At seven, Kemi Ogunsanwo received her first journal -a battered, faux leather empty book, but she felt a surge of excitement at the prospect of filling its untouched space with her thoughts, feelings, and an overactive imagination. Twenty years later, she’s filled the pages of over thirty diaries, countless notebooks filling those journals with dreams, beautiful images of her travels and the quiet times spent with God.
Ogunsanwo is an English Literature & Philosophy graduate who obtained a postgraduate degree in Publishing at University College London, she worked in media and marketing for three and a half years. Fast forward to today, Ogunsanwo has founded the African-inspired stationery brand Gazelle London. The colourful, bold African-inspired prints of journals, notebooks and organisers come in various styles stemming from her experience through travels across the African continent. Every Gazelle London piece comes packaged with touching handwritten notes and intermittent quotes. It’s unique recently caught the eye of fashion brand, TOPSHOP.
UK editor, Rachel Ogbu catches up with the business mogul to speak more about the future of her empire.
Question: When did you establish your brand?
Kemi Ogunsanwo: Wow, it’s shocking to think that Gazelle London has only been around for nine short months! I launched the brand the day after my birthday. It was a leap of faith and I was extremely nervous, but it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.
Q: When did you decide this is what you wanted to do?
K.O: I think God decided for me to be honest. Gazelle London was not a carefully thought-out business plan. It was a pretty organic process and so natural in its development that I cannot even pinpoint the exact moment I decided to go ahead and turn it into a fully-fledged business.
However, what I do know is that I have always loved journaling. It has enabled me to find clarity in times of confusion and given me a safe place to chronicle my dreams (and expectations for the future) without being judged. I just wanted to share the value of journaling with others.
Q: Can you list some exciting milestones in your life?
K.O: The most exciting part of being blessed enough to be a part of Gazelle London, is the feedback I receive from the people who purchase from the store. It is a milestone every time I get an email from a customer telling me how much one of the products from the collection has inspired the way she lives, or brought joy to the person she purchased a journal for or thanked me for even starting the brand at all. I could have never imagined how kind people would be – their emails, messages and overall love encourage me every day; and will always be my biggest milestone.
Q: How do you feel about all the recognition you’ve received?
K.O: It’s early days yet! But I remain grateful for the love and support, and just hope to get the opportunity to continue to feed into the lives of others in any way that I can.
Q: What do people not know about you and what you do?
K.O: There is probably a lot people do not about me haha! I guess people may not have guessed from my friendly disposition that I am a BIG introvert. I used to be extremely shy, but have learnt to push myself through that barrier so that I can live a truly fulfilled life.
Q: What is the best career advice you’ve ever received…
K.O: I went on holiday with a friend to Greece a few years ago, and happened to get stuck alone (awkward!) in a sauna with a lovely older gent, who just happened to be the founder of the betting store chain, William Hill. I had an old battered journal with me at the time, and he asked me what I was writing about. I told him I wanted to start a business one day when I had the guts to do so. The advice he gave me was this. “Just do it.” He went on to say, that many people miss out on a greater future because of fear of the unknown. And he was right! It all sounds so simple, but I am so glad that I decided to ‘just do it!’
Q: Have you ever had moments when you wanted to quit?
K.O: I have had days when I did not know how I would maintain Gazelle London; as cash flow is a huge challenge in any new business. However, my driving force has never been money. I felt I had a greater purpose with Gazelle London, and it was that purpose which continues to pull me through, even when times are difficult. There will undoubtedly be times when I want to quit, but I hope to reflect on the reason why I started the brand in the first place will get me through.
Q: Which living person do you most admire, and why?
K.O: I admire every woman who is living the kind of life she dreams of, and not being limited by societal expectations of how or what she should be. So I admire a lot of women!
Q: What’s your advice to young people trying to weather the economic hardship?
K.O: Stay encouraged and have faith. When I graduated from university the job prospects looked pretty bleak but I took every opportunity to gain experience (paid or unpaid), and I utilised the gift of networking. It opened doors that had been closed and created a job where there was none. However, I do think young people are living in their truth and pushing boundaries at the moment. If they can’t find a job, they make a job. Millennials are doing some amazing things and are demonstrating a creative flair that big brands are chasing after.
Q: Please give us a tip on how to remain successful
K.O: I think I am still learning myself! I would say, however, have faith and work hard.
Q: What record do you plan to break next?
K.O: Your guess is as good as mine 😊