How did you go about creating AFR Clothing?
While studying at Lynn, I read a stat from the United Nations: 61 million children of primary-school age were not enrolled in school, and more than half of them were from sub-Saharan Africa. Immediately, I became inspired to do something about it—mainly because I had witnessed this in Zimbabwe growing up.
My senior year, the concept for AFR Clothing was born during a Skype call with a high school friend from Zimbabwe. The concept was to create a brand that makes people look good while doing good. We decided we would donate 20 percent of our profits to send children in Africa to school. We didn’t have much in terms of capital to start the business; however, we didn’t let that stop us. We started AFR Clothing with $150. The brand started out with T-shirts with inspirational messages like “Spread the Love in Africa.” The brand has expanded to leggings, flip-flops, hoodies, mugs and more. We focus on positive messages because we know they have a powerful effect on people since they are moving billboards. We decided to use the profits to invest in education because like Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” At AFR, we’re changing the world by giving the gift of education to those who do not have access to it and with this gift, they can sustain themselves and hopefully be lifted out of the cycle of poverty.
You’ve employed some interesting marketing to promote it, right?
AFR Clothing has led to my friendship with singer/songwriter Alexander Star. Together, Alexander and I came up with the idea to hold concerts for college students in order to bring awareness and drive sales to AFR Clothing merchandise and to Alexander’s music. This then led to the performance at Millennium Campus Conference 2014 at Lynn, where we launched the #ThisIsMyEra movement and song. President Kevin Ross was there. I would be interested to hear what he has to say about the event!
What happened after the #ThisIsMyEra launch event at Lynn was something no one had ever imagined. Since then we have taken our performance concept to more than 30 schools and organizations in four countries, including performances at the U.N. headquarters in New York City and Harvard University. This has now led to us created the #ThisIsMyEra 90-day planner to help people stay focused and organized as they work toward making it their era. We also use the planner to make a difference. With each planner purchased, we donate a stationery kit to a child in need through our partnership with the Amani Hope Foundation.
How did the partnership with Amani come about?
I founded the Amani Hope Foundation so that we had a nonprofit arm focused on all of our giving-back ventures. It also allows us to accept donations from strategic partners.
How do you balance your social entrepreneurial work with your corporate career in e-commerce sales and business development strategies?
Here is how I would put it: In order to get proper nutrients, a meal must be well-balanced. You need your protein, your vegetables, your starch and water. If you're only eating one of the items—let’s say just protein and nothing else—you will be deficient. For me, I need to have both my social entrepreneurial work and corporate career to balance out my “meal.” Also, my corporate career at Newell Brands is an incredible learning experience for me. Working in a world-class multibillion dollar Fortune 500 company like Newell Brands allows me to grow my business acumen at an accelerated rate and I get to see best-in-class processes. For a kid who came from the streets of Harare, Zimbabwe, this is a wonderful experience.
We've heard you’re quite the public speaker. Do you practice?
I think I still have a lot of room for improvement, so I am humbled by the kind words. I have been fortunate to be mentored by great public speakers, one being Asoka Veeravagu, CEO of Revolve. Watching him speak in meetings and conferences has helped me grow as a speaker. Also, when I started my corporate career after college, I took a Toastmasters class in Boca Raton. This experience was priceless as well. Nowadays, I tend to use YouTube as way to learn by watching great speakers and then essentially deconstructing what makes them great.
Has there been a point when you realized you had to learn a new skill in order to move forward?
Simple answer is yes. The skills that brought AFR Clothing or #ThisIsMyEra to where they are now will not be the same skills that will bring us to the next level. It’s like a football player just drafted into the NFL. He will need to practice and learn new plays because the ones that got him drafted will not necessarily get him to the Super Bowl.
Why did you choose Lynn for college?
There are three main things that attracted me to Lynn. One was its international diversity. At the time, about 25 percent of the student body was international, so I knew I would build relationships with people from all over the world. I now have friendships with other Lynn alums from Guatemala, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, Turkey, England, Germany, Australia, the U.S. and so many more other countries.
Two was the location. Coming from Zimbabwe, I wanted a location that had warm weather. South Florida excels at this!
Three was the unique aviation program that allows students to take business classes. This was a major selling point for me.
How can the Lynn community get involved with your work?
This spring, #ThisIsMyEra and Alexander Star will be doing a collaborative songwriting session at Lynn, and performing as part of the launch of the new Social Impact Lab. We will also be working closely with the lab to consider interns for various positions for #ThisIsMyEra, AFR Clothing and Amani Hope Foundation. Also, people can get involved in the work we are doing by purchasing any of products from AFR Clothing or #ThisIsMyEra or by donating to the Amani Hope Foundation.