Wittenborg alumnus and writer Anesca Smith recently started her own clothing brand We Be Sisters which sells hand-made, African-inspired clothes for women.
Anesca, how did you get started with your clothing brand?
"I have always adored beautiful, well-cut clothes and discovered many great brands when I worked in London, but never dreamed that I would start my own clothing line. It was only this year when I went back home to South Africa – where women dress in beautiful, bold African-inspired clothes – that I realized I wanted to bring some of that magic back to Europe.
"Also, the information revolution we are experiencing – including social media – empowers individuals like me to start a web shop with a small budget and limited risk. Finally, Dutch people are very entrepreneurially minded and that is so inspiring."
Where does the name come from?
"I was raised by a matriarchy comprised of my mother, aunts and cousins, and always felt immensely supported by women. I wanted the name – which is derived from a poem by Lucille Clifton – to reflect that. Also, I think all women are beautiful and I want them to feel beautiful in the clothes I make. "
Who is your target market?
"Women who are not afraid to stand-out! It was also important for me to make clothes that cater for curvy women, who are often ignored by mainstream fashion, so the sizes range from a 38 – 50 (EU)."
How did you end up in the Netherlands?
"I worked for years as a political reporter, then as a foreign correspondent in London, but felt more and more defined by my job, so I wanted to make a change and decided to study in the Netherlands. I met my husband about a month after I arrived here and that was that."
Why did you decide to study at Wittenborg?
"They have six entrée dates per year! That meant I could start in February 2013, instead of having to wait until September that year like with most universities."
What did you study?
"IBA in Hospitality Management. That sounds weird now, I know, but I trained as a chef before coming to the Netherlands and seriously considered restaurant ownership as a career. The great thing about the programmes at Wittenborg, however, is that they offer a broad business bachelor's degree, which I found very helpful in starting a business."
You worked many years as a political journalist. Biggest career moments?
"Journalists take it for granted that they meet so-called VIPs all the time, so I’m always a bit taken aback when people are fascinated by the fact that I’ve interviewed people like Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama and Angela Merkel. From a journalist’s point of view, big career moments are almost always when you expose a wrong: corrupt politicians, dubious business practices, leaders sexually harassing women – that kind of thing."
Any advice for people just starting their own businesses?
"Look up from your phone, get out there and network your little hearts out. Having an online presence is important but it is not everything. Most of my clients at this young stage of my business come from people I have a personal connection with or have met at an event. If possible, also find a mentor – someone who is really interested in seeing you succeed. Finally, don’t spend too much energy on negative people – women are sometimes so thrown by that. To quote Rihanna: ‘The haters gonna hate.’"
by James Wittenborg