Bukky from Nigeria, creative director of Bellafricana
Bukky Bello, from Nigeria, studied biochemistry at the University of Westminster in London – but it was the skills she gained in research, problem-solving and critical thinking that really helped in her career.
Bukky is now the founder and creative director of Bellafricana, which specialises in clothes, gifts and interior design made from African textiles, and she’s working to promote Nigerian crafts around the world.
Find out how she made it all happen...
Was your future career a big part of your decision to study in the UK?
'Yes, studying at the University of Westminster was an essential decision in my career. I knew the quality and standard of education in the UK would be an advantage for my future. It exposed me to a whole new world, adapting to different people and environments, which was a driving force in my aim to excel.
'I wanted to gain as much exposure and get the best university experience I could get, which is why I chose the UK. My parents were also convinced that schooling in the UK would be a great thing for me.'
Enjoying student life: Bukky, right, with friends in the UK (Photo ©Bukky Bello)
What was the most important thing you learned?
'I studied Biochemistry and to be honest, I didn’t really enjoy the subject, but it sure did prepare me for the working world and becoming an entrepreneur! My course taught me to always do research, to be constructive and deep in my thinking.
'I also gained skills like presentation skills, organisation skills, problem-solving skills and many more that all add up to my current success. Regardless of the course I studied, my university was sure to train us on the required skills to be prepared for working life.'
Did you do any work experience or internships while you were studying?
'Yes, I got volunteering experience teaching high school students science and maths for six weeks during my 2nd year at university, through the Associates in Schools Scheme (a programme run by the University of Westminster’s Career Development Centre).
'My advice for other students? I think you should try to seize as many opportunities as possible that come your way. Don’t spend all your time partying, but try and do things that you enjoy doing. Always try to find something worth adding to your CV over the summer – try and invest in yourself!'
Tell us all about your company, Bellafricana!
'I started Bellafricana out of passion, drive and commitment to make a difference. I wanted to be innovative while creating what my target market wants, as well as creating more jobs and using local creative talent in Nigeria.
'Bellafricana means "beautiful Africa". My father used to call me "Bella", meaning "beautiful" in Italian, and "Africana" is Latin for "African".
'Our aim is to promote the beauty of Africa through handmade gift items, corporate promotional items, souvenirs, interior decoration and office and casual wear. We use African materials such as ankara (a type of patterned cotton fabric), aso oke (woven cloth), adire (indigo dyed cloth) and many more.
'I also have a blog about all things happening in Africa! Check it out here.'
What made you want to start your own business?
'I moved back to Nigeria after my studies, in 2012. Moving back home opened my eyes to all sorts of opportunities and it made me realise there was so much that could be done to make my country a better place. I fell exceptionally in love with African textiles, and I remember how much I wanted to flaunt my African attire whilst in London.
'From a young age, I always had a passion for creativity, especially when it came to beautifying a space with interior decorations. Seeing a large population of Nigerians every weekend elegantly dressed in African textile made me appreciate it so much, and also made me feel there was something missing: that African textile could be used for some other items aside from the popular ceremonial dress, popularly called "aso-ebi".
'So I got thinking and started doing some market research, and soon realised I was right – we can use it for so many things, from gift items to interior decoration. Then through a sense of urgency, I started to experiment with my creative ideas and that was how everything started.'
What are your ambitions for the future?
'My long-term vision is to express the beauty of Africa through the uniqueness of our products around the whole world, and eventually be the biggest e-vendor (through our online shop, www.bellafricana.com), delivering African textile products all over the world! Currently, we often have to outsource some jobs when it gets really busy, so my short-term vision is to do our manufacturing in-house, which will also enable us to create jobs for the local community.'
If you could give one piece of advice to students who want to start their own company, what would it be?
'My main piece of advice is that if you have an idea, don’t hesitate to write it down, do a very detailed market research and feasibility study, and ensure that the market wants what you want to do.
'Some people say you cannot do anything without having money, but a wise man once told me that you don’t need to have a product before you can sell a product – start with research and see where it takes you. Another key thing is to ensure you have passion, drive and commitment to whatever you want to do, from the start.'