We had the good fortune of connecting with Nyema Igwe and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Nyema, what role has risk played in your life or career?
There is no success without risk-taking– and that’s not an opinion. It is a fact. I thrive on taking risks because for me, it makes life exciting and its when I take risks, that I learn the most about myself and what I can accomplish. Nothing worth having has ever come from playing it safe and doing the same thing, time after time. If you truly believe in your vision, you have to be able to do whatever it takes to make it happen. And that means doing things you’ve never done, and sometimes, doing things that seem absolutely crazy. Personally, risk-taking is what led me to Pop of Culture. Back in 2017 I took a risk and started an online boutique called Asa Afrique. I participated in various popup shops and markets, which gave me the courage and the idea to start Pop of Culture. It’s risk-taking that led me to have the first popup in NYC, instead of Columbus, Ohio (where I lived) and because of that, Pop of Culture does popup shops is various cities across the U.S. Furthermore, it is risk-taking that led me to go home to Nigeria and do a Pop of Culture event in Lagos, Nigeria. Now, I am planning more events in Nigeria and making amazing connections.
To sum it up, risk-taking has led me to discover the greatness that has always been inside of me and has aligned me with amazing people and opportunities.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I like to describe myself as a serial entrepreneur, or better yet, a budding serial entrepreneur. What sets me apart from others is that I believe you can be anything you want to be, as many things as you want to be, and that opportunities are endless. I’m such an optimistic individual and I constantly have crazy ideas running through my head. I also strongly believe that I am destined to be great — someone that you read about, who is a leader across communities, and makes a huge impact. And to me, it is that unwavering belief in yourself and your vision that is the foundation of success. My journey to entrepreneurship was not an intentional one. Growing up, I never thought I was going to be a businesswoman. In college, I started off studying Pharmacy and then switched to exercise physiology, as I prepared to get my Doctorate in Physical Therapy. I got accepted into Howard University, but decided to not go.
My very first taste of entrepreneurship was in college, when me and my friend, Dixie, started an organization called Saving Our Gems. It was a non-profit that was supposed to help children in Nigeria and Ghana become well-rounded citizens through financial assistance and educational and community initiatives. I think going through that process of building something from the ground up turned something on inside me. This was circa 2013 or so, and since then, I’ve just been trying to find my way. After undergrad, I went to Nigeria for a year and did their National Youth Corps program and it was during that time that the idea of starting an online boutique came to me. When I returned to the U.S. late 2016, I began working on the idea of what would become Asa Afrique. I launched it in 2017, while working some boring job that I didn’t care about, but I needed money.
Asa Afrique was an online boutique that retailed African-made clothing and accessories. I was so excited, as this was my first real shot at business, and guess what? I completely flopped. Fast forward to 2019, after almost two years of ups and downs, lots of debt, and lots of mistakes, I ceased operations and transitioned to Pop of Culture. I made so many mistakes with Asa Afrique– such as failing to create a proper marketing strategy, not knowing my WHY, spending WAY too much on inventory instead of testing the market first, and not learning about my ideal consumer. The debt is still something I am paying for today and one thing I will tell ANY entrepreneur is please, please do not go into debt starting your business and DO not spend money on a lot of inventory when you start. Instead, produce a few samples, test the market, and see how people respond.
Even though Asa Afrique was a flop, it was through that experience that I transitioned into Pop of Culture. I used to participate in popup shops and markets and found that I really enjoyed them. I loved seeing other businesses and their products, talking to the brand owners and learning their stories, and seeing how customers responded to the different brands. I loved the experience so much that I wanted to see how I can re-create those types of experiences, but for Black entrepreneurs and creatives. And that is how Pop of Culture was born. The first popup was in Brooklyn, NY at an intimate store-front. It was a great first experience and from the feedback I received, I knew there was a demand for a brand like Pop of Culture. So throughout 2019, I did popups in NYC, Atlanta, Houston, Oakland, and Columbus. Even though it was not a profitable year, the fact that brands were so eager to popup with us, a brand that had just started, and the fact that I was receiving some positive feedback, let me know I was on the right track. I had planned for an amazing 2020, but as we all know, it was an unprecedented time. But I was able to pull off an event in Lagos, Nigeria and officially make Pop of Culture an internationally recognized brand. Now, in 2021, things are on the up and up! POC is gaining more recognition, I’ve brought on team members, and I’ve gone from calling Pop of Culture a platform, to calling it a community, and even better, an ecosystem. That is what we are building, and we have plans to offer more than just popup shop events in 2022 and beyond. Los Angeles is one of our main cities and we can’t wait to grow our presence here!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I love Los Angeles and think there are so many fun things to do. If one of my friends were to visit, or even when I am in LA, I love to frequent several spots and try different experiences. They include:
-I’m a big outdoors person so hiking is one of my favorite things to do in LA. I usually do the Runyon Canyon and Baldwin Hills trails. But I’ve also done the Escondido Falls trail and that was lovely!
-The beach of course! I love Venice beach because there is a lot going on and I can skate. I also love Santa Monica beach. But there are several beaches to choose from, and they’re all a vibe.
-I always love a good burger from In-and-Out Burger and Hollywood Burger, but one of my favorite restaurants is Bludso’s Bar and Que (Black-owned).
Other than that, I love to explore and just see what is happening around town and I like spontaneous movements!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My shoutout is dedicated to my FAMILY, especially my mom and dad. I know that it is because of their support I was able to feel more confident about taking the risks that I have thus far. They are my guardian angels!