Inspiring Startups: Rejoice Dogber…a typical example of talent at its best
The first time I met her, she was cladded in all-African fashion. She wore braided hair, earrings branded with African prints, a beaded necklace and bracelet, and a leather bag and shoe rebranded in African fabrics. For a moment, I felt she was a champion of Pan-Africanism. Ever since that day, I called her African woman. Then, out of curiosity, I asked her who decorated her in such a beautiful African fashion? She told me that everything I see on her, even the braided hair, were all “self-made”. That trickled my curiosity further to know more. Read as she shares her story with B&FTs Inspiring Start-up.
Rejoice Dogber is a final year student at the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) studying communication. She is a product of Our Lady of Providence Girls SHS in Kwasibourkrom, Brong Ahafo Region. From infancy she loved handiworks. She used to cut pieces of papers and cardboards to decorate her bedroom and the classroom during the famous ‘Our Day’ celebration at the end of each academic term. For her, it is a just “God-given” talent. She carried this talent with her through the years, mainly, viewing it as a source of pleasure. However, a national event in Ghana gave her a different direction.
The 2012 election brings business
Rejoice was in the senior high school during election 2012. Even though most of the students had not reached the legal age for voting, some of them were natural sympathisers of the two major political parties in Ghana—NDC and NPP. So Rejoice tried making a few beaded slippers designed with the colours of the two parties and some friends bought them. There, she realised she could commercialise what had always been a hobby. She made more of these slippers and the students bought them all.
After SHS, she went back home to Techiman where she used to help her mother sell in the market. There, she made beaded necklaces for herself and wore them. Regular customers who bought from her mother became attracted to them as well.
“When they come to buy from my mother and see me in the necklaces, they become attracted to them and ask where I bought them. When I tell them I make them myself, they request for some, and even others bought the ones I wore on my neck.”
After spending some time with her mother, she moved to Accra to continue her education at the Ghana Institute of Journalism. The hectic schedule of university education—going for lectures, tutorials, participating in group assignments, and other extra-curricular activities—did not douse her passion for handiworks. In fact, she even added more as she saw an enormous opportunity on campus.
She has adopted the name Daviela GH, a word in Dagbani which means: “it is well”.
Currently, she does fashion designing, hair braiding, leather works (belts, bags, earrings, etc.), and of course, the bead making. She also rebrands existing products like shoes, bags, phone and tablet covers, among others, with African fabrics to give them that African appeal.
Another innovative product she has introduced, which is one of its kind in Ghana, is a gift item crafted in way of a furniture that can be used as decorations for tables for executive offices, and living room ‘center tables’.
“My motive for introducing that product is to rival the various flower vases used to decorate tables in offices and rooms.”
To my surprise, Rejoice tells me she has never learned any of these trades professionally. They are all products of natural talent.
The foremost challenge, she says, is financial constraints. Being a student, she is limited with how much she can spend to expand the budding business. She relies on part of the money her parents give her for her upkeep to keep the business running.
Another challenge is perception people have about made in Ghana products.
“People cherish foreign products compared to what we do locally here. They often misjudge locally made products as inferior, even if it is of higher quality than imported ones. Sometimes, the mere fact it’s from Ghana is a problem for some. If the same product comes from outside Ghana, they will embrace it, and that is hurting the creative arts industry.”
It has also not been easy for her combining both school and work. Handiworks demand a lot of time to produce, and she has to juggle all these activities together with school work.
Again, she says, “people around you underestimate your talent. The fact that they are closer to you and see you every day makes it difficult for them to appreciate your work, and that is very hurting. They are the people you expect to rather encourage you and help you market the product, but they end up discouraging you.”
Through her innovative and creative works, Rejoice, in her first year on GIJ campus, won the Most Creative Entrepreneur for the maiden edition of the GIJ Entrepreneurial Awards held in 2015. And in 2016, she was nominated for the Student Entrepreneur of the Year for the Eminence Awards but narrowly missed the top slot.
How education has contributed
Even though her crafty works are not a product of any formal education, she believes education has played a very important role in her vocation.
“Education has helped me in the management of my business. As a communication student, I have learned how to communicate with customers and how to market my products. Even how to keep my books and manage money are among the things education has opened my mind to.
And I even plan to polish up my sewing skills with a fashion designing enterprise so that clients I sew for will trust that beyond the talent, I have a professional certificate to do this job.”
Even though she admits her business is a small brand now, she hopes to take it higher when she graduates from school. She wants her products to spread across the country and beyond in some few years to come.
Rejoice has no office nor mini factory for production, she still has a sense of social responsibility. Every academic year, she volunteers to train some of her colleagues free of charge. Last year, eleven students benefitted from the training and they have now started their own bead making business. Her motive for the training is to help them create their own jobs after school.
How government can help
Rejoice believes that government should intensify education on creative arts so that it becomes attractive to the youth.
“I think creative arts should not only be taught at the primary level. It should cut across all sectors of our education—from primary through to the tertiary level—so that people can appreciate it more than we are doing now.”
“I would first advise parents to encourage their kids when they show interest in creative arts. Some parents feel is a waste of time for their kids to focus on creative arts, and as a result, a lot of talent is buried. I was fortunate to have parents who gave me the chance to do it.
Again, young men and women who wants to start a business must not give attention to negative comments. Remember there are others who love what you are doing. So, focus on that and pursue your goals and you will succeed.”