How A Few First Ladies Used Their Narrow Role For Big Influence

MIZIZI eventually started out of a inspiring friendship between me and my Kenyan friend, George.  George was one of my first good friends in Florida, because although he was straight from Nairobi, Kenya, he too was alone, halfway across the world in a completely new environment with no friends or loved ones around. Something I noticed about him is that he would always come into Fresh Foods at our university, with the flyest gear on. It was literally everything we wore over here in the states, but with Kenyan fabric stitched into the design. This friendship awakened my inner creative businessman and it wasn’t long before we were getting together and mapping out all the clothing we could cross reference over in the US. I was confident in our niche market and I was confident in my selling influence in Dallas.  I realized that the world was still unaware of the giant bubble of 1st/2nd generation-African creatives out there, many of them creating extremely innovative and dope products. Nonetheless, I knew our product would be perfect for this market.

As the idea grew, George and I decided to begin exploring options for a clothing label name.  We wrote down a list of words that were related to Africa in some shape or form and translated each into George’s native tongue, Swahili. By the time we got down to the “Roots” translation and discovered “MIZIZI,”  we knew we had to look no further. After that I began strategically researching U.S. manufacturing partners who could create a wide range of clothing products, from popular hats all the way down to socks. The catch was that it needed to allow me to work remotely.  I wanted the entire process, from product design, to manufacturing, to logistics and distribution, to be a hands off experience since I had no idea where my journey was heading. However, by the end of that freshman year, I decided I wanted to leave USF and return home so I could take some time off and figure out what I wanted to do. Prior to leaving, George and I agreed that I would have to be the one to bring MIZIZI to life, since he was too occupied by his other endeavors.  If it was one thing I’ve learnt about Africans straight from the continent, is that they can be really lucrative, ESPECIALLY when they’re serious people, and George wasn’t an exception. With George’s blessing, I went back to Texas and began to grow MIZIZI into what you see today. Once freshman year ended, I took what savings I had and flew myself to New York to meet with a potential manufacturer in hopes of seeing where the relationship would go. Unfortunately, the relationship was short lived and the manufacturer discouraged me from starting MIZIZI, claiming it was too big of an idea which would require his factory to acquire more staff.  I kept going, but this time I directed my attention toward the fabric district. I went to different fabric shops to see what their African fabric was like; cheap. I visited a few more manufacturers to see if they could do at least 1 or 2 of the concepts; expensive. I remember that moment clearly. I felt defeated on the subway as I rode towards my homie R’el’s place in Harlem.  I kept thinking about how far back my dreams were being pushed after having invested so much already. I had to ask myself, “Am trying to do too much at once? If in fact I was doing too much, how could I downsize this? What was the 1 product that still had the highest probability of actually selling?” I figured that at the time, baseball jerseys were the current trend and every retailer had their own version of one. I decided, alright cool, lets run with the Africa Baseball Jersey then.

During this time I was still in Plano, Texas living with my mother and working two jobs that changed the course of my life.  They changed my life because they taught me how important mental health and foresight are and how your environment can impact that.  Firstly, I was a server at a sports bar, sometimes working 14+ hour shifts while managing a lively social life after work. Then, I was also a pharmacist technician at a local drugstore, which was a job that drained the life out of me.  I found that going from the lively and conversational environment of the sports bar to the stressful and slow environment in which I was essentially doing the pharmacists jobs outside of signing documents, was really messing with me. I remember spending nights outside of my garage with my big brother Anthony questioning my direction. At this time I was going to school for pharmacy so I was questioning my future decisions too.  I couldn’t do it. So it gave my MIZIZI idea fuel to grow.

As my ideas continued to grow, I realized that I needed a new location, a new change of pace, and some new soil to plant my idea.So it was really during those 3-4 months back at home made me start taking the idea of MIZIZI more seriously, cause I really had no idea what I was about to do with my life. I decided to go back to school in Tampa and couch surf until I figured everything out. I started on my friend Shai’s couch and eventually ended up at my homie Cj’s apartment.  I want you take a moment to imagine this: 9 college guys in a 4 bedroom apartment with 2 dogs, 2 sugar gliders, and an angry cat that hissed at everyone because the owner never fed it. I would literally go to sleep fully-clothed every night, not letting a single piece of skin touch that sticky black leather couch. There were days I would instantly rise up mad, simply because of whatever smell I was waking up to. Now imagine how that affected the relations I had with people.  The few relationships I had around me out there were literally crumbling. All of my grades were slipping. And to make a long story short I was falling into depression. In hindsight, I realize this time in my life was about me learning the hard way how necessary it was to just to be able have your own space, your own room; where you just don’t want to deal with the whirlwind of the world and be to yourself for the sake of your own peace. It was rough, it really was. What little money my mom could send me at the time was now being spent on decideding whether I could further develop MIZIZI’s designs or if I should eat that day.I couldn’t give up.  Through a bit of online searching I was able to find a new manufacturer in California who really helped me flesh the first real MIZIZI designs out at a premium price. I was getting closer, but things weren’t getting better.  After a semester of Life just knocking me out, uppercut after uppercut, I found myself packed and flying down ’75, in my little beat up car, headed to Orlando to get the hell out of Tampa for the summer.

I had a good friend named Zane who I grew up with back in the day in Dallas.  Lucky for me he was currently attending the University of Central Florida. That friendship turned out to be a saving grace because I needed to be around someone I could be myself around, be vulnerable with.  I had some friends like that in Tampa, but there’s something about time that ages a friendship in a different kind of way. Zane and I had history. All and all we spent that summer drinking a bunch of rum, doing odd jobs for money, and honestly just keeping hope alive. I accepted the fact that it would just be too expensive for me to manufacture the jerseys by myself. And what was once originally an Africa Baseball Jersey had now developed into a full “Starting Lineup” collection, complete with Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. By now I had a 50 page business plan explaining why the countries were chosen based on their market size within the states, where their populations were located in the states, and which influencers in their communities were gaining inventory and followers.  And coincidentally, there was an African Dad trend catching on social media where everyone would impersonate the typical West African father archetype and I was already just seeing the rise of the Afropolitan being highlighted and how it was gaining traction within pop culture. I had a dope idea, during the perfect time, with the know-how to sell it, but no funds to make it happen. Tragic.Nevertheless, I started reaching out to all the African streetwear brands throughout the world to see if anybody was interested in my idea. After all the time I put into it, I aspired to at least get paid royalties and teach someone else how to sell it.  This in itself would have been a win for me. I inquired around the states, throughout Canada, with associates in London/Europe and finally throughout the rest of the world. Since there was not a true industry leader for African Streetwear, these local designers and small / medium sized businesses didn’t have the resources or desire to bring MIZIZI to life. It’s safe to say this was my rock bottom moment. Imagine working so hard on a project and trying to find every solution possible to make it happen and each door getting shut one after another. I was at my lowest of lows and I was desperate.  Despite the sting of rejection, I was able to make close connections with some of the businesses and individuals I inquired with. To this day, I am eternally thankful for the roles that they each individually played in my life and what I learned about myself through that adversity. With that being said, I had one more tree that I hadn’t barked up and I had just enough energy to make the move.My friend, Zane, suggested that I speak with his roommate’s step brother, who was the cofounder of an exclusive event hosting company for celebrities in Miami.  Unbeknownst to many, this company also created customized jerseys for select celebrities as well. With this in mind, I used it as my approach strategy. I was literally on the phone saying “Yo, I know this isn’t your core competency but if you could please just give me chance man, I know it’ll be worth adding to your business.” What do you think he said?  No, of course. I was starting to get too used to rejections, but this one came with a silver lining.  He was extremely hesitant to pick up MIZIZI, but he advised that I check overseas instead to find an affordable manufacturer and directed me towards a website I could receive a quote.  In the past, I had always been hesitant with doing business overseas simply because if something went wrong, I had no idea how I would get my money back. Still, once I checked a few different platforms, received a few different quotes, it wasn’t long before I realized that starting MIZIZI would only be a 1/3rd of the price than it would have been using any of my previous manufacturer.  Boom. Within 2 weeks time I received my first sample and it was already 10x the quality of the LA manufacturer for a fraction of the cost. I WAS SOLD! I called all the homies in Texas to let them know I needed their help for the next stage of MIZIZI’s development. Finally, I was getting the traction I had been praying for. I ordered a small sample order to use for the photoshoot and flew back home to Dallas to finally get things in motion.

Once I had the content, I built the website myself, registered MIZIZI as a DBA and opened up my first bank business bank account. Throughout this process, my mom saw my dedication towards MIZIZI and I was finally able to convince her to officially be my angel investor, which required her to sell the last of her stocks and invest a total sum of $6000 to finally get MIZIZI off the ground. $4500 was used for production and manufacturing and the remaining $1500 for marketing and any additional unforeseen expenses. On of August 30th, 2015 I strategically texted every person in my phone based off their nationality and asked if they could retweet/tag or share MIZIZI with anybody that they knew who was from that country. They said yes. And on that day at 6pm EST, with the help of family, friends, and God, MIZIZI went viral.  All the Ghana baseball jerseys were sold out in the first 13 minutes, all of Naija jerseys within the first hour, all of the Ethiopia jerseys by the 3rd hour, and then the remaining jerseys sold overnight.

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