Many people discovered their entrepreneurial spirit when the pandemic hit in 2020. While many people lost their jobs and had to deal with the ill effects of the coronavirus, some took this opportunity to focus on a passion that smoldered inside. Melissa Kiguwa happened to be one of them.
Last summer, when the world was reeling from COVID-19, Kiguwa launched Obanj. The brand allows users to borrow high-end jewelry through a monthly subscription program. Members can choose one of two membership plans ($49/month or $99/month) and can select up to three pieces from a wide variety of luxury jewelry. Members can also trade as many coins as they want.
Kiguwa got its start in the entertainment industry. The entrepreneur worked as a journalist before becoming an executive assistant. She used her experience to take on a position as a general manager and used her “love for the luxury life and style” to build a successful business.
BLACK CORPORATE spoke with Kiguwa about her brand and how she became a successful entrepreneur.
What is the concept for Obanj, and how were you able to bring it to life?
Obánj is a sustainable luxury jewelry rental platform for the new majority. Members can rent jewelry from high-end designers like Dior, YSL, Chanel, Hermés, and more. with a monthly subscription. They can also buy parts at discounted prices.
We launched in the summer of 2021. I’m still blown away that we launched a tech startup in the middle of a pandemic. Our team is incredibly ambitious, eager and passionate about building a brand that makes our members feel seen.
You have followed an interesting path to entrepreneurship. What made you go from journalist to executive assistant to app owner?
Well, there have been a few pivots and turns on this journey. I worked as a television and radio journalist and I had the opportunity to travel the world for this. My travels were confrontational – on the one hand, it was like being in the school of the world, and I felt incredibly excited about learning about different cultures and perspectives. But, I was constantly confronted with the impact of our consumption habits in the West on the rest of the world in very real and tangible ways.
Fast forward to years later when I tried to transition into a film/television career in Hollywood. I’ve worked as an executive assistant for celebrity producers, and while I have some exciting stories from that time, back then I really struggled to make sense of my conscience and my desire to “live life”. Fashion accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions, and jewelry production in particular involves devastating human and environmental issues related to mining, gemstone extraction, gemstone cutting and toxic waste.
Obánj merges my conscience with my love for luxury living and style. I may not be in TV or movies anymore, but my love for storytelling pervades the brand.
Which characteristic is most important when it comes to entrepreneurship and why?
We are currently fundraising for our business, attracting investors who believe in the business opportunity of what we do. It has been a landmark journey – less than 2% of all venture capital has gone to female entrepreneurs; 0.64% to black foundresses.
Our company is backed by venture capital and we are building something that is sustainable and dynamic.
In order to adapt to the changes and challenges that inevitably arise when trying to build something, I think it’s important to keep learning and to surround yourself with people who believe in both the mission and the vision. of your business – and of people who believe in you, the entrepreneur.
I also believe that resilience, work ethic and focus will take you where talent and intellect cannot.
How do you expect your brand to saturate the market? Do you have entrepreneurial aspirations in other areas?
Through unparalleled storytelling, strategic partnerships with luxury brands and jewelers, and collaborations with cultural leaders, we have a solid foundation to build something dynamic and game-changing.
We have a huge opportunity to expand into the Latin and Asian markets because our strength is in understanding the unmet consumer needs of cultural groups with high purchasing power.
Obanj’s future is bright and our vision is brighter. We will become a model that can be replicated for women of color or what I call the new majority. Demographics in the United States are changing rapidly and brands that are not culturally appropriate will be left behind.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to start a business from scratch?
The journey will challenge you in ways you didn’t even know were possible. Focus, redouble your efforts on what works and keep going.