The week of November 14 is Global Entrepreneurship Week, an annual week of events to celebrate and empower entrepreneurs in every country and community around the world.
There’s no age limit to when you can become an entrepreneur. Being a student today doesn’t mean you can’t start your future as an entrepreneur tomorrow. In fact, being in a school environment with built-in networks and opportunities to talk to experts in various fields might just be the best place for you to start.
The following interview was originally published in Authority magazine and shares the story of two entrepreneurs who have found their niche in today’s fashion world.
Meet the inventors: Archyn Orijin of ORIJIN CULTURE on how to go from idea to launch (an interview with Tyler Gallagher)
Born in the United States of Africa, as he says it, Archyn Orijin is a London-born, Philadelphia-based Ghanaian designer who is passionate about connecting all African descendants through his label, ORIJIN CULTURE. Over 15 years ago, Archyn’s passion inspired him to create a magazine by the same name. This publication evolved into the fashion and lifestyle brand that continues to connect with the culture today. ORIJIN CULTURE intentionally celebrates Africa’s vibrance, the diversity of The Diaspora, and The Culture’s influence globally.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you.
Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Well, I was born in London to two great Ghanaian parents who migrated to the UK and eventually we would all move back to Ghana — that’s where I was raised until I was ready for college. I moved to the US without my parents to attend school at Temple University in Philadelphia. Philly embraced me so well that I say I am “Philly-bred.” Being exposed to all three places, I call them all home because they have brought me far and made me who I am today.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Ouu!! I have more than one. But this one hits me hard. So, while growing up in Ghana, I had come home with some bad grades, I mean the type of grades that would get you grounded for years (no TV, no GameBoy, yeah I grew up in the Sega Genesis and GameBoy era haha) and my father never said anything to me until the day I had to go back to school. He sat me down and gave me the shortest speech ever. He said, “Archyn, listen here, when I was in school I was not the first in the class but I was determined. Now, look at me and ask me where the first person of the class is today…” I understood what he meant from his achievements as an entrepreneur. That taught me a lesson that everything is possible if you put your heart into it. Be determined to persevere and never consider yourself incapable.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I used to get anxiety seeing volumes of pages, but this book called BLACKBOY by Richard Wright got me reading my first novel — not because I chose to read it but because it was required for me to read for a college class. And guess what? It is still the only book I’ve read from A to Z, but I learned so much from it that defines me as a Black man to this day. I really love that book.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion.
What was the catalyst that inspired you to invent your product? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
Well, approximately 10 years before I even envisioned the signature Africa bag that I invented, Orijin Culture started as a magazine in 2005 with a mission to connect African descendants together and release content to debunk the stereotypes we had amongst each other; creating more love and understanding in differences of cultures. I was inspired to do this because I noticed that global media kept feeding us content to separate us, though we had so much in common. I was honored to launch the magazine at WEB Dubois’s house in Ghana. That was monumental for me as I had read so much about him at Temple University.
For 10 years, I would find myself using my paycheck to fund the magazine because I had developed such a huge community that depended on content from us. I just could not fold Orijin Culture up (as a magazine then). The Ah Ha moment actually came as a result of me thinking of ways to sustain the outlet, and that is when I had “THE DREAM” that changed it all. I dreamt of a woman carrying Africa on her back and walking down an aisle with people on the left and right, all looking at her. Kind of like how a bride walks in and everyone gazes at her in amazement. I woke up and said “ah ha, this is what I’m supposed to do.” I started working on the design of an Africa-shaped bag and began developing a prototype.
There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time.
But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
You know what? That credit I give to my Mother and Father as I saw them begin a lot of crazy ideas like building a power plant, starting an environmental agency, etc. I had a front seat in witnessing my family bring ideas into fruition — some did well, others did not, but nothing ever stopped them from trying again. They were always ready to face the challenges ahead. So naturally, I developed that same mentality to challenge myself to bring ideas into reality and never give up.
While growing up around them, I guess their spirit seeped in my veins too, haha. But that says a lot, especially when we talk about family and the impact parents have on their kids, right?
For me it’s quite simple — an idea remains 100% an idea if you just leave it as an idea, equating to zero business. If you believe in your idea and put 100% into bringing it to fruition, then you begin to develop a formula. You then start to think of how to sustain that formula as a business.
Oftentimes, when people think of a new idea, they may dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created? In this modern day of technology, information is everywhere on the internet. If I have an idea I go searching on google, even social media platforms with hashtags, etc, to see if it has been done. That is always my first place of research.
Did you have a role model or a person who inspired you to persevere despite the hardships involved in taking the risk of selling a new product?
I will not say I have had one role model, but many role models — and what I have learned from them was to tell your story rather than sell a product. Their products sold but their stories were told the most. I can speak of Oprah as one of the most powerful women in the world, who has many products under her name and also influences many more products worldwide. But what sells is the essence of who she is — her story and what she has achieved. She is powerful, that is what we would say. Her legacy will always be coined “Powerful woman“.
I can say the same about Bob Marley, whose music is a product that has trickled down from generations of great musicians deriving from his family. Same goes for Jay-Z, Beyonce, Kanye West, and many more. It’s their stories that continue to be told. And that’s what I put my focus on. Telling and sharing our story.
But I must give more credit to my mother who, in all challenges I had faced in life, believed in me to persevere. I only wish she was here to see it all.
For the benefit of our readers, can you share the story, and outline the steps that you went through, from when you thought of the idea, until it finally landed on the store shelves? In particular we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.
As you know, my idea was never thought of but rather revealed in a dream. But as much as we all dream, if we don’t work to bring those dreams to reality, they will remain a dream. The moment this dream was revealed to me, I woke up the next morning and started drawing a design of the Africa-shaped bag on paper while sitting in bed. Afterward, I designed it on the computer to have a better visual.
During the stage of developing the prototype, more questions and solutions came to mind such as: how can this bag be more functional, especially with its unique shape? I designed it in a way to fit most items we carry, such as iPads, passports, phones, wallets, keys, etc. and made it compact and easy to grab items inside, especially keys.
Later on, I decided to even have an inbuilt wallet for money and credit cards. Next, the most exciting part was figuring out how to design a strap that could flip the bag from a shoulder bag to a backpack.
After five years in the making, I completed the prototype. Once completed, I made about 15 or 20 bags to bring with me to the US. I decided to be bold and wear one on the plane. While boarding Delta, a flight attendant walked up to me while I put my hand luggage in the overhead cabin and asked, “Excuse me, where did you get that bag from?” I turned to her with a smile and told her I was the designer of the bag. With the look of “wow” on her face, she demanded business cards for her and all the other flight attendants saying everyone wanted this bag. Before I could sit down, another person asked for a card too. Then, the woman on my side also asked for a card. I ended up giving away about 7 cards during that moment and another ten from the traffic I caused in the line behind me. I must say, it was a good feeling or should I say a “you can breathe easy kind of feeling,” knowing all was going to be fine. Shortly after, carrying more hope, I would launch the Africa bag and sell out in less than a week. As demand grew, I manufactured more bags and sold out of the second batch as well.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In the beginning, I had the idea of manufacturing all the bags in Ghana with skilled artisans I had brought to the team. But when we started selling, real challenges set in. First, there was a scarcity of leather. All of a sudden, it seemed as if we couldn’t find leather to meet the demand and for what we did find, there was no consistency in the colors. So imagine, customers who had ordered camel brown based on the photos on the site would be getting a coffee brown — and oh my god, I could not let that happen. This caused a production time delay during an early period of high demand. We had so many customers on a preorder waiting list, to the point that I had sleepless nights. So I pulled the plug on the waiting list and the bags remained sold out until everyone who pre-ordered received their item.
As I began solving many problems for our customers, I realized another big problem. Leather sourcing! All of a sudden it was a challenge to find leather, plus additional time to treat it. As I began to problem solve, I wondered why it was hard to find leather, only to realize that leather, which obviously is the skin of the cow, has been part of our meal.
So in order to get a good quality leather, that needed a whole infrastructure from the abattoir to meat processing and packaging, to skin preserved for leather. This, of course, was not something I was in position to have, so I had to look into countries that were known for quality leather processing and manufacturing so that we can provide our customers with long-lasting, premium leather and quality manufacturing.
The early stages must have been challenging. Are you able to identify a “tipping point” after making your invention, when you started to see success?
Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
I think us moving into the fashion world alone was challenging, especially in defining our presence. However, the tipping point was when we started to invest more in telling our story rather than simply selling. That’s what gravitated many to us and elevated our brand — where many do feel part of the story and are expressing pride in style. The takeaway for me was that the authenticity was not only in the quality of the product but the authentic story which creates an identity of which many can relate — to inspire, to empower, to love.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Invented My Product” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- I wish someone told me to “Follow Your Dream”. If I knew how many people we would impact worldwide, I would have hurried and not slowed down like I did thinking it was a bad idea when many were laughing in the beginning.
- I wish someone told me that I would literally be working 24/7 with no sleep and no true vacation. I would have had a blast at my 9–5 before transitioning. Ask any entrepreneur in the space — they would tell you the same. I envy the 9–5ers, but I also appreciate this gift to be in the position to be able to pick my kids up from school and hang out with them. That’s something I do not take for granted.
- I wish someone told me that wele (a name we use for cowhide in Ghana) was leather, and that I needed what I was enjoying in my meals in order to achieve my biggest goal, a whole governmental infrastructure would have to be built from the abattoir to the leather manufacturing process.
- I wish someone could have told me all the things I would learn along the way from the importance of tech packs, patents and trademarking in the design stage, to manufacturing, and everything we do now in marketing and advertising as all came with a cost. But I count myself lucky to have learned to push this brand forward.
- Finally, I wish someone told me that one day, Authority Magazine would be interviewing me about my journey :)
Read more of this interview on Authority magazine: https://medium.com/authority-magazine/meet-the-inventors-archyn-orijin-of-orijin-culture-on-how-to-go-from-idea-to-launch-a78437d06071