Celebrating Newcomer Businesses in Saint John: Kaima Designs

Christine Eruokwo, owner, Kaima Designs

Finding a gap and having a passion to fill it is where many great business ventures begin.

In 2014, Christine Eruokwu arrived in Saint John in pursuit of receiving her MBA from UNBSJ. She majored in Entrepreneurship and Technology and after completing the program was convinced the only way to test her business knowledge and make her new degree relevant was to start her own business.

“I spotted a gap in the African fashion space and decided to launch Kaima Designs, an
afro-centric brand to cater to the needs of a growing African community and ethnic enthusiasts in the city,” she explains.

Christine sees beauty as being bold, unique, and adventurous – which are all characteristics she pours into Kaima Designs.

She expresses how beauty comes in all colours, shapes, and sizes. So why shouldn’t fashion?

“Based on my personal experiences growing up in Africa, I was convinced that a business that will harness the transformative power of fashion towards solving social problems was the right choice.”

One of the main objectives of Kaima Designs is to promote African culture and lifestyle through fashion. As a brand, Kaima Designs is investing in the education of young girls in West Africa and women-focused Canadian charities. Fashion Power, an annual charity fashion show was initiated to further this objective, while fundraising for a good cause.

“Fashion Power 2019, which was held in partnership with the YMCA of Greater Saint John was our most successful achievement to date,” Christine says. “This event was a testament to the value of collaboration, with progressive partners such as Port City Productions, Elegance by Bridget décor and Lmodels Canada (previously NWH Modelling)”.   

She shares how today many Canadians and other non-Africans are more receptive to afro-centric fashion pieces.

“This brings so much joy to my heart knowing that Kaima Designs is instrumental to this heightened cultural appreciation. ”

The journey of building Kaima Designs to where it is today has not been easy. When Christine began the journey back in 2017, there was no access to government resources due to her immigration status. Resources were only open to permanent residents and Canadian citizens, but that didn’t stop her from following her dreams and putting her new MBA into practice.

“Armed with sheer determination and social capital, I plunged into deep waters and hoped for a life-line,” she says.

“Normand Hector of Normand Hector Global Modelling Management (NHGMM) was at the centre of that social capital. Additionally, the absence of existing local African fashion businesses added some levels of complexities to my market research.”

Though there have been many challenges and hurdles that Christine has had to face, she has also experienced positives, including some Maritime hospitality.

“Having supportive friends who are always there feels very empowering especially on days when everything chooses to go south,” she said. 

Above all, being able to work with her kids and husband on some major projects has made Christine’s entrepreneurial journey the most rewarding.

“My heart wells with pride every time I watch my youngest daughter sew her scrunchies on the sewing machine. That’s something I couldn’t do at her age (11).”

Christine’s advice to other entrepreneurs is to not rely solely on your passion and to test your ideas and explore available resources before you launch your business.

“Passion is great, but it is not enough,” she says. “If you are eligible, access government resources. Start a business with a purpose far greater than monetary reward. Purpose is the driving force that sustains momentum when passion wanes and money seems elusive.”

She encourages woman considering starting their own business to attend entrepreneurship programs such as Enterprising Women organized by the Saint John Loan Fund and/or Women in Business, NB. These free programs provide great toolkits to help kickstart your business venture.

The Cheta Hoodie Project Gives Back to Local and Global Community.

Like most businesses, Kaima Designs was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, by reinventing the business model to adapt to the changing needs of their clients, the Cheta hoodie was launched in January of 2021.

And this isn’t your regular hoodie. The Cheta hoodie and its symbolic ethnic designs, represent love for humanity and the environment (where packaging is 100% compostable). With every purchase of the hoodie, clients support the employment of Canadians living with disabilities while ensuring that a young girl in West Africa receives a school uniform.

“The feedback from clients has been very encouraging,” Christine says.

“Every time, I spot the hoodie on social media, I am reminded that I am not alone on this quest and this prompts me to intensify my efforts to appeal to more campaign supporters and brand ambassadors to help us attain the 1,000 uniform goal faster. With JCK Media & Design, our digital media partner driving this campaign, I am confident that we are on track.”

Learn more and purchase a Cheta Hoodie HERE.

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