This post originally appeared on News@Northeastern. It was published by Alana Kazub.
Ikomi wanted to build new connections with like-minded women who wished to help each other grow and might have their own businesses, she says, because she is a co-founder of an African-inspired fashion brand in Nigeria, her home country.
“The people I have met so far on this journey have been amazing,” Ikomi says.
This year Ikomi was honored with a 2022 Innovator Award, presented by the Women Who Empower, in the young alumnae undergraduate category along with a $22,000 cash prize. She entered the competition last year as well, but didn't win.
“It shows that being an entrepreneur doesn't mean that you are going to give up when you don't get what you want. You just keep on pushing and pushing,” Ikomi says.
They always knew they wanted to do something in the fashion world, Ikomi says.
“Fashion has been a great way for me to express how I feel, my identity without necessarily saying anything,” she says. “We all do love fashion. We all also want to embrace our Yoruba culture, [and] that's something we're able to do with a modern twist.”
Ikomi was born in Kano, in the northern part of Nigeria, and grew up between Lagos, Nairobi, Kenya, and South Africa because of her father's travels in corporate banking. She attended a number of international schools and became familiar with meeting people from different cultures.
In 2012, she enrolled in a college in Virginia, but didn't feel like it was diverse enough for her. She decided to transfer out and chose Northeastern for its diversity and the co-op program.
“I believe I grow the best through challenges at times, and I felt the co-op program would really allow me to see how it would be to be a full-time employee before I graduate,” she says.
While at Northeastern she was an adviser and the president of Northeastern African Student Organization. She graduated from the D'Amore-McKim School of Business in 2017 with a bachelor's degree in marketing and business administration.
Her first job was in corporate communication. In 2018, Ikomi moved from Boston to Brooklyn, New York, where she currently resides.
When both Temidola Ikomi and her sister Ama Ikomi graduated from college in 2017, the women in her family decided that it was time to start a fashion business back in Nigeria.
Ama Ikomi went to New York University Stern School of Business and took on the accounting and finance of their new company. Temidola Ikomi focused on marketing and advertising. Their younger sister Anire Ikomi, a graduate of Parsons School of Design, helps with the brand's public image.
The day-to-day operation of the business is overseen by their mother, Abby Ikomi, who is the creative director of Irawo and lives in Lagos full-time.
Ikomi says she gets her entrepreneurial nature from her mother. In every country they lived in, her mother had a business: hair, furniture, jewelry.
“I think that's how I am, too. When I'm very passionate about something, I give it my all, and I want to make sure that it is successful,” Ikomi says.
Working with her family was a bit tricky the first year, she says, because they needed to understand the dynamics between themselves.
“Because it's family, you can just be very blunt and be honest. And sometimes that's what you need in the business,” she says.
They try to keep their focus on what is the best for the business. They all participate in the creative development process, brainstorming collectively about the brand's messaging or the next lookbook, Ikomi says.
At the same time, Ikomi says, they are a Nigerian family first, and her mother will always have their unconditional respect. The business comes after that.
In the first year of operation, they decided to participate in one of the biggest fashion shows in Lagos called Arise to make a grand entrance to a rather saturated market, Ikomi says. Irawo Studio also participated in the Glitz Fashion Week in Ghana.
“We did all these fashion shows to help us embark [on this journey],” Ikomi says.
She describes the Irawo clothes as African-inspired womenswear that is modern and elegant as well as very comfortable and professional. She says, Irawo garments are for trailblazers who are chasing their dreams in their own way. They can be mothers, students or working professional women.
“We want to really bring out your inner star,” Ikomi says. “We always say, our pieces are investment pieces, meaning regardless of the trend, it is still something that you can wear, for many, many years.”
They also make bespoke pieces for milestone birthdays, weddings or wedding receptions.
The company carries out all parts of the production process in-house, from conceptualizing the fabrics and garments' design to execution and shipping to clients. A team of in-house artisans designs all the fabric patterns, which allows Irawo Studio to completely control their supply chain, Ikomi says.
In five years, the company firmly established itself within the West African markets, Ikomi says, with biggest sales in Nigeria and Ghana. They have also seen growth in the U.K. and U.S., primarily in New York City and Atlanta, Ikomi says. They ship world-wide as well.
Their goal now is to expand more on the U.S. market in an authentic way, to grow sales and get into more retailers.
“We have utilized influencers to help us break into the U.S. market,” Ikomi says. “We do a lot of paid advertising as well.”
This experience with launching and running Irawo Studio taught Ikomi that an entrepreneur needs to have a complete 360-degree view of their business.
“You really need to be fully equipped to know your business inside and out,” she says.
That is why she moved back to Lagos in 2019 for a year and a half to better understand the operations of the business and its expenses.
Ikomi still continues working in marketing and communications outside of Irawo Studio.
“I believe in being very well-rounded and utilizing what I am learning on my job for the business,” she says. “It's not necessarily about choosing one, but it's about making time for whatever is important to you and prioritizing your time.”