Laure Sylvie Loutala M’polo is a self-described ‘self-made entrepreneur’, as she has never formally studied business and entrepreneurship. Founder and CEO of Lady Boss’ Events, she studied Nursing at Oxford Brookes University.
Her company organises AFROShow, an annual fashion show celebrating Founded in 2016, AFROShow is the first Fashion platform of its kind in Oxford celebrating African culture in fashion and diversity in the heart of Oxford City. It is an event which promotes and shares African-inspired design and talent. With a catwalk, exhibition and business development program, AFROShow leads the way in highlighting Africa’s emerging designers and promotes awareness of Africa’s burgeoning fashion industry. Laure liaises with models, makeup artists, hairstylists, photographers and videographers to bring her vision to life. It is her aim to create a space that celebrates diversity within the world of fashion.
What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
I was born in Congo, and grew up in Paris. Fashion is very important to both of those cultures and so it’s always been something that I’m comfortable with. It’s part of me. When I came to Oxford, I was just me, and people started noticing.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
To me, entrepreneurship is about noticing a problem and turning it into a business opportunity that’s right for you. It’s about having a vision which focusses on introducing a new product or service based on an unmet need. You should have a real connection to what you’re doing.. This what I did.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
In 2014, a lady stopped me on the street. I was wearing an African print, and she said that it was beautiful. When she asked me where she could buy something similar for herself, I realised that there wasn’t a place. I decided to make something different, to connect people and create an African-Caribbean space in Oxford – to represent a community within a community. The greatest achievement for the AFROShow was creating a new exciting place where talented people from diverse backgrounds can come together with a sense of belonging to showcase their talent. People were relieved to find somewhere they can finally engage the community in a sense of pride for their culture.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Time management. Without that, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. I’m a full-time nurse alongside, so I need to plan my time carefully and set clear goals.
Communication. Communication is what enables you to move forward, to meet with and negotiate with people, to convince them to trust me and my business. I have to work with many different people so this is key.
Resilience. You will face a lot of no’s, a lot of closed doors, a lot of rejections. Stress is part of the journey, and if you are resilient, you will grow with it.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
The freedom of being my own boss. You choose when you wake up! But also, seeing a vision come true and the impact that that vision can have is something I really value. Changing the lives of others, giving them opportunities and seeing them fulfil their dreams. It really gives me purpose and motivation.
My business gives me a reason to live, it looks like every day I’m on a mission to give more while I’m building my empire and a great legacy. I become to many a source of inspiration and empowerment.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
Les Brown, the motivational speaker. He’s so dynamic and he makes me believe in myself. His catchphrase, “it’s possible”, and his story, just makes me believe in my own vision. Every time I want to give up, I just ask myself and come back to and remember why I started my business in the first place. The vision is my heart and his words make me believe that the dream will come true.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I did meet him in 2019! I asked him when you look around you and where you are, when is it that you know that you’re finished? He told me that you’re never finished. He said, we all have greatness in us, and that there’s no limit. He is so right, every day I see new business opportunities. Since then, I’ve worked knowing that there will always be something else to do.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
Seeing a show at its best. When the audience leaves and they’re saying that they found it breath-taking, when they’re happy to see models like them, when those working on the show are saying how grateful for the opportunity. It takes a full year to organise, so that moment so full of joy and gratitude really keeps me going.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
Like I said, I’m a self-made entrepreneur – I didn’t study it at school or anything, so mistakes were plenty! I’d say the most important lessons that I’ve learned have been that you shouldn’t listen to fear or people. Don’t let anyone tell you about failure, you never been in business before, so who can talk about your abilities to make it until you start.
Keep asking for help. Do your research; what is going out there, who is doing what. What’s new in the industry of your business. Check: what are you competitors doing? And also, remember It’s easy to be disappointed by all the no’s but you just have to keep going. Set yourself goals and stick to your deadlines, do your research, and be prepared to learn from others.
How have you funded your ideas?
At the beginning, I could not find any funding or support in the event area or fashion industry. So, I make use of my own salary and additional shifts, as well as the help of friends who work in the industry. Now I have external funding to help alongside.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
Yes, I receive Culture funding from Oxford City council. . It’s funny, when I started out, I didn’t even know that funding like that was available, and nobody ever mentioned it to me. I think part of it is that people don’t believe that fashion is art. Fashion is. When you see models walking down the runway, that’s artistic. And it’s culture – my own culture is something that I really bring to my shows.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
Oxford is very dynamic, very young, and very open to new things. In the niche I’m targeting – the African-Caribbean community – there’s a lot of opportunity, because not much is here at the moment.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
Enterprising Oxford. LinkedIn is where I heard about this, and where I’ve connected with many others. The key resource for me has been other people – mentoring, networking, just learning from different people. I went to all different fashion shows in London, Paris, and smaller ones up and down the UK to see what I could be doing.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman entrepreneur? If so, how have you overcome them?
Not just as a woman, but as a black woman, running this particular business, the niche market I’m trying to target wasn’t really understood. I’m providing a place for African culture within fashion, and people just weren’t able/willing to see that vision. And I had no name, no previous experience. It’s my own motivation and purpose that helped me overcome it. I wanted to prove to people that I could do it, and I wanted to make that difference and create a place for culture.
What resources would you recommend for other women?
Networking is a great place to start, you learn a lot and meet similar minded people.
How could institutions such as the University of Oxford better support women entrepreneurs?
Support has to be fair for everyone. Outreach – women that didn’t go to Oxford, women that aren’t on LinkedIn for whatever reason, a lot of them have greatness to offer as well. Approaching different communities that aren’t functioning in these traditional spaces.
Do you have any advice specifically for other women who want to be entrepreneurs?
Don’t be scared, do your research, surround yourself with positive people who will motivate you, and also trust your gut. When my business was on my mind, I was always thinking about it, I couldn’t sleep. That’s how I knew I had to do it. And networking, networking, networking.
Any last words of advice?
Keep going! Believe in yourself and go after your dream business. Nobody knows what you can do, so don’t believe anyone that says that you can’t fulfil your dream.