Leila Toukourou - Oba Swimwear - African elegance to the beach
Flashmag this month has as guest of the fashion page, a young entrepreneur. aged 26 she metaphors the maxim that to noble souls the value is not axiom of number of years, born in France of a Beninese father and a Togolese mother Leila Toukourou was educated in the field of international trade. Economic difficulties and her freedom of spirit, finally led her to create her own company. Leila Toukourou is the brains behind Oba Swimwear a company that provides women with swimwear typically African in Style.
Flashmag: Hi Leila Flashmag and its readership are happy to have you as the guest of the trendy page this month. The time of this interview the gallery's yours? so tell us what brings you to fashion?
Leila Toukourou: Hello Flashmag, to start, I am very happy to be the guest of this month. It's very cliché but since my teens I was always attracted by fashion and especially the customization and the fact of finding unique pieces, I was always at odds with trends
Flashmag: What year did you decide to start your business? How was your innovation welcomed by the public, and since how is your business doing?
Leila Toukourou: I decided to start my business a year ago, at the end of my studies. I graduated with a Master 2 in Marketing and Commerce at a Paris business school. Several designers have already created swimwear in wax fabric but very few in the Francophone world were in waterproof material when I started. My innovation was very well received because consumers have appreciated the answer to the problem of bathing in wax fabric.
Flashmag: What does the term Oba, means, if we already know that the terminology swimwear refers to swimming clothes?
Leila Toukourou: the term Oba means King or Queen in Yoruba, it was a way for me to put forward my origins: All models have a Yoruba name and a special significance, and to advocate the universe of my brand: Magnify the woman in all her glory.
Flashmag: You have a bachelor in international trade and a master in marketing, these fields of studies no doubt help you to carry out your business, but typically concerning the technical point of view, how do you design your models?
Leila Toukourou: My studies including Marketing help, me every day to work on my communication strategy. In terms of technology I have no training in fashion design or fashion, so I proceeded like this: to start I draw the model I would like, to realize with a Beninese designer, I realize it at first in a wax cotton fabric after having validated this cotton sample I work from it with my provider, we exchange and produce several samples which are in nylon and spandex then we validate the final product.
Flashmag: Many people who have the opportunity to wear your creations have told us that your bathing suits were made of single piece namely that there is no duplication ... would it be to fight against plagiarism of your models, counterfeiting, or just the desire to make your clients unique individuals?
Leila Toukourou: The idea for my brand basically was to create a swimwear that stands out from what we see, my goal is really that when peoples see a swimsuit, they will know it is from Obaswimwear. I communicate on the scarcity of the product for each collection, there are new models, so I produce in limited quantities unlike large chains.
One idea led to another, launching my second collection, I noticed that new brands emerging was inspired by my older models. As I say, there is room for everyone on the field of fashion and then if they copy your models they can never copy your creativity.
Flashmag: You have a business in Africa working with you, in the making of your product. how it goes? and what was your goal while choosing to work with African companies?
Leila Toukourou: Made in Africa is my niche, when producing in Africa I am helping to bring production there, including to local seamstresses, it’s small but it is a creation of wealth that allows them to live with. I travel to Africa often for the purpose but I will not deny that my mother living on site, is coordinating well the final.
Flashmag: In the making of your swimsuits do you have a target audience?
Leila Toukourou: My target audience is the young woman who loves African print style no matter her origin and who is in search of different swimsuits than what is currently seen on the market. I tried this year to integrate several sizes.
Flashmag: In general, African and other young people go to school to get a job, actually studying to work for others don’t you think it's time for Africans in particular in regards to the difficulties of social integration in countries that do not always accept them, acquire knowledge to use tit for themselves? when one complains about the lack of freedom of the black populace it is already time for African and African descendants to take their freedom themselves?
Leila Toukourou: When one is African and achieves long studies, the objective is usually like parents expect to see their child work in large companies, of the stock market particularly in France with the Cac 40, I actually worked for one of these company … of course we’re all looking for the famous sesame. the job security. When I finished my studies, I wanted to realize a dream, but I was not thinking in long term and with time and positive feedback, I decided to spend more time on it. Entrepreneurship has come to me.
In a broader perspective, it is true that it is harder for an African than for a Caucasian to obtain a position that is a fact, but do not make generalities and amalgam. Some fight and get the job they want. My motto is: If you cannot find a job, create it. Personally today I feel more fulfilled as entrepreneur than employee but I think every individual is different, some profiles are more comfortable being employed with a hierarchy over them, others enjoy working for themselves. It’s not because you are not working, that the doors are closed but it’s important to know that entrepreneurship is a struggle every day and more over at the end of the month, you do not have your check and especially the same amount that falls on your account.
Flashmag: As an African by origin, you are no doubt sensitive to the social conditions of the continent and its diaspora around the world about you the social progress of this group of people will come from what? acceptance of others to give them a place, or taking control of their own destiny without worrying too much about what other think about them?
Leila Toukourou: The African Diaspora has always had a problem of identification. Staying in the West, we are the children of immigrants, returning to Africa, we are French, Canadian, American (Mbenguiste), I do not think that the diaspora should expect too much from others because I see it every day here in France, we have many great Pan-African with long speeches, they want to revolutionize the world including Africa while staying in their Western comfort, while on the mainland, locals do not need words, but actions. You have to be master of your destiny and acceptance will come with time: a positive person who does good around itself, regardless of its origin, will be praised.
Flashmag: You specialize in the economic sector in your opinion in what is due the lagging performance of Africa and its diaspora in the economic and social progress? and what should be done about it?
Leila Toukourou: I will not allow myself to judge our Africa but I think that instead of the negative aspects of our continent, we should all emphasize its value and richness. My best friend Diane Audrey Ngako for example created a platform Visiterlafrique that highlights tourism in our continent. I do not want to talk about debt, interference, politics, famine, it is an undeniable fact but with solidarity between peoples, institutions and progress including food self-sufficiency through the development of agriculture, things can move forward.
Flashmag: To return to your product how can one acquire a sample in the market which sales mode do you prefer? online sales that opens your product to customers with access to new communication technologies or the sale on physical points which is very popular in Africa?
Leila Toukourou: My product is available on www.obaswimwear.com my online sales site allows me to aim for the best possible customer internationally unfortunately I do not ship to Africa. My swimsuits are sold in the shop Fashion Miyana in Cotonou, Benin. I would like in the future to distribute my products in several outlets in Africa.
Flashmag: Before closing this interview do you have a word to the public what are your future prospects?
Leila Toukourou: Except for swimwear, I also decided to expand the range of ready to wear turbans. This year I work a lot on the communication aspect, particularly through the media but as they say I put everything in God's hands
Flashmag: Leila Toukourou Flashmag and its readership thank you.
Video excerpts : Obaswimwear collection
Interview by Hubert Marlin Elingui Jr.
Journalist - Writer