Introducing Olori, the female focused handbag company working with women-owned businesses in sourcing materials for their beautiful bags, accessories and tees. With every handbag purchase, one underprivileged girl in Africa is provided one month of sponsored education. Olori, meaning Queen, makes it easy to be fashionable in traditional African textiles while empowering girls. As they grow, they also aim to break more barriers around education for girls, accessing sanitary supplies, training female teachers, and more!
See below a Q&A with Olori founder, Tomide Awe.
Tell us YOUR story! What inspired you to launch Olori?
Growing up in Nigeria, a country where a girl has a 73% chance of not going to school (UNESCO), I was fortunate to have parents that could afford to send me to school–a fate unimaginable for over 17 million girls in Africa today. This disparity did not escape me, and as a result, my life has revolved around finding a way to make sure that every girl would someday have the same opportunities.
As a Nigerian, I was constantly surrounded by traditional prints and textiles and got to wear them to weddings of family members as well as other ceremonial functions. To me, these textiles are symbolic of tribal roots so deep and stories so dear to the people of these regions. I always admired the art and craftsmanship behind these textiles and after moving to England to study & developing friendships with non-Africans, I wanted to find a way to share my culture with my friends in a way that they also could appreciate. This is where the idea of developing a handbag company began to bud as I considered handbags to be the one thing that my female friends and I could not do without.
While finishing my last year as an MBA candidate at The Wharton School, I was inspired to leverage the beauty and cultural richness of Africa as a way to solve the education problem for girls around the world. After many months of planning, traveling, and prototyping, Olori was born.
Having grown up in a country where 73% of girls are likely to not attend school, how has the power of education influenced your life?
When I think about my Education, the first thing/person that comes to mind is my mother. My mother did not come from an affluent family, in fact she sometimes went to school without shoes. Her mother was an illiterate who traded goods to ensure her children could go to school. My mother in turn sacrificed so much to ensure that my siblings and I could get the best education possible. Beyond that, she ensured that we were successful in our educational pursuits, she pushed us to do more, learn more and never give up when we failed.
According to UNICEF, “mothers who have had some education are more than twice as likely to send their own children to school as are mothers with no education” and for me this has been a very personal experience.
Education has opened a lot of doors for my family and friends. If my grandmother had not decided to educate her daughter, I would not currently be trying to ‘change the world’. The power of education is real to me. I have received 3 degrees, including an MBA from the Wharton School, and my goal in life is to use the power and opportunities that my education has afforded me to provide the same access for little girls around the world. Indeed, when you educate a girl, she can change the world!
Tell us about the women-owned businesses you are working with to source materials for Olori products.
The textiles that we use for our bags are called Aso-Oke, meaning top-cloth in the Yoruba language. Aso-Oke textiles are traditionally handwoven by men of the Yoruba land in Nigeria using techniques passed down from generation to generation. The women-owned business we work with own the design and sales process of the textiles created.
When we finalise on the designs for our bags, the next step we take is to go to the workshops of these women in Nigeria to look at the variety of available materials that they have in stock. When we find something we like, or something close to what we like, we discuss with them on customisation for our brand, and they work with the handweavers to bring our designs to life.
We are very committed to having women in our supply chain and we are currently finalizing the details of a partnership with a community of women artisans in Rwanda scheduled for early next year.
After purchasing an Olori bag, what does the process look like when sponsoring one month of education for a girl in Africa? Are you working with local partners? Are you only working in Nigeria?
When an Olori bag is purchased, we pool the funds together and transfer the funds to a trust fund set up for our giving partner on a quarterly basis which is also at the beginning of every school term. Our giving partner screens candidates using an agreed set of criteria and provides funding for girls who would most benefit from our sponsorship. We receive updates on the recipients of these funds at the end of every school term. Sustainability of our impact is very important to us and we ensure that we sponsor one child for one year at a time, instead of sponsoring one month of education for different children. Also, our goal is to secure the education of the children in our program till they graduate from high school
We are proud to partner with Bridge International Academies as our giving partner. We gave serious consideration to the kinds of organizations that we wanted to partner with. We did not want to just ‘donate’ money to charity as this mission is more than a charitable affair for us, we wanted the girls to have full effect of every dollar donated. We selected Bridge International Academies because they are internationally recognized and backed by the bill gates foundation.
They use technology to provide quality education to children in poor regions in Africa. We also chose Bridge because they are located in multiple African countries. While our first impact dollars will be spent in Nigeria, we will expand our impact to other African countries and girls in need in non-African countries as we grow. Africa may not be the most wealthy continent in the world, but we are very rich in culture and traditions, and I want Olori to be a platform through which Africa gives to the world.
What inspires your Olori designs?
Olori designs are primary inspired by the African culture. I wanted to find a way to share the beauty of Africa and its culture & traditions in a way that every woman all over the world would appreciate. For this reason, we incorporate African textiles into our handbags in a very chic and regal style. We ensure that everything we do, and thus our products, are regal and fit for queens, just like our brand name, Olori, reflects.
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I am a social entrepreneur. That means I use business as a catalyst for social goodness. I am deeply passionate about sustainable travel, zero waste living, ethical fashion and social good. I currently run North India's first zero waste guesthouse, Hara House, and am the Content Director at Causeartist.