Lola Emeruwa has worked in the luxury industry for over a decade. She fine-tuned her skills working with reputable brands such as Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Stella McCartney and Net-A-Porter in offices located in London, Milan, Paris, New York as well as Ermenegildo Zegna in Lagos.
Recently she worked on projects such as the African Cultural and Design Festival 2017, Lagos and the Nigerian Creative Arts Exchange 2018 in Paris with the Nigerian Embassy of France.
With WISH Africa, Lola has launched a media platform whose mission is to promote a more positive image of Africa and Africans on the continent and in the diaspora. We sat with her to discuss her decision to move into the development world.
BNS: What inspired you to leave the fashion industry and go into social entrepreneurship?
Life in Lagos. Despite being home to some of the wealthiest people on the continent, the degree of poverty can be sometimes overwhelming. A friend asked me one day if money wasn’t a consideration what would you be doing? I answered without hesitation… social work. She was shocked. I had always been the fashion girl. Posting photos from shows, from showrooms, to suddenly have a fixation with renewable energy and infrastructure. However, I also felt that despite a lot of hardship in the country, and on the continent there were still a lot of amazing things being created. I wanted to hone and in focus on these stories. This is expressed in our brand colours: clay red represents the tough environment that is Africa, gold, the amazing endeavours that make it up through the clay despite the hardships and black to signify that there is so much unknown (to each other) on the continent.
BNS: How did you create the platform?
WISH was actually originally a luxury shopping platform for hotels. It became WISH Africa after I attended the African Philanthropy Forum in Lagos and learnt about social initiatives. I realized that the way to marry all of my interests was under a single platform – the single platform of a social enterprise. I wanted to (travel) to learn about Africa, I wanted to continue to do business, and I wanted to do something that would allow me to give back. Hence the three pillars of WISH Africa: culture, commerce and development.
BNS: Since you began your organisation, what social activations have you done?
I was appointed as the head of industrialisation of my family foundation (The Chris Ogunbanjo Foundation). So this formed the basis for having WISH Africa be a partner of the foundation. We recently held a competition to promote the MTN solar powered energy product called Lumos. The idea was to investigate the extent to which solar power could assist SMEs. We gave out 9 power boxes with a 6 month free subscription.
BNS: How do you source the donor funds?
At present our social funds have been provided by the foundation. Going forward a percentage of our profits will be used to create our WISH Africa Fund which will be managed by the foundation. We currently cover 6 sectors and in each sector we have a development goal:
Art – the promotion of African art institutions
Fashion – the promotion of African made apparel
Travel – the promotion of (easier) travel for Africans around Africa
Tech – the promotion of (clean) energy solutions to combat the power deficit
Food & Drink – the promotion of premium African made food and drink brands
Real Estate & Architecture – to promote investment into African real estate and to promote the design of more resilient African cities.
BNS: Which companies or organizations work in partnership with you for your enterprise?
Apart from the Chris Ogunbanjo foundation, we have Mosun Layode, who is the Executive Director of the African Philanthropy Forum on our advisory board. We are launching our inaugural travelling expo tour this June in London – the WISH Africa EXPO 2019 (expo.wishafrica.co). For this we have begun talks with UNESCO to see how we can partner to promote sustainable tourism in Africa.
BNS:What advice you would give female startup founders?
Secure a line of income first. Ideally passive.
BNS:What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
What is meant for you will not miss you.
BNS:What talent or passion have you been able to use in your career in an unexpected way?
I like meeting new people and making friends. It means that I have quite a wide and varied network. This has enabled me to connect to special projects.
What is the one thing that influenced your career today? When was the moment when you realized you were on the right path?
I wanted to do something with the King of Morocco. I had a chance encounter with one of his senior advisers in a hotel shuttle during my first trip to Morocco!
BNS:What does “confidence at every age” mean to you? Do you feel you’ve “found it”?
Understanding and accepting your strengths and weaknesses
BNS:How do you think your style has evolved over time?
Being finally open to colour and prints has opened me up to a whole new world of possibilities
BNS:Favourite African designers? Budget, Contemporary & Luxury
Budget – 87 Origins
Contemporary – Tokyo James
Luxury – Tiffany Amber
BNS:Favourite workwear brand?
BNS:Go to ‘Boss Lady’ look?
Crisp white shirt with a milano collar
BNS:Speed round! What makes you happy?
My son’s laugh
I don’t feel guilty about any of my pleasures…
Looking at the ocean
Heels or flats?
The one thing you can’t leave home without?
Fancy meals on fancy holidays
Favorite thing about your appearance?
Nothing I prize is my possession.