Last October, after I finished speaking at TedxDumbo on Africa as the next fashion capital, I took a hiatus from writing here and spent time refocusing on my business, Calabar Imports in Brooklyn. It had been a year since we had a fire at our original location on Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights, and a year at our new location in Dumbo and just a few months since we opened our second store on Franklin Avenue in Crown Heights. A hiatus, yes, much needed, indeed. I had been working to rebuild our brand and running on empty. I had written a series of articles and left them hanging to return to and edit to fit my mode of writing. But my head was in Calabar Imports, not on this blog and as a good entrepreneur, I decided to listen to myself.
The last six months I spent away from this space have been about working smartly and paying attention to details and nuances in the way Calabar Imports operates on Franklin Avenue. We are after all an established business in a space that I would call "pioneer" city. Washington Avenue, where we were before was more or less an established avenue while Franklin Avenue is the pioneer space. Calabar Imports was one on the businesses that became a destination place and we moved it two blocks away. It should be easy prospect, but it is like starting a new business, except with an existing clientele. Thus, the importance of taking the time to re-focus and re-brand the business in a new place is an essential component.
Some people experience a disaster and it ends their businesses; I saw the fire as an opportunity. As an African, fire symbolizes means a cleansing, it is like a farmer who burns a bush to clear the land for the new planting season. It was a time to cleanse, re-imagine and re-build. Calabar Imports' return is our re-birth in stages. It took us seven years to build a brand, and to re-build it will take time. We know it and are patient enough to understand. And as a serial entrepreneur, growing a business is in my DNA. So, a disaster challenges me to work even harder.
My hiatus made me reflect on five simple business rules I followed to get us back on track: Tenacity, Re-invention, Challenge, Imagination and Rebuilding. Tenacity simply is guts -- the ability to work through thick and thin. As an entrepreneur, it takes guts to create and maintain a business. Guts require that you understand that there will be hills and valleys; and that there would be fast and slow days.
Re-invention is the place to dream big again. It is to imagine your idea in a new place or state and it is an opportunity to see new things and create a new place. I often tell people the real trick to business success is to challenge oneself not to fail. It sounds simple but it is hard when you fall to get up, and the challenge is to pick oneself up and begin again on that long walk. It takes imagination to see results and this requires you look ahead and beyond the re-creation and see the completion. Imagine that -- this is the end of the story of creation. As a child, I loved Lego and so I am by nature, I am a builder. I can build and re-build. I get the notion of time and making changes. Rebuilding requires that you re-examine the old, change the bad and create new good things. That is the element of re-building and the reflections I processed during the hiatus.
The first three months of my hiatus was spent re-accessing Calabar Imports and trying new things. By Christmas, we hit all the targets we set for the store and I began planning spring. New York snow continued to fall every weekend or so, but the New Year brought renewed spirit and time to re-shape the spring. So while I was planning and transforming Calabar, I began two unique conversations in February, one that had begun two years before about the development of design school in Accra and the second about a partnership to bring an Indian Fashion company into the U.S.
The first began with the comment, "I am ready, come visit and see where things are". The design school took me to Accra in March to work on its development for about three weeks after which I swung by Lagos for a few days to begin the process of my re-branding of my Lagos store. Developing the school was a return to my time at Parsons School of Design, a reminder of working with an out-of-the box thinker, another risk taker and pioneer. My time was spent crafting an effective class schedule, searching for faculty and space assessment -- just doing academic and strategic planning to get the design school ready for its August opening.
The second conversation was about bringing an Indian Fashion company into the U.S. A challenging and unique proposition as it tied my strategic thinking abilities, fashion branding and retail experience with my entrepreneurial expertise in a new more fascinating realm. Would I be able to do it? No question on that, it just meant how I could handle it with all my other projects and my company. The question of saying yes or no came up in talks with me. What would I gain or lose? Life is about asking these questions when challenges are put before you. My response really depends on how I think it through.
Years ago, I used to say yes a lot. These days, I pick and choose what I say yes to; and this was one of the yes projects. So alas, my hiatus ends with two beginnings. A design school in Accra, Ghana and a fashion brand from India, launching in the U.S. Life is about working on what you love to do, and I love design education, fashion and retail.