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Empowerful Incubator

BIPOC owned businesses face so many more barriers to success than their white owned counterparts. That's why in 2020 Free Label initiated a $5000 Bursary and Mentorship program aimed at supporting a Black and/or Indigenous identifying entrepreneur to develop their brand. applied for the program and learning about their amazing businesses. At the end of the day, we could only pick one person to receive the bursary and mentorship, but every applicant brought so much passion and talent to the table. So we stayed in touch, would meet virtually to chat about work, and even teamed up to host a virtual marketplace together.

Over the course of the year, our little group of BIPOC entrepreneurs blossomed into a supportive and special community. So in 2021 we decided to make it official and introduced the EMPOWERFUL INCUBATOR, an incubator program for BIPOC entrepreneurs that offers community, quarterly educational virtual events, and opportunities to apply for private funding. To learn more, click here

With the next round of funding coming up, we caught up with some of this year's participants to see what they've been up to :) 

Meet Ogechukwu Ajibe of Oge Ajibe

"OgeAjibe is a clothing line made with ethical production, sustainability and inclusivity in mind. We pride ourselves on being able to provide our clients with comfort and confidence. We hope you love it."

What has your journey with the empowerful incubator looked like

My journey with the Empowerful Incubator was an amazing experience. After winning the Free Label Empowerful Incubator in 2020, I was mentored by Jess and was able to rebrand my entire business to reflect what I really wanted to show. This helped to promote my business and push it into the direction I never saw it going. I initially started as a custom made apparel business, but later I was able to transform and focus more on everyday wear with an inclusive sizing and using recycled fabrics as a focal point. The events and programmes throughout the year helped me with understanding different aspects of a business like marketing and accounting. The impact that this programme is pretty visible with the growth of my business and the position it is in now. 

Who has influenced you and your work? or your inspiration? or how do you find inspiration for new products?

Achieving comfort in one’s body while still being fashionable is the ethos of my brand. After graduating from Design School, I wanted to focus on slow fashion. And that meant whatever I created must cater to different seasons, different occasions and be comfortable. While I can’t name a brand or designer as an inspiration, I can say that everyday people are those who drive me to create these pieces. My brand studio space has a window that faces a busy street and just observing the people outside allows me to understand the needs of the people and what they like on their existing apparel. 

What inspired the start your company?

I started sewing because as a plus size woman myself, I was not able to find clothes that suited me or had anything fun. Either stores never sized up a lot or they always designed shapeless clothes. I grew up surrounded by colourful Vlisco fabrics in Nigeria and the lack of patterns showed me a lack in the market. Being able to introduce something fun while still being a slow fashion business with ethically sourced fabrics was how OgeAjibe came into existence. I was able to focus more on my brand development in 2020 after becoming a part of the Incubator and with Jess’ constant mentorship. 

 Describe your brand in 3 words


My fabrics are sourced from deadstock rolls, thrift stores, recycle centres and from mills that focus on sustainable textiles. 

My products are sewn by myself and independent units in the lower mainland and are made to order.

My garments range from XS to 6XL. I really want to uplift sizes that are underrepresented in the industry. 

How would you describe your style? 

I love colours and I love patterns. The more the better. While the silhouette I want to wear depends on my mood, I do love gathers, ruffles and large puffy sleeves (a mainstay in my label). I love playing with the opportunity to have multiple looks from one garment. So they can either be worn in many different ways or can be styled in different ways depending on the weather. 

Meet Emefa Kuadey of Israella Kobla 

Launched in 2019 by British born Ghanaian designer Emefa Kuadey, this  contemporary clothing and accessories brand redefines minimalism through structure and bold femininity. 

What has your journey with the empowerful incubator looked like

I was part of the first cohort in 2020, and it has been a great way to get to know other businesses and business owners who were also part of it. I've also enjoyed the workshops that I've attended to help in different aspects of running a business. Getting to know Jess has been amazing too - her openness and willingness to be a resource has been invaluable

Who has influenced you and your work? or your inspiration? or how do you find inspiration for new products?

A big influence for me is my background in engineering. When you see our pieces you can see the elements of structure and precision that I try to incorporate. Whenever a design comes to mind, I try and sketch it on paper or any paper-like substance [lol] that's available to me. Because of this, I have a catalog of designs that I refer back to when conceptualizing new collections - most times they get heavily edited, but it serves as a jumping off point for me

What inspired the start your company?

I had an unshakeable desire to create clothing that didn't follow trends and could be worn for years to come. Ultimately, I'd like to develop a fashion ecosystem in Ghana - there'll be a training academy, and a manufacturing facility, in addition to ISRAELLA KOBLA.My fashion brand is one of the foundational elements to meeting this overarching goal.

 Describe your brand in 3 words

Bold, feminine, minimal

How would you describe your style? 

My personal style is minimal with a subtle edge

Meet Carly Fung of Sunday Catalogue

"Sunday Catalogue started out as a personal desire to make things for myself.  Soon after it became a space to create for friends, friends of friends, and the like.

Today it's a collection of pieces thoughtfully designed for everyday. things that feel special - you know, the ones you want to keep wearing over and over again."

What has your journey with the empowerful incubator looked like

It has been great to connect with other entrepreneurs who are also growing their businesses. It's comforting to be able to share your highs and lows with other people who understand what you're going through. I've also enjoyed the Empowerful Incubator Speaker Series, where we get to chat and learn from industry experts. We also have the opportunity to apply for funding to help grow certain areas of our business, which is something I really appreciate. 

Who has influenced you and your work? or your inspiration? or how do you find inspiration for new products?

I'm inspired by the idea of slowing things down. The name sunday catalogue was inspired by memories of seeing my mom flip through Sears catalogues back in the day. I love the idea of finding something you love, ordering it, and then patiently waiting for its arrival. We've become so accustomed to everything being instantaneous that I want to consciously slow things down. 

I take my time when designing new pieces because I never want to make something just for the sake of making something. I hope that my pieces feel special but are also pieces you want to wear everyday. Good things take time and I hope that each piece can be a gentle reminder to slow things down. 

What inspired the start your company?

Ever since I was a child, I loved clothing and getting dressed up. I fell in love with sewing when I was in high school. From there, I pursued a Bachelor's Degree in Fashion Design and have been working in the industry ever since. During the pandemic, I started sewing for fun again and it sparked something in me. I really wanted to contribute to a more sustainable and ethical fashion industry, and it seemed like the perfect time to start that journey.

 Describe your brand in 3 words

Feminine. Intentional. Ethical.

How would you describe your style? 

In general, I would describe my style as feminine and relaxed. I like to look and feel "put together" but in a comfortable and effortless way. I love neutral tones with pops up colour, gold jewelry and a good pair of shoes. I love that personal style has the ability to make you feel your best and evolve as you do. 

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