KUBA UK is a line of authentic African head wraps & accessories handmade in London, founded by Georgina Owusu-Ansah a secondary school Business and Finance teacher. Born to Ghanaian parents, Georgina has always been in touch with her African culture, “I had the typical British Ghanaian upbringing: hall parties, Ghanaian food, cutting off a bit of African cloth to go with my outfits – It’s always been apart of me.”
Solving a problem
It was Georgina’s love for African prints and material that sparked the idea of an African head wrap line, “early last summer, I was online searching for some new head wraps and I just couldn’t find a brand that was locally made but still authentically African. Although I love international brands I didn’t want to wait for ages and pay loads for shipping.” Georgina realised that there was a gap in the market for something locally made and immediately got the ball rolling with her brand and business idea.
“The teacher in me thought: how can I solve this problem? and I literally birthed Kuba within a few days. On Sunday I had thought of the line and by Wednesday I had a logo.”
“KUBA” was derived from the name of a Central African royal tribe known for their exquisite patterns and stunning fabrics – this matched Georgina’s vision.
At the moment Georgina takes full control of the business and does everything from sourcing products to promotion. But she has recently hired an intern who works part-time for whom she delegates appropriate roles.
At only 6 months old, Kuba is still a new business. The brand is evolving and will continually do so. “There is still so much to discover in terms of who we are and we’re always learning”. For instance, when she first began making head wraps, Georgina realised that there was the issue with the material potentially drying hair and later added a satin lining. That way, she says “customers could maintain their hair on the inside whilst getting the beauty of African print on the outside”.
Georgina has a clear and grounded vision for the Kuba brand. “Kuba is a brand that is AUTHENTIC in its origin and this is with everything we endeavour to do: from our designs to our team and our goals. We want to share the beautiful aspects of African culture that is often missed out. We want to show the beautiful and multi-faceted side to our culture in the face of the negative media representations, of backhanded conversations and negative narratives and give people a sneak peek into authentic African beauty through print.”
The promotion of African culture goes beyond the prints, however, as each piece is given a name that is representative of her culture. “I wanted to show the beauty of Ghanaian names as well as educate people about my culture. For instance, one piece is named after my mother ‘Serwaah Bonsu’. In addition, traditionally all prints are given names but after purchasing a print named ‘The Kings Chair’ Georgina renamed her head wrap ‘Nana’, a name for a woman of superiority in Ghanaian culture “it was my way of reflecting my target market whilst retaining my Ghanaian culture.”
And Georgina has an even broader vision for the brand. As a London-based company, the wraps are made locally but the aim is to eventually outsource labour into parts of West Africa to support the local economy and help to equip local people in building infrastructures such as schools and health facilities. “To me, it’s all about giving the people in our supply chain their due – it’s not about handouts. When you are providing something so valuable to your culture and have nurtured that you should be able to get your due.”
The journey to begin outsourcing labour (in Ghana initially) is one that has already begun. “At the moment we are looking into sourcing some suppliers in Ghana through some relationships we have built.” Relationships are what Georgina believes is key to building a robust and efficient supply chain, “you need to be able to trust your supply chain, build relationships with people and create a community from the beginning.” This is a journey that Georgina acknowledges will not be an easy one as she recalls being advised by fellow Africans that she should source her material from elsewhere such as Europe. “I was honestly shocked by this and didn’t realise that this was normal practice. Initially, I thought if that’s what everyone does then I’ll do the same but, for something that’s so precious and valuable to our culture to be sourced elsewhere with the potential to be watered down and profits redirected just did not settle with me.” From this Georgina began to do her research and discovered so many authentic places she could outsource from. “I focussed on Ghana – being my heritage this was naturally my go to”.
Being born in the UK however, Georgina feels strongly about her dual identity. “Ghana is my heritage but London is my home”. As an educator, in the long term, Georgina hopes to use Kuba to support education projects here too as she feels passionate about informal education.
Plans for the future
In the short term, the plan is to release more products in the Kuba line and expand beyond head wraps throughout the year. In the long term, Georgina hopes Kuba can gain the capital to widen its reach, secure its African partnerships and continue to sell products that people can love and enjoy, “as well as Kuba there have been so many diaspora brands recently that are showcasing the quality of African culture and heritage and we want to continue to do so and support others doing the same”.
So what advice does Georgina give to the diaspora in launching a successful brand and business?
“Kuba is still a really new business. I’m constantly learning every day but one thing I’ve learned so far about this journey is that if you are a new brand don’t compete! Don’t come in with a competitive mindset or the idea that you must slay your competition. This doesn’t take away from basic business principles. It pays to build with others.”
“Also handwork is key. Its been the definition of the last 8 months so be prepared to work your socks off to make sure anything you do is done well. We’ve only got a handful of products and are continually striving to have good quality.”
And finally, “No man is an island. I credit a lot of my success to my family and friends who have jumped along for the ride and who are there to listen to me ramble on about my crazy ideas. I’ve learnt that it’s okay to allow your business to evolve with the help of others and that’s beautiful”.
As a new business witch such big plans, it will be exciting to see Kuba’s journey, I’m particularly looking forward to it!
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Georgina would love to hear from you, comment below!
This post is part of a series of interviews with founders and designers within the diaspora using their brands to promote African culture and development.