A brooch formed into the continent of Africa was the first thing Michelle Olomojobi ('11) designed while at UNT.
Olomojobi, who was working on a bachelor's degree in fashion merchandising at the time, wanted to make the shape of Africa wearable for people and celebrate her Nigerian culture.
That vision she had a decade ago to fill a void she saw in the marketplace for African-inspired goods turned into her own fashion and lifestyle brand, LLULO, which recently received a $25,000 NAACP Powershift Entrepreneur Grant. Daymond John, celebrity entrepreneur and investor on the reality show Shark Tank, surprised her with news of the grant during a social media livestream for Black Entrepreneurs Day.
"I actually felt like I was going to quit last year," Olomojobi says. "My business had stagnated, and I felt I couldn't do it all by myself anymore. So, I think this grant is God's way of telling me to keep going."
It's one of a few nudges of encouragement Olomojobi has received over the years. While at UNT, the seeds of her company took root, but she wasn't sure her designs were good enough yet.
"I remember getting one of the popular boys at the time to wear that first brooch I made on his backpack, but I wasn't confident enough to put it on my own backpack," Olomojobi recalls.
For her senior Spring Break trip to Miami, she made a cropped T-shirt featuring a series of three Africa shapes made out of hand-sewn Ankara fabric — a design that has become a signature of LLULO. To her surprise, the shirt received numerous compliments. When she put a photo of it on her Facebook page, her friends expressed love for the design and wondered where they could purchase one of their own.
Through her classes at UNT, and especially the support of former College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism Professor Jessica Strubel, Olomojobi gained even more assurance to let herself dream and let her Nigerian heritage shine through her work.
"It was because of UNT and Dr. Strubel that I had opportunities to even learn about fashion and moved to New York, eventually," Olomojobi says. "She encouraged me to dream, continue dreaming and see that there is life outside of Texas."
After graduation, Olomojobi spent the summer as a menswear production intern at Michael Kors in New York City. While there, she wrote an ambition in the journal she'd been keeping — I'm going to be the CEO of a fashion company.
A few months later, she officially founded LLULO and began selling clothing, accessories and home decor online. Among her most popular products are sweatshirts featuring prints of the main African continent along with Madagascar, as well as pillows shaped like the continent's outline.
"I want Africa to be seen for its beauty. Africa in itself is enough," she says of her product designs.
The company sources its Ankara fabrics straight from Nigeria and has previously worked with artisans there. During the pandemic, however, Olomojobi has taken on most of the production herself.
The NAACP grant will help her scale up production by working with a local manufacturer and possibly hiring others to assist with other parts of the business. Additionally, Olomojobi is receiving access to John's on-demand entrepreneurial courses, as well as one-on-one mentoring sessions with him.
"I took the road less traveled in starting my own business. It's not easy, but it will all be rewarding in the end," Olomojobi says. "With this grant, I'm on a new path, and I'm very excited to see where it goes."