. And Tomide, you are the hidden treasure. We’ve found you. How can other people find you? What are your social media handles? Cause we, because we, we want to share you with the world. You are brilliant.
00:19:19 Tomide: Thank you. So my social media handle, I must be on Instagram. I do have a Twitter handle as well. So the same handle on Instagram and Twitter, it’s Tomide Awe that’s T O M I D E A W E. So you find me there, you find links to everything else that I own. My business handle is @theOlori on Instagram.
00:19:41 Tesse: Oh lovely. Paula?
00:19:43 Paula: I love, I just love everything you’ve said. But you know, something and I’m sure people have told you this, we as Nigerian know that the pronunciation of your last name is “Aweh” but to someone who doesn’t come from Nigeria, they say, “Awe” and you are awesome.
00:20:00 Tomide: Thank you!
00:20:02 Paula: When I spoke with you, I was in awe of your story.
00:20:06 Tomide: Thank you so much.
00:20:06 Paula: So, whichever way is really wonderful. So thank you so much for being a guest.
00:20:15 Tomide: It’s always great to connect and chat with folks. And I think for me, it serves as a reminder, cause like I say, I do forget. And I’ve actually already just had a tough morning, so just even speaking with you and hearing the encouragement is really helpful to me to like, get back up and keep going. So thank you for the opportunity.
00:20:35 Tesse: Thank you.
00:20:36 Paula: Thank you.
00:20:37 Tesse: yeah.
00:20:38 Paula: And for our listeners, your stories matter just like Tomide’s own matters, so do yours. Please share them with us. And we encourage you to head over to apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, or anywhere else you may listen to your podcasts and please click subscribe. If you have found “TesseLeads” helpful, please let us know in your reviews. And if you have any questions or topics you would like us to cover, please send us a note. Lastly, if you’d like to be a guest on our show, “Tesseleads”, please head over to www.tesseakpeki.com/tesseleads to apply.