She is back! Alyssa Stiles, who created Stiles in Style in college but is now graduated and back with a new venture, Kofi & Ivory!
Can you tell us again who are you? & a little about yourself?
I am a recent graduate from Indiana University with a degree in Apparel Merchandising and Business. With an affinity for giving back and enthusiasm for new adventures, I spent the summer volunteering in Accra, Ghana, West Africa. During my time there, I lived at a shelter while I taught single mothers sewing and taught a third grade class. After returning back home to New Jersey , I began creating the brand kofi & IVORY along with working freelance with a celebrity stylist. This past fall I produced two New York Fashion Week shows for celebrity designers Jessie James Decker and Angela Simson.
Give us an update. What is new for you since we last heard from you?
Although Stiles in Style was a success with selling over 450 handmade college clothes through my instagram and in a few boutiques, since I spent my second semester of junior year in Florence, Italy, I couldn’t continue the brand. So, over the past two and a half years I’ve since graduated from Indiana University, loving and enjoying the best four years at the best school!
What exactly is Kofi & IVORY?
Kofi & IVORY is an ethical handbag company that partners with a talented community of artisans located in Accra, Ghana. Our partnership provides artisans access to an international export market, driving economic growth within their community. We focus on the people, their craft, and honoring West African culture. Each design combines Western influence with Eastern technique and tradition. Our artisans work with raffia and genuine leather indigenous to Ghana, to design handbags as unique as the hands who created them. We value hard work and the people behind our brand by paying more than fair wages along with donating 10% of each purchases’ proceeds to the Dream Africa Care shelter. Our mission is to create unique treasures that will positively impact lives on a global scale.
What inspired you to start Kofi & IVORY?
Returning home from Ghana, I not only gained a new perspective and appreciation, but a suitcase filled with beautifully made artisan handbags. Although I had spent months volunteering ,I didn’t feel as I contributed in the way I had hoped. While volunteering is wonderful, I learned and saw what really would benefit the Ghanaian community. Nearly one third of the population lives on less than $1.25 USD a day. With the artisan sector being the second largest employer of the developing world, being apart of changing that statistic became my mission.
While in Ghana, I had built friendships with local Ghanaians. So, with my entrepreneurial spirit and background in fashion, I had reached out to my friend, throwing out the idea of starting a handbag company together, where we sourced and produced in Ghana and sold here in the US. He was even more excited about the idea than I was. So, here we are…
How did you come up with the name?
I had really struggled with finding a name I loved and felt represented the brand. So, after weeks of going back and forth, I decided on Kofi, pronounced “coffee”, & IVORY. The first question I get asked when I tell someone about the brand is, Ivory and Africa? But that’s the point. I want to get people thinking and create curiosity. Both coffee and ivory are two exploited exports from African countries. So, the irony behind kofi & IVORY is we are doing just the opposite-the whole focus of the brand is on to benefit the Ghanaian people. Also, how we, in the United States and in other countries, have a zodiac sign based on the time frame we are born, Ghanaians do something similar called a Day Name, which they include like we do with our middle name. The Day Name they are given varies based on their tribal language but it corresponds to the day of the week they were born, their gender, and to their birth order. Their names are believed to give meaning concerning the soul and character of the person, kind of like our zodiac signs. Kofi is the name given to the oldest boy born on a Friday. During my name spent in Ghana, I had really bonded with a seventeen year old boy named Kofi.
You give back a portion of your proceeds, can you tell us about that?
While there are so many fashion companies that solely focus on making the most amount of money at the quickest speed, kofi & IVORY focuses on benefitting the Ghanaian community as a whole. So, 10% of the proceeds are donated to the shelter I had volunteered at. The donation goes towards helping the 59 children with health care, education, and food costs.
Is there a favorite product?
Right now, my two go to are the Nicole Crossbody and Cam Shoulder Bag. The best selling, Nicole Crossbody is perfect for going out- it’s just the right size for a small wallet, phone, and a lipstick. For my personal style, I wear a lot of neutral colors so I’m obsessed with the star cowhide detailing . For everyday, I use the Cam Shoulder Bag. I throw my laptop, water bottle, and whatever else. I’m excited to transition the bag into my go to beach bag.
What is your favorite part about running Kofi & IVORY?
I love collaborating with the artisans to design the handbags! We constantly go back and forth with pictures, facetimes, and texts through WhatsApp.
What is your least favorite part about running Kofi & IVORY?
No paid vacation…
How do you spread the word about your company?
As of right now, most of the marketing is through social media, creating new content, keeping up with Instagram posts, and working with influencers. But I am SUPER excited about a few collaborations with other brands that I am working on! Stay tune!
Do you have any advice for fellow entrepreneurs?
While there are a million reasons to not go for it, there are a million and one reasons to go for it. While it’s so great to have the support of friends and family, you have to believe in yourself and your product/brand.
Do you have a favorite quote or go to saying? ☺
Traveling the world one McDonald’s french fry at a time.. sadly, only Burger King in Ghana as of right now though.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Fast Fashion. While it’s so hard to stay away from it, and I’m guilty of shopping it to, it’s so important to be a caring, educated consumer. Think about why your T-shirt is only $12.00… who made it and at what cost, in what conditions? While we are thousands of miles from India and China, you have a social responsibility. When you buy from a company you are saying you support their ethics and practices.