Welcome to the third edition of Behind the Brand! This month, I caught up with Aisha Asamany, Founder of Lonam Jewellery a brand of Adinkra Jewellery based in London. Lonam means ‘Love Me’ in Ewe and the brand exemplifies ‘modern jewellery with meaning” with a collection of beautiful gold and silver Adinkra pieces.
annette abena: Tell me about yourself.
Aisha: I’m 32 and a Management Consultant from London. My heritage is half Ghanaian, my dad is from the Volta Region and my mum is St. Lucian and Bajan. From a cultural perspective, I consider myself more Ghanaian and that’s probably because I’ve lived in Ghana and connected with its rich and vibrant history.
My family moved to Accra when I was 9 years old, so I went to primary and secondary school there and didn’t move back to London until I was 14 which means a lot of my values and ideals were shaped in Ghana. I hadn’t visited Ghana (or anywhere in Africa) before we moved there, so it was a big culture shock for me. My siblings and a lot of my dad’s side of the family live in Ghana so I visit at least once a year.
annette abena: What was your motivation for starting Lonam?
Aisha: Apart from the fact that I’m a Magpie and I like shiny sparkly things, it was a combination of a couple of elements.
On every holiday to Ghana, I would have a piece of jewellery made for me with Adinkra symbols. Living in London, having bespoke pieces made is usually reserved for the super-rich or engagements, but in Ghana, it’s something we do every day.
Adinkra symbols are everywhere you look in Ghana, but it was during my trips to the jewellery stores that I really learnt about the meaning and history of Adinkra symbols – it was a whole new world for me.
On one of my visits, I commissioned a ring – I wanted it to be a truly bespoke investment piece. I picked symbols that meant a lot to me and had a lot of gold put in it as I’d decided that it would be a special piece I could hand down to my future kids. Unfortunately, I lost the ring on a night out in London and went on a mission to replace it – that’s how Lonam was born…
They say the best solution is often the simplest and in my case that meant just re-ordering the lost ring from the store that made it. Of course, living in London, I was reliant on my dad who lives in Ghana to go back to the jewellery store with photos in hand to replicate it.
But several attempts later, the store hadn’t made the piece in the way I had expected – which was the same ring I had the first time….and just imagine my wonderful dad going back and forth to this store to keep telling them it’s still not right?!
The experience left me quite frustrated and had me thinking - surely there was a way I could get bespoke pieces that were for me, that had meaning and that connected me back home without having to spend money physically flying to Ghana? During the whole production process, I showed friends and family photos and told them all the stories about this ring I just had to get back….they fell in love with Adinkra symbols and the idea of having jewellery made too and the rest is history.
The really simple answer is I just wanted to replace an important piece of jewellery that I’d lost – it wasn’t about making money.
annette abena: Tell me about your business journey so far.
Aisha: The journey so far has been hard – and still is. As I mentioned, I’m a Management Consultant and so when it comes to running projects and managing changes for big corporates that’s fine, but making jewellery? I haven’t been to jewellery school!
I approached the business like any other project – by asking a series of questions, most importantly – What is the problem I need to solve? What’s the best way to solve that problem?
The first part of the journey was figuring out how a piece of jewellery is made.
I did lots of calling around people in the industry to learn how to go from a concept or sketch to a finished product. I’ve been surprised at how open and willing to help people have been. Apart from speaking to experts, learning from YouTube and Google was essential. You can learn just about anything online – and for free.
Once that was figured out and I had a physical product I was happy with, I used Shopify to set up an online store. It’s great as its simple to use and works on templates and customisation. I still maintain the store myself as it is really important to me, whether I’m an expert or not to understand how everything in my business works – so I can run the business on my own if I have to – update the website or order jewellery, design packaging etc.
An important part of my journey was recognising my strengths and weaknesses and acknowledging that I can’t do everything on my own. I’ve worked with some amazing freelancers including photographers, 3D designers and social media consultants and have learned so much.
A steep learning curve for me was bigger (and more expensive) isn’t always better. For instance, I found that working with a PR firm helped grow my Facebook and Instagram following really quickly but it wasn’t necessarily translating into sales because the focus was wrong. I ended up with a lot of followers who probably didn’t have any idea what I was selling, let alone the culture and the story behind the brand and the pieces.
Eventually, I decided to start from scratch on my own and really focused on how to use social media to build brand awareness and then drive traffic to the online store. I started having really engaging conversations with people, simply about the culture and the meanings behind the Adinkra symbols and from there began to generate sales. I also started to make some very important connections through social media. For example, with Africa Fashion Week London where I officially launched Lonam in August 2017. I was also contacted by Afua Adom for example who is a presenter on ABN radio – she interviewed me on her show and that was also fantastic exposure.
annette abena: Tell me about your experiences working in Ghana and any plans you have for future work in the country.
I don’t currently have a store in Ghana, but I would love to do at least one pop-up or festival this year and have a physical store in the future, though I do ship to Ghana (and pretty much everywhere else in the world).
In November, I was in Ghana for my Dad’s 60th birthday and ended up having a casual lunch at Polo Club. My sister, Mona from AmFashion blog and my (well connected) cousin were there and we talked about what kind of things I could be doing in Ghana and whether a brand like Lonam could be successful there. Again, I know how much I can learn from just talking to people.
It was important for me to talk to people who live in Ghana and run successful businesses there.
Of course, business in Ghana works very differently from the western world. It’s a lot about making personal connections. Also, I do know the pace is a lot slower so I have a lot to learn.
My cousin posted some of my jewellery on his Snapchat and immediately got a really great response and some eager potential buyers. This really surprised me as Adinkra symbols are everywhere in Ghana and part of everyday life so I didn’t think it would get such a positive energy.
My experience in Ghana really made me rethink and consider moving forward in Ghana.
Whilst I was out there I had an impromptu photoshoot on the beach - which is something you definitely can’t do in London! It ended up being an all Ghanaian dream team from the makeup artist to the photographer. One of my sisters just happens to be friends with some gorgeous models, two of which are from La Meme Gang who just dropped the most amazing album…all in all it just worked.
Eventually, I would like to have my own workshop in Ghana where the jewellery would be made which brings a whole other aspect to the business but, baby steps.
Quality control and consistency would be an incredibly important consideration when doing business in Ghana.
I would also consider having a jewellery making school to encourage the development of new skills, locally.
In the meantime, I’m going to try to be more strategic with my visits back home so that I can make the most impact whilst I’m out there.
annette abena: As a full-time Management Consultant, How have you managed your time between work and your side hustle?
It’s been tough. This year I’ve been blessed to be able to take a bit of a break from my day job after getting married, so I’ve had more time than normal to focus on Lonam. However, when I am in a contract it has meant long hours and late nights, using my lunch break to answer calls, respond to emails, DMs on Instagram and balancing everything else. Although it’s hard it’s about really wanting to do it every single day and just finding the time. What keeps me going is having the end goal in mind of building a profitable company and a legacy for my future children, doing something new and exciting whilst making a difference and doing something in the name of my home and my culture.
annette abena: What advice would you give to the diaspora about launching a successful brand and business?
Firstly, from my journey so far it’s been important to really stay true. To me, that meant re-evaluating everything I started with and going back to square 1. If you have to do that and its the right thing to do then that’s what the focus should be.
Secondly, do things that are authentically You, not just for mass appeal. If your focus is your authenticity then people will connect and be drawn to you. What should come first is the passion and the problem you are trying to solve.
People are going back to their roots and reassessing their sense of identity and that translates into simple things like “who do I want to buy my hair products from?” “does that person who I am giving my hard earned money respect me and do they have values that I can relate to?” or “Do I like and trust that person with my information?”. It’s a different way of thinking about things.
Finally reach out to your people, whoever they may be. There is this long-standing misconception that black people do not support one another. I think we still have a lot of work to do on that overall, but I definitely think things are quickly moving in the right direction. Sites like Black British Shoppers and We Buy Black in the US are making waves to encourage supportive behaviour and conversations. Plus there are so many bloggers and vloggers (like yourselves) who are speaking up, giving different perspectives and shedding light on alternatives to the mega-brands. I’ve had so much love and support from people all over the world – every day I speak to someone who encourages me to keep going.
It’s inspiring to see such an authentic brand and an entrepreneur making culture her business! See you next month where I will be talking to one of Ghana’s serial entrepreneurs about his mission to develop entrepreneurs back home.