From humble beginnings in a small village in Nigeria to being a student at Villanova University and CEO of AtariaNYC, Chinasa Gift Nwokocha proves that you don’t just wait for opportunities, you create them. Over the past three years, Nwokocha has juggled the life ofA college senior with the demands of running her fashion business, all from her dorm room. As if that weren’t enough, since her freshman year, she’s maintained a 3.5 GPA, held leadership positions on campus, successfully increased her company’s online sales to 107.14%, and she’s gearing up. to launch her latest clothing line, Unleashed, on A August 5 in New York.
BlackEnterprise.com met the young boss to find out more about her career.
BlackEnterprise.com: Tell us about the “aha” moment that inspired you to open your own business.
Nwokocha: In November 2013, I was talking about my amazement at the growing popularity of emoticons with my boyfriend at the time. I saw a few t-shirts that used emoticons and thought that was the coolest thing ever. I laughed at him jokingly and told him that I would be creating my own clothing brand that used emoticons to express popular sayings within my West African culture. At first I dismissed the idea as a joke, but the next month the idea came back to me and I started thinking about different cool ways to turn my idea into reality. Finally, in January, I said to myself “why not? I was 18 at the time and realized I wasn’t going to land a freshman internship that summer, so I figured starting this business would give me so many cool experiences to tell when future job interviews.
How did you raise the money to start your business?
I took out credit cards to fund the business, but I strongly advise against that as a primary source of funding. AtariaNYCA was originally called Emoji express, which I launched on my 19th birthday, April 14, 2014.
At the start, I didn’t have a single penny saved to start my business; I was in school and not working at the time. Also, culturally, it would have been frowned upon by my parents to ask for money to start a business. To them, I was in school to learn and graduate and not to digress into anything that would distract my attention from school. After launching my first collection (I was the only person on my team when I started), I launched a $15,000 Kickstarter campaign. I was only able to raise $1,250 out of that $15,000. After that campaign failed, I got a job later that summer with Forever 21; the paychecks from that summer job were fully invested in transforming my brand from a simple t-shirt company into a full fledged clothing brand. It was the summer Emoji Express became Ataria NYC.
Later, I took an entrepreneurship course at Villanova which required me to launch another Kickstarter campaign for a lower amount, which was a success. Although this campaign was of a lower amount, I really know that we were able to succeed in this campaign because our funders were mainly our former clients. Our approach to this campaign was also more specific and targeted. As a result, people reacted better to our campaign. Although the campaign was aimed at an entrepreneurial class, I was able to keep all the money I raised and it helped further fund my business. It was almost like the world was giving Ataria NYC a second chance.