Set goals, examine your surroundings, take risks – Edwina Kulego
A hybrid of many cultures, Edwina Kulego, then aged 19, moved from Sweden to the United States with the sole intention of pursuing a career in fashion and business. Ten years later, this incredible woman has worked with major fashion brands, and has become a formidable force in the world of fashion and retailing. In this interview, Edwina talks us through her major career milestones and what’s next for her.
Introduce us to Edwina Kulego and what she does?
Edwina Kulego is a travel enthusiast who blends the two dynamic worlds of International Business and Fashion into her own realm. Born in Sweden to Ghanaian parents, Edwina is a hybrid of many cultures, which enables her to see the world through many different lenses.
I currently manage International Business Development for the largest Fashion Trade Show organizer in the US, UBM Fashion. This role includes helping international fashion brands create pathways into the US market. I am also building my own brand Edwina Kulego and diving into entrepreneurship through public speaking and collaborations. It’s really exciting!
Have you always wanted to be in Fashion, and how did your love for the industry begin?
My love for fashion begun when I started working at Zara in Copenhagen, right after high school. I was looking for work while figuring out collage options and unintentionally fell into retail. While working at the store, I quickly recognized how the clothes and accessories made people feel. It could change their moods from exhausted to happy, give them a boost of confidence and make them feel beautiful. I realized the emotional power of fashion; which is what truly makes it special. After becoming promoted to assistant store manager I decided to move to New York City to pursue my dream of working in Fashion/Business.
While starting out, you interned with three major global brands; what particular work ethics did you learn at these organizations?
My internships at Essence Magazine, Tommy Hilfiger and PROJECT Trade Show were immensely rewarding because they all prepared me for the “real world” in different ways. I started interning at Essence Magazine when I first moved to New York in 2007. I was very timid and shy but due to the strong characters and the determination from the women who worked there, I learned to grow some thick skin. At Tommy Hilfiger I learned the importance of organization and scheduling. While working in the celebrity and fashion department I managed many calendars and also participated in organizing their renowned New York Fashion Week show. Finally, PROJECT taught me the importance of curiosity. One of my former executives always encouraged me to ask questions in order to learn and I still use this advice today.
Speaking of internship, would you say it has its rewards, and would you recommend it?
I would definitely recommend internships. If you are at a crossroads and don’t know what career path to embark on, I would recommend that you intern in the field that you are interested in. Some internships and more rewarding than others but they all teach us some valuable tools or skills that we can apply to our next role. The last company that I interned for hired me and I’ve been with them for eight years now.
You are the International Business Manager at UBM Fashion Group; kindly take us through what a regular day at work looks like for you?
I usually start my day off with reviewing my schedule for the day, week or month. For example, if I have any upcoming travel I will make sure that I have all of my accommodations and meetings booked. I spend a lot of time in the office taking calls or having team meetings. I also spend time out in the market visiting my client’s showrooms and planning for the next season. When I am travelling for work, I am usually conducting presentations and meeting with trade groups to develop new partnerships.
What basic skills and personal qualities would attribute your success to?
Having determination and discipline is a skill that I constantly focus on improving. For example, making sure that I wake up at 6:00am in time for my morning workout session or completing a task before or by the deadline. Being organized and staying on top of things really helps me create balance in my life.
A lot of people say that business isn’t personal but I do truly believe that people choose to do business with the people that they like. Being personable and kind is an attribute that I think has led many of my successes. When you are truly passionate and interested in people; it naturally opens you up to new opportunities
What major milestones have you achieved during the course of your career and how have they shaped you?
Recently being promoted to manage our International Business Development was a huge career milestone for me. I started as an intern in the company and worked my way up through many challenges in order to get to my position today. It’s rewarding to see that hard work does pay off and the importance of patience. In April 2017, we launched our first international show in Tokyo, called MAGIC Japan. This was also a career milestone for me as I had been working on this project for almost three years; it’s a major accomplishment that I am proud to say I was a part of. From a personal aspect I will be celebrating a decade in New York in September. Ten years is a long time to be away from family, but I can honestly say that leaving Sweden at 19 and getting out of my comfort zone was the best decision I have made. The risk taker in me is what has made me the Edwina I am today. Last year, I launched EdwinaKulego.com - my own platform where I can share information and connect with my audience. It’s an amazing feeling!
What would you say you enjoy most about your work?
I love the fact that I can travel the world while working in the industries that I love; fashion and business. It has taken me a while to get to this place and I am truly embracing it. I also love to dress up, so if I can do that while I’m working; I’m winning.
For women trying to get ahead in their careers, what are the top three things they should learn to do?
Set Goals: You won’t know where you are heading if you don’t have a plan. Start writing things down in order to create a sense of direction.
Examine your surroundings: If the people, places or things around you aren’t uplifting or inspiring you then it’s time to make some changes. Remove the things in your life that are hindering you from getting to your goals.
Take Risks: Everything was impossible until someone did it. I thought I was going to be a lawyer when I was younger. I saw an opportunity within Fashion and I took it. Don’t be afraid to dive into the unknown… it’s fun and you always leave with lesson.
As an African woman trying to make a name for herself in the western fashion space, have there been moments on the job where you felt the need to work harder and produce twice better results than your western counterparts?
The truth is that women of colour always have to work harder and produce better results. Once you realise what you are up against, you strategize and push forward. I have attended meetings where I have been completely ignored even though I was driving the conversation or when I was the decision-maker. The focus would instantly shift to my western, male counterpart. I can’t deny that it’s frustrating and hard at times but I always try to remember that I am paving the way for my nieces, cousins and the generation of young women behind me. On the upside, I am happy to see that there are more African women and women of colour in the Fashion Space. This should be embraced and I believe that if we come together and support each other we can change the standard.
In all of your travels, what fashion city captures your heart the most?
Oh, this is a tough question… my initial thoughts are Lima, Paris, Florence but I would honestly have to go with Accra. Every time I return to Accra I am filled with so much joy and humility. The love for family, culture and heritage reminds me of who I am. I always take a few trips to Mokola Market and buy print fabric that I eventually turn into my own fashion creations.
Drawing from your international fashion exposure, how would you describe the African fashion space?
There is so much excitement and energy coming from Africa right now. Countries like Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana are producing prominent events and highlighting impeccable designers. I would like to get more involved in the West African fashion space and lend my support to developing that industry and market. Africans are innovative and entrepreneurial at heart; we can make something out of anything. There are so many promising opportunities coming from the continent.
What are some of your favourite African brands, and what makes them outstanding for you?
Christie Brown is a long - time favourite; I appreciate the modernism, attention to detail and unique designs in her collection.
Kahindo - I love her designs because they carefully mix the categories of contemporary and traditional. I think that this is a hard task to accomplish but she does it effortlessly.
Kairosshoppers is an online platform that houses many awesome African designers. I love visiting their site for inspiration and shopping.
You founded your website Engage with Me, as a platform for women to share their engagement stories. What led to its birth?
I’ve always been a sucker for love stories and happy endings. I started Engage With Me years ago and it taught me a lot about the digital space. It also gave me an introduction to online marketing and social media. I have drifted away from the Engage With Me platform and I’m currently focusing more on EdwinKulego.com. I hope to revamp or revisit the site in the future.
We can’t help but crush on your fashion sense. What fashion item is a staple for you?
I love a classic look; you will always find tons of pumps in my shoe closet. I believe that a classic pump such as a suede Manolo Blahnik can upgrade almost any outfit. I am also in love with high waist pants; I have them in all prints and colours.
What would be your first piece of advice to a young African girl who’s looking to toeing the same path as yours?
I would encourage her to think big; start travelling or at least begin reading about the amazing different places in the world. Being diverse and having the ability to adapt in different environments is key in international business. Growing your knowledge of the world will help with building the confidence you need to become a global businesswoman.