Girl Boss – My interview with founder and CEO of Karen Ubani Apparel
Those who know me well know that I’m a feminist. I’m not a radical feminist, my views on feminism are liberal – what I stand for is equality and justice for all. I guess that in theory makes me both feminist and egalitarian. As a woman, I believe that we are capable of doing what a man can do and should therefore not be discriminated against because of gender. Society teaches us that certain jobs are for women while others are for men. But society is wrong. And we must not be afraid to challenge the status quo.
Over the past 50 years, there has been a gradual rise in the number of female-owned businesses. In Nigeria for instance, 40% of Nigerian women are entrepreneurs. The upsurge of girl bosses aka female entrepreneurs gives me a feeling of indescribable joy and pride. I think that society can and should do more to support and encourage female entrepreneurs. Instead of tearing each other down, we should help to build each other up.
On that note, a few weeks ago, I met up with a former schoolmate who I had not seen for a while. During our time together, I discovered that she owned a self-named clothing brand called Karen Ubani Apparel (KUA). Naturally inquisitive, I began to ask her questions about her brand. I wanted to know why she went into workwear in particular, and then one thing led to another. I asked her for an interview, she said yes, and so here we are. 🙂
From engineering to workwear designer, meet Karen Ubani
Eponymous label, Karen Ubani Apparel was founded in 2010 as a result of Karen’s frustration with the lack of variety and new stock in the Nigerian boutique industry. Even though she graduated with a B.Sc. in Electrical & Electronics Engineering from Covenant University in Nigeria and was working at a reputable and well-paying corporate job, Karen decided to quit her job and pursue her passion for fashion. Karen then went on to study Advanced Sewing Techniques & Pattern Cutting at the London College of Fashion.
Karen developed an interest in fashion when she was only six years old. “My love for fashion I would say has evolved over time. The earliest memories I have were in grade 2 when I noticed I loved the neat tailoring of my friends’ uniforms, as opposed to the shabby tailoring our then neighbourhood tailor gave to my school shirts. I have always noticed cuts, colours, prints, and finishing”.
Karen creates her own designs and is inspired by trends and seasonal colours. As a vintage inspired designer, some of her works are motivated by old movies and artworks while keeping in tune with current trends.
Having a distinction between your everyday outfit and your workwear is an important part of a working woman’s life. For me, clothing items like pencil skirts, shirts, high waisted pants are items in my workwear wardrobe. I like to separate my work outfits from my everyday wear for reasons of practicality and a bit to do with vanity. I don’t want my colleagues to see me on the weekend in the same clothes they’ve seen me wear at work. There are also certain clothing items that I wear on the weekend that isn’t appropriate for work.
Work is not fun for most people and sometimes a great outfit is all the confidence boost you need to hold your head high as you walk into that dreadful meeting.
KUA workwear is designed with that confidence boosting purpose in mind. “I feel like the modern day woman is very strong, and under a lot of pressure to be many things, at the same time. Having worked 9-5 before, I understand that a woman’s appearance has a lot to do with her confidence and respect at the workplace.”
We all have those moments when you may not be feeling your best or are having the worst day at work but no matter how bad your day is, a good outfit will help to elevate your mood.
“I want to make clothes that add colour and excitement to her everyday life. Some women are stuck in jobs that they either do not like or that are extremely demanding. However, workwear fashion is that daily dose of refreshment a woman can enjoy, while paddling through the waters of her career. Nothing is as refreshing as getting loads of compliments while you go through your daily work routine. I want to add fun to her work,” Karen explains.
Karen Ubani Apparel has seen significant growth in the 6 years the company has existed. She started with only one staff but now has 13 employees. Of course, success hasn’t come easy and she explains that running a business is hard work. For Karen, the most challenging part of being an entrepreneur is that “the race never ends”. “You must always keep improving. There is always a higher sales target, the need for fresher designs, the improvement upon improvement, etc.,” Karen adds.
When Karen is not working, she is spending time with her husband, dancing to a “crazy” Nigerian song, or vintage shopping. In her spare time, she also mentors up-and-coming fashion designers and shares some of her experiences and challenges running a fashion label in Nigeria.
To shop Karen Ubani’s simple, stylish and affordable workwear, visit https://karenubani.com/
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