With the rise of more and more black women breaking away from traditional 9-5s to become their own bosses, the CEO is getting a revamp as the SHEeo. In the Meet The SHEeo series, we talk to melanated mavens leveling up and glowing up, all while redefining what it means to be a boss.
During a trip to Nigeria, Chioma and Uchenna Ngwudo were inspired by the beautiful, handmade garments and accessories in the marketplaces and brought a piece of Africa back home to the states. Seeing that there was a demand for the authentic pieces, the sisters launched Cee Cee's Closet NYC — a go-to destination for fashionable women who love to add meaningful color to their looks with a pop of West African prints. Despite some challenges along the way, the brand continues to grow in popularity and expand its reach through digital marketing and social media, while having a positive economic impact on Nigeria.
Meet Chioma and Uchenna Ngwudo.
Courtesy of Chioma and Uchenna Ngwudo
Title: CEOs of Cee Cee's Closet
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Year Founded: 2015
# of Employees: 7
30-Second Pitch: Cee Cee's Closet NYC is the go-to destination for fashionable women who love to add meaningful color to their looks with a pop of print. Our brand is both a celebration of black women and an economic engine for opportunity in Nigeria.
What inspired you to start your brand?
I always wanted to build a business but I didn't know what kind of business I wanted to build for quite some time. The idea for Cee Cee's Closet came to me during a trip to Nigeria four years ago. At that point, I hadn't been to Nigeria for almost 10 years and everything felt new and distant. I realized that even though I knew better, I still harbored a lot of the negative views of Africa often propagated in Western media. That trip reopened my eyes to the beauty of Nigeria and I wanted a vehicle to share that beauty with others. When I found these gorgeous handmade clutches in a market, I was immediately struck by the craftsmanship. They were the perfect gift for myself and my sister and just the accessory I needed to spice up my graduation party look. At the party, they were a hit. My friends kept asking me where they could get a bag like mine and the idea for Cee Cee's Closet NYC was born.
"Even though I knew better, I still harbored a lot of the negative views of Africa often propagated in Western media. That trip reopened my eyes to the beauty of Nigeria and I wanted a vehicle to share that beauty with others."
What was your a-ha moment that brought your idea into reality?
The a-ha moment that transformed Cee Cee's Closet from an idea to reality was when my friends were willing to pay me money for gorgeous pieces I brought back from Nigeria. I didn't have to push it on them, they actively asked me about them. When I made back my $500 investment in a couple of days, then I knew that Cee Cee's Closet could be a business.
Who is your ideal customer?
Our ideal customer is a fashionable 20-40 something who loves adding statement pieces to their wardrobe.
What makes your business different?
This is a question we have to ask ourselves time and time again to ensure that we're creating products and imagery that is relevant to our customer base. Our approach to African prints is creating pieces that are attention-grabbing but fit seamlessly into your closet. We decided to expand into clothing because the market seemed to be divided between expensive extravagant dresses and cheap Chinese-made ready-to-wear pieces. We wanted to give the fashionable woman an alternative that was well-priced and perfect for everyday wear and special occasions.
"We wanted to give the fashionable woman an alternative that was well-priced and perfect for everyday wear and special occasions."
What obstacles did you have to overcome while launching and growing your brand? How were you able to overcome them?
When we first launched our website, I was definitely naive and thought that we would get sales right away. It's hard to get any sales when you have 10 visitors a day (5 of those visits being our mom). So we had to learn how to create content and collaborations that led to traffic and sales while also building consumer trust. One of the key ways we did that was through doing pop-ups around New York City. The pop-ups allowed us to show that we were a real online store (and not a scam), have customers engage with the products and share that engagement with our audience, get our very much-needed first sales, build our mailing list, and generate traffic to our site that led to follow-on sales.
What was the defining moment in your entrepreneurial journey?
I don't think I've had a defining moment in my entrepreneurial journey yet. I'm still learning and growing on a daily basis and I wouldn't consider myself fully formed as an entrepreneur yet.
Where do you see your company in 5-10 years? (The ultimate goal?)
In 5-10 years, I see Cee Cee's Closet NYC as a full closet. A place where you can get fashionable pieces to work into every aspect of your life, from the clothes you wear to the decorative pieces in your home.
Where have you seen the biggest return on investment? (i.e. marketing, ads, vending, social media)
I would say that all of those marketing tools are more of an ecosystem that works together rather than individual actors. We have customers that first encounter us on social media, but they don't purchase until they see us in person and vice versa. For us, our social media has been a big driver of brand awareness, but vending and ads, have played a crucial role in increasing our revenue and driving additional sales after customers encounter us on social media. Even with return customers, you have to constantly remind them about your brand, your story, and your value add.
"For us, our social media has been a big driver of brand awareness, but vending and ads, have played a crucial role in increasing our revenue and driving additional sales after customers encounter us on social media."
Do you have a mentor? If so, who?
We haven't had any formal mentors but we're constantly learning from other entrepreneurs around us. We've been incredibly lucky to meet so many other amazing female entrepreneurs who have taken the time to share their experience with us and give much-needed guidance. In the very beginning, before we knew any other entrepreneurs, we learned numerous lessons from podcasts like Dreams In Drive and Side Hustle Pro and by using Google of course.
Biggest lesson you’ve learned in business?
One of the biggest lessons I've learned is that the only way to fail is to give up. We've faced countless challenges while building our business (some a lot scarier than others), but our reaction to each one has been to pivot, try something new and ask plenty of questions. So far, it's worked out very well for us.
For more of Chioma, Ugenna, and Cee Cee's Closet, follow them on social @ceeceesclosetnyc.
This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
Russell and Nina Westbrook are one of those low-key, unproblematic couples we don’t talk about enough. They met in college and got married in 2015. They also have a beautiful family with three kids. While Russell is an NBA star, Nina is a licensed family and marriage therapist and a mental health advocate.
She recently launched the podcast The Relationship Chronicles with Nina Westbrook, and in the latest episode, she had none other than her husband on as a guest. The college sweethearts dived into important topics from marriage to children and how they navigate it all.
One of the topics they touched on was dealing with resentment in your relationship. The former MVP highlighted the sacrifices his wife has had to make in order for him to pursue a career in the NBA, and that’s why it’s also important for him to support his wife whenever he can.
“For me is respecting and understanding what your partner do and the time it takes,” Russell said. “Not kind of downplaying what they do, understanding the time and energy and effort they're doing to make sure whether it’s their job or making sure home is taken care of, and understanding that, I think that is the challenge of not being resentful.”
Nina agreed and also shared her thoughts on resentment. According to her, one of the best things couples should do is have their own identity and passions outside of the relationship in an effort to be fulfilled.
“I also think that when you’re in a relationship, that’s why it’s so important that each individual kinda pursue their own passions and follow their own dreams as I feel like it only becomes or leads to resentment when one person is not feeling fulfilled in what they're doing in their lives,” she explained.
“And so, they will start to look at the other partner who’s happy or excelling or promoting or moving along in their journey, then they’re left feeling stuck like they sacrificed themselves, their happiness, their career, their future and have not pursued it in the name of the relationship or their partner. So, it’s so much easier to avoid those feelings of resentment when you’re each equally pursuing your passions.”
The couple has many passions that they work on together and separately. Outside of basketball and his family, Russell has become known for his eclectic style and started the fashion brand Honor The Gift. Nina has her podcast, and she also started the mental health website Bene. Together, they run the Why Not? Foundation, which works with kids in underserved communities.
“I’m a firm believer that one person can’t be everything to you, so you have to sort of seek out those different friendships or groups or hobbies or activities that help to fulfill you,” Nina concluded.
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Feature image by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images for Religion of Sports