“It’s not about what the business does, so you don’t have to waste too much time in analysis paralysis trying to find the perfect unique product or service to offer. It’s about who you become in the process. That will determine your success, whatever you consider success to be.”
Ziki Odotte is a bubbly personality, and the brain behind Afro Fanatic (AFFA), an online and physical Nairobi based brand that was born out of an interest in African textiles. Ziki is extremely passionate about what she does. She started the brand with the initial intention to showcase African fabrics through contemporary apparel and silhouettes. Later, however, the focus changed.
Her story is inspiring. In 2016, she created her first head wrap because she needed one and couldn’t figure out how to tie one despite watching tutorial after tutorial. She wore it proudly, and it made her feel like “more like a queen than a jester.” Soon enough people started asking about her head wrap and how she tied it. When she showed them that it was actually a hat, orders started coming in. That was the birth of AFFA. Eventually, the business evolved to using their own hand-dyed fabric rather than Ankara/Kitenge fabric to make it more home-grown.
Today the business has grown its product range to include home décor pieces and a selection of apparel. But that’s not all there is to the story. Ziki left a renowned organization to start AFFA. She says that she would only consider going back into employment to work on a project that gets her juices flowing, and that’s pretty inspiring.
I spoke to Ziki to find out more about her journey in the business world and the challenges that she has experienced along this journey.
- Who is Ziki?
Someone once referred to me as a philosopher. I wouldn’t say I fully agree. I would describe myself as one who would like to live before I pass on. I mean, really live. But the story of who Ziki is is still being written.
- Why the name AFFA?
AFFA is an acronym for Afro Fanatic. We always shortened it and so chose to make it the brand name. Plus it rolls more easily off the tongue don’t you think?
- How did AFFA come to be?
It was born out of an interest in African textiles from which we made some contemporary wardrobe pieces. That interest has since evolved to the dyeing of our own fabric and will still evolve further as we continue to grow.
- Tell us more about the tagline “We are free.”
Well, that’s a concept. We are free, meaning we are liberated and not in bondage to anything. It means we are free to express and free to be ourselves. Incidentally, the previous tagline was “We are ourselves.”
- Why did you choose the African theme?
It’s not really an ‘African theme’ as you put it. I think it’s natural for anyone to bring the flavour of their experience and background into what they do and present it in their own unique perspective. This place is where I was born and raised and while I draw from that background my taste is very eclectic and inspiration very diverse.
If you’re referring to our headliner product, the pre-tied head wrap, I have found in my research of the flapper culture and of ‘slave’ women of the Americas and here at home, that the head wrap has long been a symbol of feminine resilience, tenacity and yes, rebellion to whomever and whatever would try to suppress the energy. This is the quality I see in all our lady clients. They are so diverse in ethnicity and background yet they are all women who hold their heads up so high that they deserve a crown, hence our wraps.
- Do you feel like this limits your scope?
All limits are a state of mind. I see no limits, only a continuous unfolding of opportunities.
- You left a renowned international organisation to start up AFFA, tell us a little bit more about this. What inspired you to leave? Would you go back to employment?
Haha! It’s all a matter of perspective. I knew I had done all that was necessary there and was itching for the next adventure. Would I go back to employment? I’d say only to work on a project that really gets my juices flowing, in which case I wouldn’t consider it employment. More like using my talents and developing my skills.
- What did you study at the university, and do you feel like you’re applying it in your business today?
I studied Computer science. Yes, insofar as web development goes I am applying it, and I’m sure I’ll find more applications for it in the future. My previous job was I.T related.
- Who would you say is your target audience? In terms of age and social classes?
You know, I read somewhere that a message is not what is said but how it is received/understood. So our target audience is whoever vibes with us. Again, there is no limit.
- What is the scope of your sales?
We have clients from all over Africa, The U.S. UK, Canada, France, Germany, the UAE, etc…
- What would you say is your most effective marketing strategy?
It’s not so much a strategy as something we do. I enjoy participating in hand makers markets and festivals for the simple reason that I get to have a one-on-one interaction with our people. It’s so much fun and we get a lot of valuable feedback.
- Are there any peak seasons for the business? How do you balance?
There are certainly rhythms to the field of business we’re in. There’s a lot of activity mid and end year, yet we also experience peaks in January. So while there’s the general rhythm, there are also interesting spikes in activity here and there.
- Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself doing more of what I’m doing now. Growing, creating and enjoying this great gift of life.
- What is your main achievement?
I got dressed this morning, haha. Anyways all jokes aside, I see achievement a little more as the quality of an experience than an end. For me seeing a smile on one client’s face is a great feeling of achievement. Having a meaningful interaction with another person leaves me feeling accomplished. Those are the things I remember most. Accolades, my friends and family have a better recollection of those than I do.
- Do you think the pro-African lifestyle is a phase or is it here to stay?
In my opinion, It’s not pro anything to base your lifestyle on your background. If your parents are doctors and you choose to be a doctor also doesn’t make you pro-doctor. It’s simply what comes naturally to you. So will the appreciation for one’s background be more than just a passing phase?
In the African context (Africa is not a country) there have been centuries upon centuries of what seemed to be a concerted effort to rubbish Afro-culture. The seeming influx of pro-Africanism as you put it is a response to that, it’s like a balancing of the scales. What has so long been suppressed is finally coming to the surface and finding acceptance. A point will come, once the field is levelled, where there’ll no longer be a clamour for space but rather a normal and natural expression of one’s cultural archetype.
- Briefly tell us the lessons you have learnt from setting up the business and growing up to this point?
The greatest lesson in business is YOU WILL BE TESTED. Not so much by anything ‘out there’ moreso by everything ‘in here’. You come face to face with all your strengths and weaknesses. ALL of them. I think the greatest challenge in business is mastering those weaknesses from insecurities, lack of confidence, fears of failure and success. The skills are easy enough to learn. It’s the internal impediments that can trip you up.
I’ve learned to weather those storms and have certainly come to understand myself better. And you will too, whoever is reading this and thinking of starting their own. It’s not about what the business does, so you don’t have to waste too much time in analysis paralysis trying to find the perfect unique product or service to offer. It’s about who you become in the process. That will determine your success whatever you consider success to be.
Click here to visit the AFFA online store
You can also visit the physical store at McCoy at ABC Place next to Zucchini, Nairobi.