MsAfropolitan Boutique interview series – Rayo Balogun, founder of Lela

The mission of the MsAfropolitan Boutique is to showcase and offer a handpicked range of products made by African Diaspora women on a rotating basis. Visit us here.
As part of my journey to achieving this goal, I’ve met many inspiring women whose stories I want to share with you in an interview series features which you can follow here.

I’m a member of the Twenty Ten club, a networking group for black female entrepreneurs. Rayo Balogun too is part of this members club, and it was there that we met recently.

I was really excited to find about the Lela bagpacks, which Rayo and her husband started producing after discovering that there was a lack of products targeting little brown girls like their daughter, and was thrilled when Rayo accepted my offer to sell it in the boutique.

Rayo is exceptionally passionate about her product, and it’s easy to see why. This bagpack is something every little brown girl should be carrying her nursery materials in, it’s very uplifting and inspiring for little girls.

I can’t wait to see the product line expand.

Could you describe Lela in one or two sentences?

Lela is a unique and inspirational brand, providing character merchandise aimed at girls of African and Caribbean descent. Lela loves to be creative and express herself in everything she does. She is confident and enthusiastic and loves all things pink and sparkly.
Could you share an exciting development currently taking place for Lela?

We are going to be in Paris on Saturday 4th December 2010 for THE SECOND BLACK DOLLS SHOW. This will also be a great opportunity to do some research as we have begun working on the first Lela doll which we are extremely excited about. We have many exciting new products on the way and just as you can see in the adorable Lela backpack, we are passionate about creating the perfect designs for your very special little girl.
What does the term Afropolitan mean to you?

To share, embrace and celebrate African culture and diversity.

If you could pick one known African woman, Diaspora and continent, that you think is inspiring, who would that be and why?

Adenike Ogunlesi is a very inspirational woman. She is the founder of Ruff ‘N’ Tumble, a childrens clothing line in Nigeria.

From a tiny shop with her and her mother as the main staff, Adenike turned Ruff ‘n’ Tumble into an instantly recognizable brand. She has built a reputation for being one of the best manufacturers of children’s clothing in Nigeria. She started in 1996 selling from the back of her car. To promote the brand she took all her kids, put them in all the clothes and took pictures. It was the first time anybody had ever marketed children’s clothes like that. Not a clip out of a foreign magazine but actually using Nigerian children. The response was incredible, people actually wanting ‘made in Nigeria’ Garments.

I admire her not just for noticing a gaping hole in the market but for her drive and determination to do something about it. Today Ruff ‘N’ Tumble is a thriving business with 50 employees and distribution along the West African coast.

Is there any particular element from Nigerian culture that you maintain in London?

This would have to be the Yoruba language. It is very important to me that I am able to speak and understand my native language. I am proud to have been able to maintain fluency in my mother tongue particularly as I have never lived in Nigeria.

Do you have a favourite post on the MsAfropolitan blog, and why?

My favourite post on the MsAfropolitan blog is ‘A tribute to the black hair conversation’ which highlights the complex relationship between black woman and their hair.

I find this post particularly interesting because I am currently transitioning from relaxed hair to natural hair. I’ve been relaxing my hair all my life and have found it to be damaging to my hair and scalp.

The joy of braiding my daughter’s hair has been the main influence of me setting off on my journey to natural hair. My daughter has the most beautiful, thick, healthy and natural black hair. When I look at my daughter’s hair, I think back to when I was a child and my mother would style my hair in afro puffs very much like the Lela character brand icon. My mother would always tell me what beautiful hair I had and looking back I loved having my natural hair braided, as it was a wonderful way to bond with my mother. Now I am blessed to bond with my daughter the way my mother and I did.

Our hair is something to be celebrated and it’s always great to be able to share your experiences and similarities with other like minded people. We should talk more about our hair and be encouraged to discuss the impact it has on our everyday lives.
What inspired the name for your business?

The name Lela is of Swahili origin, meaning black beauty. We chose the name Lela because of its strong meaning which helps to promote a positive self-image. It’s an inspirational name for an inspirational brand.

Lela says, “You are beautiful”

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  • Octavia

    I love the Lela brand. I just wish Lela had been around when I was little.

    Rayo’s drive to nurture positive self image via the creation of a role model for little girls that celebrates Black beauty is just wonderful. I just bought a Lela bag for my daughter and I can’t wait to see the new product range.

    Rayo, you should feel very proud indeed.

  • chic therapy

    Loves it.I only came across the Lela backpack yesterday on the MsAfropolitan store and I tweeted and facebook’d about it too.Love the idea.More grease to your elbow Rayo

  • Dee O.

    Great interview! It inspires me to no end seeing all these outstanding African women building businesses and following their passions, it makes me want to do more as well!

    That GOOD GOOD Blog