Sisters Build a Business Celebrating Community
Entrepreneurs Chioma and Uchenna Ngwudo are sisters, recent college graduates, self-taught fashion designers and founders of Cee Cee’s Closet NYC. Their custom creations are handmade by artisans in the West African country of Nigeria. In 2017, Uchenna attended a Google Digital Skills Workshop in New York City hosted by Google Digital Coach Angelina Darrisaw. Uchenna was inspired to grow the sisters’ business using Accelerate with Google. We talked to them about their entrepreneurial journey.
What inspired you to become entrepreneurs?
Uchenna: I’m inspired by our father who worked so hard to establish a successful car service in New York City. Growing up, I watched him putting in 16 hour days– onboarding drivers and training them in quality customer service. Seeing him work so many hours every week inspired me to develop a strong work ethic of my own.
Chioma: I definitely think our dad played a big role – he has always run his own business. And our family has a long history of entrepreneurship. Our grandparents were entrepreneurs in Nigeria. Our grandfather on our father’s side ran an oil trucking company. That was how he supported his family and was able to send our dad to the U.S. Also, our mom’s mother had her own little shop in the town of Sapele, Nigeria.
How did you conceive of Cee Cee’s closet?
Uchenna: Chioma traveled to Nigeria in 2015, and she brought back some clutch purses. Those clutches were so popular that she came to me and said, "Hey, I think I'd like to start a business; Would you want to partner with me?".
I’m always eager to help her with whatever she wants to do, so I came on board and helped establish our website.
Chioma: We wanted to find a way to have a positive impact on everyday Nigerians, and we thought we could do that by starting Cee Cee’s Closet.
Uchenna: We branched off from selling clutches to designing and creating clutches of our own and then creating fine leather bags. And then, of course, the head wraps – which we are best known for.
Cee Cee’s closet seems very community-based.
Uchenna: We are really tied to two communities. We love New York, and it's an important part of Cee Cee’s Closet. We value being able to support members of our community by hiring them for photography, makeup artistry and modeling. We grew up in Brooklyn. I went to college here at Barnard College, and I studied economics. I actually just moved back to the same neighborhood where we grew up.
Chioma: Our accessories are handmade by Nigerian artisans. We have grown our business with them. The more products we sell, the more impact we can have on the people we work with.
Uchenna: It’s not only a celebration of our heritage - we also value Africa through a lens that’s just not typical of the western world. It’s not necessarily easy, but because it's something that we value, it’s something we have invested in. Having a positive economic impact is the one of the missions of our company.
Chioma: As we sell more products, we become a stable part of our tailors’ income, and they can make upgrades in their lives because they now have income that is not vulnerable to Nigeria’s economic cycles.
Uchenna: It's great to be able to change the lives of the people that we work with. Our tailors are now able to afford school fees for their children, and they can afford better means of transportation. One of our tailors was able to purchase a car, which is great, because as a woman she is able to travel safely.
How has Accelerate with Google been able to help?
Chioma: We wanted to find a way to reach more people and also find ways to engage with customers after they had gone to our website. It was Uchenna who got us started with Google AdWords.
Uchenna: I became aware of Google AdWords a couple of years ago, and when we started our business, I knew that it would be a tool I would need. I took a Digital Coaches Workshop, and I learned about AdWords Express, and I learned how to use Google Trends, and Google Analytics to see how people are searching for things.
I took the training with Angelina Darrisaw [Angelina Darrisaw is a Google Digital Coach in New York City]. She works with Google and has office hours specifically for entrepreneurs of color and female entrepreneurs to learn more about AdWords.
Chioma: After she did that program, I remember Uchenna said, “I’m really excited, we’re going to test ads!”
Uchenna: Yes, and I was able to use Google Analytics to see who is coming to our website and to check out bounce rates to see if the people coming to our website are able to find what they want.
To help decrease the bounce rate, I linked them to the product page or the collection page that was associated with the ad that they were interested in, rather than our homepage.
Chioma: By the end of last year we got over one million different clicks on our website, which is pretty exciting for us.
Uchenna: YouTube also provides a great platform for us. Video tutorials help us engage with people by teaching them how to create new styles with our headwraps. We also use Youtube to collaborate with influencers who provide unique styles and product reviews.
We want our customers to know that our accessories can fit seamlessly into their wardrobe and YouTube helps us spread that message.
How would you describe being an entrepreneur?
Chioma: One of the greatest challenges of being an entrepreneur is that you're doing a lot of things that you haven't done before, some things that you’re good at, and some things that you’re not good at - and you’re going to have to figure it out along the way.
Uchenna: Being an entrepreneur is a lot like drinking water out of a fire hydrant. The learning curve is steep and you often find yourself taking risks. However, I’ve learned to grapple with risk-taking with data analysis and A/B testing.
Data influences all our decisions, from which photos we use in our ads to which fabrics we stock. I’ve gotten comfortable with the idea that I don’t know everything, but experience has taught me that I have the tools to conduct proper research to figure things out.
Our largest group of supporters are African-American women between the ages of 25-34. Through our marketing and products, we're able to help affirm their beauty and pride in their heritage. The biggest reward of running a business is the happiness you can create for your customers.
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