Class of 2018 BSc Computer Science graduate Abel Akale has fused his passion for sustainable fashion with the programming skills from his degree to create an online platform that promotes upcycling and aspiring designers.

How it started…

I have always been interested in upcycling my clothes, looking for ways to tailor old garments to give them a new lease of life and create something truly unique to me. At a time when society is becoming more aware of the detrimental impact fast fashion has on the planet and the people involved in its production, I felt increasing strongly about sharing my passion for sustainable fashion and started to consider the ways I could do something to help make a difference.

The perfect opportunity to merge my personal interests with my skill set came when I began working on my final year dissertation. I came up with the idea of building an online platform that would allow up-and-coming sustainable fashion designers to present and sell their pieces. It was during this time that I first became aware of the Essex Startups team. I heard about a Dragons’ Den event they were hosting, where students could pitch their ideas to win cash prizes and decided to go along and see what it was all about. Watching the students passionately speak in a public forum about their business ideas was really inspiring and instantly sparked my interest.

After graduating I went into employment, but my idea was always in the back of my head. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I took the time to reflect and decided to reach out to the Essex Startups team to explore the opportunities available to me as a recent graduate. After an initial 1:1 with Magdalena, my motivation was heightened further by her positive response to my proposal. Over the months that followed, I had regular 1:1s where Magdalena helped me to flesh out my idea using key tools, such as the Customer Avatar exercise, which allowed me to distinguish the key pillars for my business and ensure I was meeting real-world needs.

I attended some of the Essex Startups online workshops during lockdown which allowed me to learn from others and helped me to build my peer network. My confidence was growing all the time and once I had the clarity of my vision, and a business plan I believed in, I started entering the University’s start-up competitions and receiving cash investment to take my business idea further.

How it’s going…

It’s going really well! My online platform is now live and facilitates both a shopfront for designers and a portal for tailoring and alterations experts to list their services.

I have continued my learning by participating in acceleration programmes, networking with other founders, and taking the opportunities to pitch for investment. I have made connections with Foundervine, who specialise in programs for underrepresented founders, participating in their events, and receiving mentoring from Director David Fisayo. I have been overwhelmed by the support and encouragement I have received but is this that keeps me motivated to progress and develop my skills further.

The next steps…

I am currently working on my business full-time. My focus is to continue connecting with and expanding my network of sustainable fashion visionaries, as well as raising the profile of my business via social media.

It’s important for me to grow awareness of the platform and services available by hosting a range of events of and activities, such as alteration workshops and pop-up events. By helping customers understand the added benefits of alterations, upcycling and supporting sustainable designers, I ultimately want to help support changing the convention of how and where people purchase their clothes.

In the longer term, my aim is to re-define, globally, how people see and interact with clothes, by bringing upcycling into mainstream consciousness and championing the sustainable designers who make this possible. When people think upcycling and alterations, I want them to think of my business: ONEOFFNATURE.

I am excited to be contributing to the Essex Startups BE ME: Black and Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurs programme of workshops starting this week, where I hope to help inspire the next generation of student entrepreneurs at Essex.

Words of wisdom…

The support I received from Essex Startups was so important in my progression as an entrepreneur. The team helped me to develop the vital business skills needed to launch a start-up and instilled in me the confidence and belief that I can make a difference and have a positive impact on the world.

If you have the beginnings of an idea for a product or service, even if it’s just an inkling, I urge you to reach out to Essex Startups. They will take the time to understand your concept and give you the steppingstones to develop and grow not only as a professional but also as a person.

Studio X is a brilliant space that facilitates the coming together of a community of founders, where independent activity and collaboration can flourish in parallel. The energy of the space has continued to inspire me and keep me focused on achieving my goals. My experience with Essex Startups has been truly life changing and I will be forever grateful for the invaluable support and belief the team have given me.

Find out more

If you have a potential business idea, or are interested in developing your business skills, find out more about the training, events and support Essex Startups offers to current students and recent graduates.