Beyond Representation is an exciting event championing women of colour who are breaking new ground in Irish media, arts, and business.

Hosted by broadcasters Ola Majekodunmi and Zainab Boladale on Sept 14th in Dublin's Huckletree, the sold-out affair aims to act as a platform, to highlight and connect for women of colour across various industries.

Ahead of the event, we caught up with Beyond Representation panelists Liswa and China - the two women behind Umoja Production.

Q1 Tell us the background of Umoja Production – what is it and how did it start?
Umoja Production is an Afro-centric Fashion Brand founded nearly three years ago by the both of us; Liswa and China. Umoja is the Swahili word for Unity. We are a collective of African inspired designers from around the world, whose aim is to share and promote African culture and art through a diverse range of products ranging from different clothing items and accessories.

Q2 Who are your audience and how has your business grown since you began?
We started Umoja Production while we were still students at the National University of Ireland Galway thus, naturally, we chose to target the student populace. We soon came to realize that although students will try out new designs and trends, they are not the best money spenders mainly because they simply don't have the money to spend which is why, over the last few months, we have been working on catering our new collection to the "young working professional".

Initially, Umoja started with one designer, but we have seen exponential growth in the past two years. Growing our family one talented designer at a time. The business has grown on an international scale with designers from Togo, South Africa, Nigeria and other African countries.

We have grown so much that now we are ready to have our first big fashion event in Lagos, Nigeria. A lot of planning has gone into it, and an amazing team has been built. The Event is called Ugozi Fashion Fest and we look forward to seeing you all there next summer. Until then be sure to follow the new Instagram page @ugozifashionfest.

Q3. What is the aim of your business?
One of our main goals as a brand is to normalize, not just African print, but African art and fashion. Africa is such a diverse continent, full of rich culture and vibrant styles.

One of the most fascinating things about African print is how much it differs from one region to the next. Although these designers all originate from the one motherland, we always find it astonishing that they can produce such diverse and distinct pieces.

We want to share this with the world and make it part of everyday fashion. 

Q4. What have the biggest learnings of the business been?
The biggest learning of running this business has been realising that you are only as big as you make yourself out to be.

The higher the goals you set, the greater your achievements. Approach that big designer, approach that counsellor, approach that photographer, approach that company, people are always open to collaborate with young driven, entrepreneurs.

Stop procrastinating out of fear and just do it. Talk yourself up always. You are your biggest competition.

Q5. What have the biggest roadblocks been?
Funding and support! These are the biggest roadblocks we’ve faced. The initial investment is no joke and finding like-minded people and convincing people to invest in your vision can be challenging.

By investments we don’t just mean financial investment, it could be time, office space, photographers, etc. You must have a strong belief in your vision and goals, and a crystal clear mission in other to influence people and gain their support you.

Q6. Do you think more support could be offered to female entrepreneurs/women of
colour in start-ups?

Being a woman in any field will always come with its own challenges let alone being a woman of colour. More support is always needed. Simply put, we are all guilty of sticking to what we know. 

We don’t tend to like change or lean towards something unless it’s proactively initiated. So, rather than always shopping at the same brands try something new. Try a new brand, a small brand you’ve recently heard of (hint hint Umoja Production), you might be surprised and fall in love with how broad your fashion sense will get.

Q7 What does an event like Beyond Representation does to help?
Events such as Beyond Representation highlight the phenomenal work that amazing people are doing. They provide a space for incredible individuals to congregate and share their experiences and ideas.

People leave feeling even more inspired and motivated. It’s also another way of promoting ourselves and our work and reaching out to a broader audience.

We think Beyond Representation is a wonderful initiative. We are honoured to be part of it and excited to watch it grow.