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              1. Le Scoop
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              Fisayo Che and her daughter Elisamama

              Celebrating Black Stories

              Meet Fisayo Che: The Founder of Elisamama

              A trip to Nigeria after the birth of her daughter Elisa was the spark that turned into a stylish clothing line with joyful prints and functional cuts meant to live up to the heavy wear that accompanies life with kids. But according to Fisayo, the mission of the business is empowering the artisans behind the clothes. We caught up with a very jet-lagged Fisayo to find out more.

              Interview By
              Katie Covington
              Elisamama womens dressElisamama womens dressElisamama girls dressElisamama girls dress

              In 2018 you were living in California, a new mom of three, traveling in Nigeria, and had clothing made for your daughter (the Elisa of Elisamama!) from seamstresses there. How did you go from that experience to starting Elissamama? 

              After having children, life became busier, and my expectations of clothes also changed. I sought clothing that looked good but also served a deeper purpose. About that same time, I took a trip to Nigeria to visit family and had the opportunity to connect with women Artisans who were incredibly talented but struggled to earn enough income to take care of their families.

              After I got back, I reflected on the lovely products I had made and my interactions with these women Artisans. I thought about their struggles, and I wanted to be a part of a solution. I wanted to empower the Artisans in Nigeria with jobs and the mothers in the States with joyful, functional clothing.

              I kept in touch with a couple of the Artisans, and once the business idea fully took hold, I looked into assembling a team that could effectively support the execution of the ideas I had. I started with 1 of the women and then cast a wider net to bring in other Artisans that could produce at the required quality. While the social mission is a big part of our work, I knew from the start that we had to have undeniable products that could stand for themselves for this to work long term.

              Was it a powerful experience to introduce your daughter to the team?

              On my most recent trip to Nigeria, I brought Elisa. It was incredibly special seeing things through her eyes and getting to bring her behind the scenes. She met the team and weighed in on different cuts and fabrics. She's a very involved tester–I always wait to see if she is excited to wear a dress and keep it on the whole day or is more like, "Take this off of me!"

              The other eye-opening part of taking Elisa with me on this trip was a revelation on the evolution of my parenting style. It helped me see the value of being exposed to different cultures. I have been able to take what I consider to be the best of the Nigerian and American cultures and find the perfect balance of parenting styles. For instance, in our household, respect is fundamental. It is, however, not limited to just for adults. It is equally essential to ensure my kids have a voice and value their opinions regardless of how young they are.

              The team sounds like the driving force and your mission. Can you share your experience growing the team?

              So with business growth has come growth in our team size, which we embrace because it allows us to extend the impact of our mission of positively impacting more lives. Every Artisan who joins our team becomes a part of our Elisamama family, so making sure their acute needs are met is of key importance to us. For instance, we have Artisans who have educational aspirations - it is very common in Nigeria to complete high school and be unable to start college right away. So we see ourselves as a stop-gap, supporting their educational aspirations and giving them a way to earn some income while they wait for admission.

              On the other hand, growth is not always easy. We encounter unique challenges as our numbers increase, but with time, we continue to learn and evolve to find the right way to manage all aspects of the business.

              fabric market in Lagosfabric market in Lagosmaking Elisamamamaking Elisamama

              I love talking with female founders making the world a better place with their work, and creating what they wish existed. Have you always been into fashion and style?

              So, no, fashion was actually not a passion at all! Fashion simply happened to be the vessel that allowed me to most easily execute the social goals that were near and dear to my heart.

              For me personally, I see fashion more around functionality. I have three children. I have a full-time job and running a business, so the question about fashion choices is really: "How can my life be better served by this item?"

              My personal ethos also reflects our design point of view at Elisamama. Our goals are to offer products that support our busy mamas. We make comfortable, easy to wear, and easy to clean clothes. We focus on details like pockets and smocking to support our ever-changing bodies. The texture is also very important, especially for our kids' clothing. Ease of experience is another important aspect to us - most of our products are machine washable, and you can wear straight from the dryer –you don't need to iron it.

              Your prints are amazing! Can you share a bit about them and what makes a print right for Elisamama?

              These prints are synonymous with West Africa in general. In Nigeria, they are called Ankara - other African countries have various names for them too–they're all wax prints.

              (Traditional wax prints use a wax-resist method similar to batik–a block-printing machine applies a resin resist to both sides of the fabric, and then it is dyed, repeating the process for each color. The wax crackles give prints a signature texture.)

              We currently go to the local markets in Nigeria to source our fabric, so most of what we pick up comes from small businesses and suppliers. Working this way is incredibly special but can bring some headaches, especially around restocks. The prints change very quickly, and it is sometimes impossible to get the same print again - you most likely will not find it. We now look at this inconvenience as an opportunity to keep our prints evolving and fresh. Since our products are intrinsically limited, our customers know they get a one-of-a-kind product. They also know to go for a piece they love right away or come back later for something new if they miss it.

              What makes a print an Elisamama print depends on what we're trying to produce. So, for instance, if we're creating our Lola smocked dresses, we're looking for more vibrant prints with concentrated patterns and richly saturated colors that catch your eye.

              But with things like our jacket dresses, we focus on fabric with smaller patterns to allow for ease of layering and wearing across for different functions. Our goal with the jacket dresses is to make them easy to mix and match with other items in your closet.

              Fisayo and ElisaFisayo and Elisa

              We're talking about the power of story and storytelling in February. Are there any stories that you remember growing up or stories that you share with your kids that have made an impact?

              It is not a story as much as experiencing my parent's life philosophy. The saying "teaching a man to fish versus giving him fish" is something my parents emphasized and modeled. My parents prioritized putting extended family members and strangers through school or vocational training to ensure they had something to build their lives on. Their ethos, in many ways, guides and informs the work we do at Elisamama. Therefore, it was crucial for Elisamama not to be a charity but to provide an opportunity to access income in a respectable way that did not compromise dignity. I believe in many ways, Elisamama is now a continuation of the work my parents started in giving people the tools and means to harness their talents to build a good life for themselves.

              Where do you look for joy?

              As previously shared, I just got back from a trip to Nigeria, where I spent some time with the team. It was such a joy to see everyone and observe our impact. The feeling of being in our workshop and connecting with the team is unparalleled! During my time there, we created many new designs! We have such incredible pieces in the pipeline (including our first mommy and son styles) that I am just jumping for joy. I'm so excited at what we've been able to come up with and cannot wait to share them!

              From a more personal point of view, the last few years have been heavily focused on Elisamama, and getting our footing has taken a toll on me. Going into 2022, I feel I can breathe a little and have committed to being intentional about focusing on myself but, most importantly, connecting and spending more time with my children and husband.

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