Create to Educate: Business Administration Student Lenora Biche
“What a wise man can see sitting down, no one else may see even if they climb the highest mountain.” African proverb
Lenora Biche (class of 2021) is a Business Administration student from Bamenda, Cameroon. The entrepreneurship classes that Lenora took at JCU inspired her to launch BICHEdesigns, a clothing brand that mixes street fashion with African traditional fabrics. Lenora is passionate about education, style, fashion, and youth empowerment.
Tell us about BICHEdesigns. Where did you get this idea and how did you implement it?
During my freshman year, I noticed that people admired my outfits but did not know where to get them in Italy. I also noticed that when I wore clothing inspired by African culture, people admired it and asked me where they could buy the product. I found that there was a gap in the market and an opportunity that was presenting itself. I noticed a pattern and people’s desire for diversity in simplicity. My mission for BICHEdesigns really boils down to the tagline: Create to Educate. Over the years, my passion has led me to believe that fashion can be used to bring about positive social change. Fashion can boost individual confidence and create a sense of identity and community among people from different backgrounds. I want people to feel like the best version of themselves when they wear something I create.
How do you believe JCU’s Institute for Entrepreneurship (IFE) has helped you foster an entrepreneurial mindset? What was the process like?
Two years ago, this project was just an idea. When I took my first entrepreneurship class with Professor Silvia Pulino, she discovered that I had gotten these ideas from a class assignment called “About You,” where we answered questions about ourselves and our interests, passions, and aspirations. She invited me to her office to discuss the project, and she gave me the courage and resources I needed to make BICHEdesigns a reality. I started talking about my project with other like-minded people, doing research, and networking. Christian Wolf, a mentor and a friend whom I met through the JCU IFE ‘Mentors for Growth’ program, walked me through the major steps in actualizing BICHEdesigns, in terms of logistics.
Part of BICHEdesigns’ mission is to employ African artisans around the world, so I strive to keep everything within this niche. I set out to find African tailors around Rome, and I came across ‘The Sewing Cooperative,’ an NGO that trains and employs African refugee tailors, I started working with them and then later found other independent tailors in Rome. I learned design sketching from the internet and from practice. I later went on to take some sewing classes organized by the International Christian Fellowship Church in Rome. I constantly work with student creatives at JCU, my friends and other students who have interesting talents and skills, like photography, that fit with my goals and projects. I have also done multiple collaborations with other African brands to learn from them and grow the BICHEdesigns brand. Right now, I am in contact with many people from Cameroon, Nigeria, and Ghana, where I intend to establish production stations and educational programs for BICHEdesigns.
Tell us about the challenges that you encountered while creating BICHEdesigns. How did you overcome them?
I have been told by many people that I am too young to have such bold dreams. One big challenge I faced was limited finances. I did not have the money to start this project so I bootstrapped and fundraised from my friends and family, I also tried to be as resourceful as I could and use all the monetary assistance I could get. Another challenge I have had is combining my studies with my entrepreneurial journey. Being a student entrepreneur is not easy, but it can be done. I have been able to create and build a system that helps me manage all. I am constantly seeking the advice of my mentors and teachers. I try my best to make every class I take at JCU worth it. I find practical ways to apply what I learn in class directly to my business. I also want to thank Pilar Murguia, Director of Student Services, who mentored me on how to combine my projects and interests and share them with the JCU community. I would say the support and encouragement I have received from the JCU community and my peers and friends gave me the strength and assurance that this is worth it and that I can move forward.
The pandemic has changed everyone’s lives, both personally and professionally. What are the main challenges that you face as a young entrepreneur during these times?
As a matter of fact, the pandemic, though unfortunate, has presented a silver lining for me personally. I was still in the development and creative stage of my business and I used the period of the lockdown to learn how to sew, sketch new collections and designs, and develop new projects and strategies. Professionally, the biggest challenge was that I could not sell any products that I had made. BICHEdesigns is also a means of livelihood for me so I faced a lot of financial hurdles. I focused on my creativity and I never stopped creating, regardless of the circumstances.