POSTED AUG. 13TH, 2017 | BY MICHAELA P. SHELTON
Francois Nze, 23, is a young businessman from Ivory Coast, Africa. He recently graduated from San Jose State University and since then he has been working hard on his clothing line, Essence. Last week he sat down with CSUITEMUSIC for an interview about his business and more:
SO TELL US ABOUT ESSENCE.
Essence is a neo African fashion label. I say neo, because the pieces are not too traditional or too corny, they're something more fly you can where everyday. Essence is sophisticated.
WHAT MADE YOU START THIS BUSINESS?
So dashiki prints and traditional African prints in general are common in Africa because we wear them to church, weddings, funerals, etc. I kept getting compliments and people asking where I got them and saying they'd buy them. I sold two of my own dashikis, then I realized that it would be a good idea to sell them.
SO WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR PIECES?
I bring dashikis from back home and when family members visit they bring some for me to sell. This is why I sell in seasons and my customers have to wait.
ARE YOUR PRODUCTS EXPENSIVE?
Buying the fabric and getting the items made doesn’t cost much, but shipping it here and marketing costs a lot. My brand is distinctive and is good quality, as opposed to something you can buy on Ebay. When you see my stuff you can tell it's authentic, it's rich and really comes from Africa. However, my stuff is still affordable. A basic dashiki is only $25.
SO WHAT'S NEXT FOR ESSENCE?
I want to stop moving stuff from Ivory Coast and have like a boutique type of business to carry other people’s stuff. Also, I am trying to launch lifestyle accessories and organic shea butter. I already have the raw shea butter and I am working on packaging and different scents.
HOW DO YOU ADVERTISE AND PROMOTE YOUR BUSINESS?
Via social media and tabling. I tabled at Juneteenth this summer, at various greek events, and different community events. I also promote through my website which is Essencesf.com.
WHAT IS ONE THING THAT MAKES YOUR BUSINESS STAND OUT FROM THE REST?
The direct connection to my country. A lot of pieces I sell my mom picks the fabric and designs. She'll have a local tailor make it for me which I like, because I can support local businesses and promote the African culture.
WHO IS YOUR BIGGEST INSPIRATION?
Kanye West, because when I was younger I was lacking confidence and I felt bad for having good grades. When your young nobody likes the nerd. When I first start listening to Kanye I felt like "I'm great and I know it so what!" and I embraced it. Through his music, I was able to build my confidence and I think that’s important.
WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF A YEAR FROM NOW?
That’s a great question. I definitely want to be starting grad school, still working and hopefully living with a smart educated beautiful black queen. I don’t want to be living in a frat house forever, although I do enjoy my frat brothers company.
SO YOU'RE A MEMBER OF PHI BETA SIGMA FRATERNITY, INC. DOES YOUR FRATERNITY CONNECT TO YOUR BUSINESS IN ANY WAY?
Sigma is everything. Half my customers are Sigmas or referred to by their friends so half of my clientele is the Greek network and my frat brothers pushing it and supporting me. Also, spreading the word at Greek events has been very influential in the success of my business.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO PEOPLE YOUR AGE THAT ARE TRYING TO BECOME ENTREPENEURS?
Uhh I'd tell them to take action. The only way you'll build something is if you actually start. The first website I used was free so you have no excuse not to get started on what it is that you want to do. Start pro typing, see what works and what doesn’t. You have to start doing to really learn.
Michaela P. Shelton is Managing Editor of CSUITEMUSIC.com
Read more from Michaela at Darealmichaela1.com