In a Northeastern University dorm overlooking the Boston city skyline, two students began what seemed to be a fun side project while finishing up their undergraduate studies. However, they didn’t think their small idea would take off in such a positive way.
Africa is usually looked at as one of the poorest continents in the world. Although there are some bad parts in Africa a lot of young Africans have learned to be innovative with the resources they have. This craftiness and creativity allows young African entrepreneurs to come up with interesting businesses and concepts that can often times be inspired by their surroundings.
Martin Kimani, a senior, Engineer major, who grew up in Kenya, and Binja Basiminke, a junior, pre med major, who grew up in both Kenya, as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo were both able to bring their cultural backgrounds into their newly formed T-shirt line as well as other African cultures.
It all started with a small idea revisited and a dull spring break that put it into action. Kimani had brought up the idea of a T-shirt line to Basimike a year prior but it wasn’t until it became a reality later on when he conjured up a few designs and later collaborated with Basimike for more design ideas. Both wanted to focus on the progress in Africa as well as the past. That idea came to life as Basimike and Kimani brainstormed some ideas of the different shirts they wanted to create. Basimike who has lived in multiple parts of Africa and speaks a few different languages, which was the jumping point for their T-shirts
Ushagz seemed to be an appropriate name for the T-shirt company, due to the fact that it is a term that mostly young Africans use and the pair had the idea to relate to their younger audience with a catchy name. Ushagz, which is a Swahili slang term for the “rural areas,” became the name of the line because to most it would represent something less modern but to Kimani and Basimike its where they draw a lot of their inspiration. With their quirky shirts that use African humor as well as different languages spoken throughout the continent they are able to use their shirts as both an educational tool as well as an interesting way to meet new people. They wanted to create cultural awareness about Africa by creating conversation pieces.
“We want to help people become more culturally aware,” said Basimike. “I know a lot of people hear of Africa and they think they are hungry, they are dying, there’s so many wars going on, but there’s actually so much more then what the stereotypic idea is”
Kimani, who always found it interesting that people wore paraphernalia from other states brought that idea into the T-shirt line he co-created.
“I’ve always had that idea in the background to represent Africa so what happened was I sat down and came up with a few designs,” Kimani said
“What’s different about us is one of the things that’s in our goal and our mission statement,” said Basimike. “We want our t-shirts to carry a message with it and so the message that most of our T-shirts have is Africa is diverse, Africa has so many aspects to it and we have so much to offer to the world.”
To get their company off the ground they didn’t just start any old website to promote their new brand they hit the social media full force with blogging, Twitter, and Facebook.
“Right now websites and social media is the way to be out there,” Kimani said. “You’re able to reach more people and that’s what helped us a lot.”
However the purpose of the T-shirt line was not to gain a profit, although making a profit is great plus to the company, they plan on giving a large majority of that profit away to countries in Africa that may be in need.
“Our goal as young African entrepreneurs is for us to bring Africa to the world,” Basimike said. “We want to do this through the clothes that we make.”
Whether its something as small as helping one family eat for the month or as big as giving the money towards building a school, the pair have big dreams to better their home continent.
“You can have an idea to vote for where you want your money to go to whether it’s a grassroots organization in Congo or it be in Uganda so we have that type of interaction with the costumer” Kimani said.
Young African entrepreneurs Kimani and Bakimike can be found all throughout the campus at Northeastern University. Mirna Shampemba, a sophmore business major at Northeastern hopes to one day work in Africa as a corporate lawyer and contribute to her home country of Democratic Republic of Congo.
“I just wanted to be able to help my country in some way and business was always something that I have been interested in, said Shampemba.
Shampemba, who has been living in Finland with her family before coming to Northeastern University, has also lived in the Democratic Republic of Congo feels the importance of giving back to where you came from and through her education would like to do so. Although she is not yet an entrepreneur Shampemba does have big plans to bring new ideas to her country.
Coming from a family of euntrepenuers Shampemnba has the experience in creating businesses and running them in her home country. This business background has inspired Shampemba to use her future Northeastern degree for the betterment of her home country.
“We know how important it is to develop and evolve the countries,” Shempemba said. “My dad has had many opportunities to work abroad but he has always taken positions in Africa.”
Africa has been churning out a lot of different kinds of entrepreneurs who have been working at breaking the stereotypes that people have about Africa. As it moves forward into the future we should be looking to Africa to see the newest development in culture and make the idea of Africa with all the negative connotations that appear along with it.
Whether it starts out in a dorm in the middle of Northeastern University or a corporate office in South Africa, African entrepreneurs are setting the precedence all over the world in order to benefit Africa in the long run.