The Social Fabric of Elisamama
Los Angeles-based Elisamama, named after founder Fisayo Che’s only daughter, empowers nigerian artisans with jobs while creating beautiful and practical clothing for women and kids.
© Bablo Visuals
Tell us a little about yourself:
I’m a busy mom of three whose weekly highlights are attending my kids’ sporting activities and spending time with family and friends. While I was born in Europe and have called the US home for the last two decades, my familial roots are in Nigeria, making that culture an important part of
my life. I have a graduate degree in health management and a decade-long corporate career in project management at a Fortune 500 top 10 organization, which I balance alongside my work with Elisamama.
What was it like growing up in Nigeria?
While I’ve had a relatively geographically diverse life, Nigeria has always been the anchor of my upbringing. I had a typical middle-class life in Nigeria, growing up in the shadows of my parents, who modeled and taught me the value of hard work, commitment, humility, and charity. Our home had a revolving door of family members and sometimes strangers that came to live with us. My parents valued and made it their life’s mission to give people the foundation they needed to make a life for themselves through education or vocational training. Witnessing this growing up planted the seeds that decades later set me on the path to establishing Elisamama.
© Fisayo Che
How did you come up with the idea for Elisamama?
It came from my experience as a busy mom committed to finding practical fashion solutions to support the many hats mothers wear. After having children, my body changed, life became busier, and I needed clothing that not only looked good but also served a deeper purpose. Over time, I realized I was not alone in this; other mothers like me desired clothing that was uplifting and provided the comfort and function needed to take on all that life demanded.
About that same time, I took a trip to Nigeria and had the opportunity to connect with women artisans who struggled to earn enough income to take care of their families. I wanted to empower them with jobs and build up the mothers there with joyful, one-of-a-kind, functional clothing.
How does your daughter inspire you in your business and your life?
The birth of my only daughter, Elisa, was the turning point that awakened the desire to live a more meaningful and impactful life. It is no wonder my business was named after the moniker we fondly called her, Elisamama. She served as the primary inspiration for a lot of the designs we produced in our early years. She was the ultimate muse and quick to share her opinion, and she boldly vetted every product we made. The gusto and self-assuredness in her little five-year-old self also encourage me to live boldly and present the most authentic version of myself.
What has entrepreneurship taught you?
Becoming an entrepreneur has been the greatest transformational experience of my life. For most of my life, I had been largely self-reliant and tried my hardest to never put myself in the position of needing help. Entrepreneurship has completely flipped that—it has humbled me and taught me the power and value of community. The relationships I have formed in this journey have poured so much into me and made the proverb “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together” ring very true to me. Entrepreneurship has empowered me to speak up and never be afraid or hindered by the word no.
© Fisayo Che
What is your relationship to fashion?
My relationship with fashion has always been rooted in its utility. In the case of Elisamama, the primary driver was my personal desire to give back to Nigeria, and fashion happened to be the most viable pathway to allow me to do that. Now, as I’ve grown Elisamama, my love for fashion has grown. I enjoy pushing the boundaries of style aesthetics and utility. It also excites me to see our customers feel joyful when wearing our clothing.
How did you select your team members?
We have fifteen team members on staff. When selecting team members, balancing skill sets and financial needs was something I had to contend with. In the early days of Elisamama, I brought on seamstresses whose stories deeply moved me, but their work was not up to par with the quality we required to provide value to our customers. At a certain point, I had to make the difficult decision to let them go. From that point on, I realized that the business’s success is actually what makes it possible to fulfill my passion for making an impact. We now have objective metrics in place that guide our hiring decisions to ensure that we do not allow my social goals to compromise the business.
What type of clothing is Elisamama known for? Who designs the clothing?
Elisamama is known for vibrant yet functional women’s and kids’ clothing using African-inspired prints. Our clothes are made with the modern mother in mind. We provide pieces that both look good and provide function and can transition across body types and activities. Our clothes are catchy and certain to garner you a ton of compliments. While I currently design all our clothes, our fabrics are a mix of those locally sourced in Lagos markets and custom-made prints using the tie-dye/batik process.
Will you talk about the process of getting your clothing into stores?
To be honest, most of our significant retail partnerships and key opportunities have come from the relationships we have built. The power of a supportive community is unparalleled—the people you know will be the ones to bring you into spaces and open doors.
What was the first retailer to partner with you?
It was a small shop in Laguna Beach: Cleo. This was about a year in, and it meant a lot to see our clothes in a physical space. Saks Fifth Avenue was the first major retailer to partner with us; it was truly a surreal experience that still very much feels like a dream!
What do you wish more people understood about Nigeria?
The truth is, the common stereotype presented of Nigerians is generally not positive, but even more problematic, it is grossly incomplete. One of my goals through this work is to add more to the Nigerian narrative beyond what is conventionally shared. I am eager to showcase the full realm of Nigerians, highlighting our strength, character, resilience, heart, and work ethic. I am committed to telling our stories and showcasing our ingenuity, creativity, and optimism regardless of circumstance.
As challenging as life in Nigeria can be, the joy, pride, and confidence Nigerians have is unparalleled. It is often said that Nigerians are the happiest people in the world. I have no empirical evidence to back that claim up, but Nigerians are indeed incredibly optimistic and proud people. In addition, I am eager to show that Nigeria is a place where products suited for a global audience can be produced.
What do you hope for your business in the future?
I want every Elisamama team member to have their basic needs fully met and also have enough financial security to build their lives and future. I hope to continue to extend the Elisamama presence through major fashion retailers as well as local and international specialty stores.
While our products are currently our main offering, Nigeria offers another untapped resource, which is service. As the most populated nation in Africa, we have people who are willing to work and are simply looking for the opportunity. I hope to give people work by offering clothing production and manufacturing services to other fashion brands.
All in all, my hope is for Elisamama to be a vessel for good in the lives we directly touch and in the joy we provide for those who experience our products.
For more info, visit elisamama.com