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.