When it comes to style, Ezinne Chinkata is the queen. Her mastery of fashion and everything that comes with it has made her stand out in the fashion industry. In our interview with her, she recalls how it all started and she gives us an insight into where she is heading to as a fashion entrepreneur.
In your own words, introduce Ezinne Chinkata to the world, and what she does.
Ezinne Chinkata is a pretty upfront lady doing her utmost best to impact positively upon the world around her using fashion as an inspiring and empowering tool. I am the founder of the Zinkata Brand. It consists of: The Fashion Consultancy (Styling and fashion consultancy services), Retail (Our fashion boutique) and a Style and Lifestyle Website (Zinkata.com)
Brilliant! You’re essentially a Fashion & Style Entrepreneur; how did your interest in fashion start?
My earliest fashion memory would be watching the movie; “Purple Rain” at a pretty young age. Prince left quite a resounding impression with his rather alternative take on fashion and his individual style. This intrigued me and opened my eyes to the power style had over one’s image and how they are perceived. My mom was also a really huge influence. She is extremely stylish and at a stage delved into fashion retail.
You have a solid background in the sciences – Cell Biology & Genetics (Undergrad), and an M.SC in Environmental Management. How did the switch to fashion happen, and why?
It happened quite naturally. For a brief period during my undergrad studies, I helped my mom retail her pieces to my friends and acquaintances. Interpreting the customer’s style persona and suggesting pieces according to their body types and what colours complemented them came quite naturally to me. There I was, subconsciously acting as a stylist without even realising it. After my Master’s degree I worked as a banker in England for a while. I came back to Nigeria for my NYSC and whilst job hunting, I quite casually tried out applying for a Stylist’s job at a magazine, “Just because I was quite sick of everyone asking me if I was a stylist on first introduction”. I never looked back.
You’ve worked as Fashion Editor for two well respected Fashion & Lifestyle magazines; how has that impacted on your work?
Very positively. It taught me the importance of being very thorough with any job at hand, successfully delivering great output on tight deadlines and drawing inspiration from even the most mundane subjects. The most exquisite fashion idea could spin off the steam coming off a cup of coffee. Literally!
At what point did you decide to become an entrepreneur; and what factors made that happen?
Longevity. I had to think of what I would enjoy and could still be doing in 20 years. That sort of guided me along what direction to take.
Wow! So how did you build your portfolio and client base?
Through hard work, honesty, dedication and being authentically me.
You have some very high-profile clients; how do you attract and sustain that calibre of patronage?
Word of mouth and keeping my head solidly on the grind.
There are some concerns that certain aspects of the fashion industry are difficult to monetize, hence not very sustainable as a business model. What are your thoughts on that?
It is quite true. Like every other business, you have to think realistically and come to a conclusion on what you are in it for and how much you need to make for it to be a sustainable career. Once you are clear on that, you can begin the journey of creating packages and prices for each service.
How did you secure funding to expand your business?
Firstly, I started off really small. I kept my overheads as low as possible and depended heavily on social media as well as zinkata.com as a medium for reaching out to my client base. I got some support from my parents, which in retrospect was really helpful. That being said, I could have done it completely on my own. Knowing what I do now, a budding entrepreneur should first come up with a business plan, work and save accordingly and start off small. Delve in, give it your absolute best, understand the terrain and then expand accordingly, seeking for loans if or when necessary.
What sort of fashion items do you stock in your boutique and what characteristics must the brands have?
I stock pieces from all around the world with a great percentage of them from really talented Nigerian Designers. At the moment, Zinkata is a female boutique with very individual pieces. All the pieces stocked at the store are exquisitely finished and well thought out.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome them?
Apart from the usual start-up difficulties, Nigeria makes it doubly hard as we lack a lot of amenities. Still, it is a really vibrant and interesting business terrain. I gradually learnt about the market, learnt from my mistakes and skilfully directed my business solutions to align perfectly with the environment. Baby steps!
Is online retail a threat to your business, or does it present its own unique business opportunity?
It is certainly not a threat. Every business offering products and services should look towards having an online presence and a means of reaching out and providing their offerings via the online space.
What fashion item would you NOT be caught wearing?
I never say never…
Where do you see yourself and your brand in the next 10 years?
I see myself and the Zinkata brand further evolving and creating our own special niche in Fashion and retail globally
Words of advice for aspiring female fashion entrepreneurs?
Everything you wish or want, you can absolutely achieve. It is never too late or too early. Your dreams are legitimate! Do not give up. Keep at it, be transparent and give it your absolute best. “Pray, toil and pray some more!”