Feb. 12, 2022

Ogo Okwumabua: Entrepreneur, Designer and Founder of Zueike Apparel.

Ogo Okwumabua: Entrepreneur, Designer and Founder of Zueike Apparel.

In the Nigerian language of Igbo, Zueike \zu-we-kay\ means to relax. Ogo Okwumabua is a sports entrepreneur who, with his partner Bryan, have created a brand with a focus of being local, being in the community. In this episode Ogo shares his thoughts on being a black sports and business entrepreneur, his relationship with his very successful black entrepreneur wife/life partner Praise, the balance that goes into raising four children and why Black History Month is more than just recognizing 28 days of Black History.
And if you want to look crisp but relaxed, please visit Zueike online or in Winnipeg at 6-45 Trottier Bay

Ogo Okwumabua is a Winnipeg-based entrepreneur and co-owner of Zueike, an athleisure clothing company that designs and manufactures premium athletic apparel for all lifestyles. The meaning of Zueike is "to relax, to become more calm and happy, to slow down and unwind". The brand/company is built around community; the team at Zueike believe that we are all one people and one village. Every person can make a difference in their own way and the team hopes to slowly make an impact locally and around the world.   

Ogo is a University of Manitoba School of Business alumni. He also played sports in university, shining as a star forward for the Manitoba Bisons from 1995-2000, where he went on to play professionally, followed by several coaching positions.

February is Black History Month; this month, we can all take the time to learn, explore, ask questions and offer support to black people in our communities while also continually learning more about the history of this country. This week, we'd like to highlight the accomplishments, community contributions, and acts of leadership of Ogo Okwumabua, his company, and the story behind starting Zueike. Ogo highlights his journey through discovering his strengths, falling in love with business and entrepreneurship, his time at university, how Zueike got its start, and so much more.

For more on Ogo and Zueike, follow him on Instagram or Facebook, or visit their website.


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Stuart: [00:00:00] This podcast was recorded on the ancestral lands on treaty one territory, their traditional territory of the initial obey. Oh-Gee-CRE Dakota and the Denny peoples. And on the Homeland of the Metis nation. 

Intro Voice: This is humans on rights, a podcast advocating for the education of human rights. Here's your host. Stuart Murray,

Stuart: February is known as black history month, and that means it's an opportunity to explore. What's happened historically in the province of Manitoba in the city of Winnipeg, but it's also an opportunity to reflect on some of the incredible community leaders that make up the community of Winnipeg that come from the black community.

And I think that's what we're going to do today is celebrate somebody who is an entrepreneur and [00:01:00] extraordinary individual. Who's done amazing community work. We're going to find out what his journey. I would like to welcome to humans on rights, all go. go. Welcome to humans on rights, man. Appreciate it.

How are you doing? I'm doing really well. Thanks. Better to have you on of course this is only a recording, but it was video. People would know that I'm rocking the zoo, AKA stuff, man. You bet you, I see representing strong and well, and I love the support. So appreciate it. You've been a day. One guy. There's no line.

You've been here for the beginning of our journey. So. I appreciate it. Let's talk about that. Were you born in Winnipeg? I am actually born in Edmonton. I was born in Edmonton, but I consider it raised in Winnipeg, other the majority of my life here. And when it bags since, uh, 19 80, 81 82, when my parents, we were born there, went to the United States, lived there for a couple of years.

And my dad, I guess, had the foresight that he wanted his family to stay in Canada. So we came back and my younger [00:02:00] brother was born and he got a job in Winnipeg. Well, many years later, we're still here planted in a wonderful city. Did you do your high school here? Oh yeah, I did my high school here. I went to Ghanaian collegiate.

I'm a lion. I mighty lion. Yeah. You know, listen, you're acting the part that's for sure. And so your university, I know that you did some business stuff, but you went to the university of Manitoba. Yes. I went to university of Manitoba on a basketball school. I played for the Bisons there for five years. And, um, I went to business school, so I went to the Asper school of business at the time.

It was still just, you know, Drake school of business when it first started. And then in the middle, I think my third year it changed over where is he asked her, was gracious enough to donate a whole lot of cash to that program and kind of uplifted from, you know, considered kind of a, a lower end business school to a pretty high end business school with a lot of resources.

It was pretty awesome and I'm glad I stuck around to stay and enjoy it. So, [00:03:00] so when you're taking your business degree or go, what's going through your mind about what you want to do with that? Like, what's kind of your thinking about what your kind of your future at that time might have been? It was weird.

I was kind of just going and feeling it out. I don't think I realized I loved entrepreneurship and still, you know, I went to business with the aspirations actually. That was what I thought I was, I was going to be an account, you know? And then during your journey, you start to realize your personality might not lead to being a certain thing.

And I realized, you know, I'm definitely a lot more social and I'm a little more creative in terms of the way my mind kind of thought. And, and I, and I realized I like the accounting portion of, of business. And I actually had a sales guy by the name of Brock cords. He was a professor and he had just, just an incredible, and it was kind of under the guise of entrepreneurship.

It just kind of sparked a lot of interests. I had another professor, my agenda that really kind of got me going and I'm losing the other entrepreneur. [00:04:00] He ran an entrepreneurial program there that really kind of just started to get me thinking about what I love. And it was weird. It wasn't, I would not say that I was Mr.

Education up to that point. I did it because it was needed to be done, but not that I was passionate about it. And then what I kind of. Entrepreneurship and marketing and stuff like that. All of a sudden I was, I was dialed in and I really enjoyed learning and doing it. So, and when you graduated, did you land somewhere on graduation before you started this?

We're going to talk about your journey now, but where did you, where did you land after you graduated? After I grew up, I actually landed on the Winnipeg site. I played basketball for the Winnipeg psych loan for a year. That was the last year that they were actually running a team over here. And after that, I actually just started my own business.

I started a business called hoops fanatic that kind of kept me in the world in the basketball, but it was at a retail store that dealt specifically with basketball apparel. We sold shoes, we sold everything we were located in [00:05:00] Porter's place, uh, in that walkway toward the, uh, the now MTSS. That was actually my first, my first real, I guess let's say venture or a job that was, I didn't really go through the normal, the normal route that most Asper kind of business students kind of went through.

They kind of went through the, you know, get an internship and do this and do that and kind of set them up for the corporate world. And I've realized I've never been a corporate guy. I just had been kind of free-flowing as an entrepreneur for a number of years. So, so now you have a partner in this business.

And I think I'm going to, hopefully I say the name correctly, Ogle. If I don't, I know you're going to start to have me at it, but Zoe K. Yeah. Beautiful. So let's talk a little bit about that. Where did that dream come from? Talks about what it is, what you're doing there and how you created this incredible sort of place I've been to.

I've been to your store. It's fabulous. And you know, I'm really, really delighted that you're joining us today. So I really want people to hear [00:06:00] about your journey. So how did you come about creating zoom? After actually closed up who Synetic. I got an offer to work for a local company by the name of home run sports.

So while I was at home run sports, you know, we were, I was, I was working, but during that time of my life, this is where, you know, when you start getting married and start having children. And I always knew that I kind of wanted to get back into business on my own. That's just kind of where my heart and desires were, but I continued doing it because it provided a stable income.

And in the group that I worked with there with. Allow me to at least feel a little bit entrepreneurial, which, which kind of kept me going. And, um, when it got to a point where I was like, well, I'm not passionate about this. I'm just kind of doing it for the sake of it and realize, you know, it was time for me to, uh, to make a change.

And, um, Brian, my business partner here, Brian Salvador, we both kind of started to chat and I kind of told him, I kind of had a wish of doing something, you know, and the fleece. And Brian actually had been doing a little bit of [00:07:00] something in the leggings world at that time with his wife. And it kind of seemed like a natural synergy for the two of us.

And we kind of decided, okay, well, we're both in the team kind of industry and supplying to, you know, high schools, universities, and we kind of thought, Hey, there's a little pocket here of high-end pieces that we know that. A lot of our clients, like, but it's not necessarily offered in terms of being fashion forward and ready for delivery.

So we thought, well, why don't we try giving something that we can kind of offer to the industry? And what happened was we kind of came up with, we were thinking of names, thinking of names. Of course, you know, the naming part of it is a hard, yet exciting portion because the naming piece is what kind of puts all of it together for you and allows you to kind of come with your mission statement and the things that you want.

We really love the portion of, you know, we both played, I played university basketball. He played at UMW and he was a volleyball player. And we kept talking about how, you know, the greatest times of most of our lives and [00:08:00] even meeting the real corporate or you think about sports specifically sport. The thing you remember the most is the locker room.

The time, you know, two games before games, hang on our app. Those are where you cultivate your relationships. And those are most of your most relaxed moments, you know? And it's, we were, we want to be the anti go hard, hard, hard, hard, like, you know, just do it, Nike, whatever. We, we were more into like, yeah, that moment where you connect with your community, that moment that you connect with your people and make your longtime friends and stuff like that.

And, uh, we thought, you know, name that best. And then we thought relaxation and we're both. And in my parents, Evo, dialect is weak a means to relax. So students relax and to be at ease. And that's kind of how the name got. I came up, we thought it would be a nice Siddique nickname and has a little bit more of a story.

And it tells us a little bit, you know, also tells you, and it tells other people that where we're from as you kind of dig down a little bit deeper [00:09:00] in terms of our, our roots and stuff again, but also. Tell us a little bit about what our company is about, you know, cultivating community to clothing, basically.

And that's kind of how it's all kind of come together. And it's been a pretty incredible cause we started 20, 22 is when I would say that we officially really started to kind of, we thought about all the stuff we used before, but when we start to really do it, I had actually left my job at the beginning of 2022 and lo and behold.

Good old COVID the pandemic hit. Things changed up a little bit quicker, but you know, we're blessed to say that we're still a year, two years later and I'm still trying to make a go with it. Yeah. And I think that you're probably a bit humble. I think you've been very successful, but you know, having said that Ogle as a man of color an entrepreneur, you know, what was that like starting, I mean, when you start out, I mean, it's one thing to leave a paycheck to say, Hey, I've got a dream.

And as did Brian, you know, just as entrepreneurs. How do you find [00:10:00] funding? How do you find sort of the opportunity to get to where you've built up your successful business? As we see it today? One lucky thing is that we kind of had some connections prior to, you know, one of the biggest things you want to be able to know that you can sell some of your products here and there and get people to at least try them and adopt them when taking the jump.

You know, the big part was just really, for me, at least. And I think even for Brian was. We just had to jump, you know, you had to get in there, you had to figure out what are the resources, what are the things we didn't have, you know, a, a pile of money that we were going to be able to do it. So we had to be strategic and we looked at the BDC and they were able to kind of step up and help us, at least with our first inventory buy, we had spent the money that we w we had saved to go to China and explore, you know, different materials and makeups and stuff like that in order for us to kind of start to, to move forward.

And, um, I mean, we do just like everybody else, you know? Uh, I'm a, I'm a black guy, but I guarantee you, I wasn't thinking, Hey, I'm a black man going into [00:11:00] the business and what am I thinking? I'm just thinking, Hey, I got a business idea. I want to see what we can do with it. I want it. I want to grow it. I want to do it just like anybody else would want to do it.

And what you need to do is figure out what are the pieces that allow you to kind of connect and move forward. And kind of grow with grow your business. So, you know, a lot of the, the biggest thing is I am very aware that I'm a black entrepreneur, but I definitely do not like to label myself as just like, because I'm an entrepreneur, I don't make the same decisions and maybe I have a couple of different new pools I might have to run through sometimes I don't, but I don't want to put those as my, uh, on my planet all the time.

Right. Yeah, and I love it. I mean, the fact of life is kind of the definition of who you are is you're a successful entrepreneur enough said, right. And then that's kind of where it's at, right? So I've been in your store again, encourage anybody when COVID lifts the opportunity to go to your store. We're going to make sure everybody knows where the address is so they can come and visit when appropriate.

I know you also can buy online, which I've also [00:12:00] done OGO but how do you decide, okay, this is the kind of line we're going to get into because you know, there's a lot of. Production out there. There's a lot of organizers that are doing stuff. There's the big store, you know, people that are handling a lot of product.

How do you kind of differentiate yourself and kind of get that slice of what makes Zulu, AKA the place that people want to go. It was, you know, a process. So we, we, we were very minimalistic. We thought of what would be like to wear when we were playing. We asked other athletes, we noticed what they liked to wear.

And the funny thing about most athletes are most people. I mean, even whether an athlete or not, if you ask what is their most comfortable things to wear when they finish their day of work, it is a pair of fleece. You know, they, they go and they want to put on a pair of fleece. But as we start to notice, is that the trend in terms of what business looks like anymore is not the same.

Right. We know. Business is conducted in more than just a three-piece suit and an [00:13:00] office anymore. Right. Business for a lot of the generation younger than I am, is conducted at Starbucks is conducted at the most leisure places you can ever imagine. And we started to realize, well, we want to have the combination of that comfort, but also still a refined, local view.

Your presentation still is very important when you go into a meeting or someone sees. You could be a CEO or just a coworker, and you're at, you know, seven 11 and someone walks in and you might, that might be where your meeting is. But the fact that if you were clean, stylish looking individual, a lot of times, you know, people like, oh, that's a good looking chat.

That's where you kind of, we started to say, Hey, you know, this is where we kind of want to put ourselves in there. And no matter what, you still look clean, you look fresh, but most importantly, you're comfortable feeling pretty good about yourself. Tell me about how you look at the difference between how you described.

And maybe there is no difference Ogle, but, but I'm just, didn't want to explore the difference between men and women in [00:14:00] what you just described. And that look, how do you treat. It's meat. Cause I mean, Lulu lemon can, uh, really redefined the marketplace for what quote unquote is acceptable for women to wear out, but women are so, so creative and wonderful in terms of they can make, you know, pair of leggings, you know, they can go to a gala and make them make them work in.

And he started to see the flexibility in terms of how the fashion kind of falls. And we kind of just, you know, you don't try reinventing the wheel. You just kind of tried taking your take on the wheel. And, and that's what we kind of did. We kinda thought, okay, you know what, a lot of our pieces, even though you'll find they're a lot more unisex, we'll find things that are a little bit more streamlined so that my wife wears Nike was enter my stuff.

Uh, other women, uh, you know, Michelle was on Paul a lot. We'll mix them up. They'll find different pieces that work for their bodies or work for them as individuals in their character and put it together and really rock it out. It's kind of been neat to kind of see how people [00:15:00] go and how they make the decision of what their fashion looks going to be through our, as VK Brad.

So it's been, it's been pretty interesting and still learning of course, and we always get recommendations here and there. And as we hope we continue to grow, we're able to add more pieces that represent what, you know, more of our clientele would love to see. Yeah. Awesome. So, you know, one of the things that you just made.

You use the term? Uh, Olga that my wife, where's my stuff. I just can't. I have to sort of pause for one second. Let's just talk about the fact that your, your wife, your partner is also in tremendous entrepreneur in the city. Just tell us a little bit about praise. Oh, so praise, my wife. She has had, uh, 12 years she's had hair salon basically.

It is called fresh hair boutique and they've been rocking and rolling. She had it actually after we had our second child. And, uh, I think during well, while she was pregnant with our second child, she was playing in kind of getting a goal with. It's been pretty amazing, kind of to see her grow it and make it [00:16:00] an established boutique.

That's kinda rocked on academy for, for a number of years, you know, she's gone through the trials and tribulations of an entrepreneur. It's kinda been neat to see that I'm definitely more, you know, I went to school for business. I went there, she went. For hair and seeing how she's kind of really grown it and put the pieces together and become a pretty amazing business woman a while while doing it has been pretty incredible.

I mean, the only hard part has been when I, when I decided to jump and leave my job, she was supposed to be my sugar mama. And unfortunately, with COVID and the regulations. They were shut down more than we were allowed to be shut down. So that was probably the only thing, but just seeing her kind of survive it, stick with it.

And it's been pretty amazing and I've been pretty proud to see how she's grown and kept it going. So how did two entrepreneurs balance sort of a home life? You've got two kids. We have four. Yeah. So we have four, we have three, three young ladies and one little girl. Yeah, it's definitely [00:17:00] difficult, but I mean, to be honest, we're not like our parents, I would say in terms of, you know, my PR both our parents are immigrants from Nigeria that have come here and worked and did whatever they could to keep us fed and going and giving us opportunity.

What we're blessed with is that we have support, you know, we have our family support, so we have our grandmas and our grandpas. Well, my kids do their grandmas and grandpas around and a sister and brother. And, you know, we have a good network that allows us to still be able to kind of go and enjoy or work at our businesses and still kind of maintain a thing.

That's probably one of the biggest, biggest pieces, but, you know, we still sacrifice and just kind of figure out, Hey, you know, at the time. Perfect example, you know, in the morning, I'm with the little guy, cause praise had meetings all morning and the afternoon, now I'm going to get on here or get some work done.

And then, you know, I'm going to get back [00:18:00] home and pick up the kids and go to a basketball practice. So, I mean, it's just, you figure it out. And you know, I always say that we pretty much have it really easy because my parents didn't come here with a whole bunch of family members or support system or friends to start with.

Like, I mean, I have friends and stuff. I got, they had to kind of do it on their own. They had four kids too. They both had four kids. So

thanks for talking a bit about your entrepreneurial partner praise. I think she's a very well-known in the community and that's what I want to talk a bit about. OGO is that one of the things that you've done is you've been very careful you, the way you and Brian have positioned Zooey K as your business is in the community.

Talk about some of the things that you're trying to do in the community, because you are local and. It speaks volumes about who you are as entrepreneurs, that you are local and you want to be in the community. Just want to get your thoughts on that. As I grew up, my parents used to always say, you know, your name [00:19:00] is your name, write your names, your name, you represent it well, and it takes a community to raise a child, you know, and I've kind of always lived by that.

You know, I played basketball when you're with a team, you realize it is the collection of the group that allows you to get to that next level. Same thing with Brian, we realized that I'm not here because, you know, I just put it into work all my life and got to this point. I've had so many amazing, you know, influences on my life that people end up given time, you know, resources, they given whatever it is to make me who I was today.

And I figured, Hey, when I was starting a business or when we decided to get into. We were not going to just do it based on, you know, cash, you know, just money. Cause I, I do believe that sometimes, you know, we see community in the world right now, a lot of our morals, if we just make decisions based on cash, it's easy to kind of lose focus on who you are or, or what you're, what you want to.

So we just kind of said, Hey, we [00:20:00] did not that we don't want to be able to make money, but we want to do it some of a responsible way. That's why we took the money and said, Hey, we're going to China. We're going to go and see the factories. We're going to go and see stuff. And then when we come back home, there's nothing fun.

Or to me than connecting with community there. There's you get to know who's out there. I mean, the last little bit of learn about so many more small businesses and people we'd love to work with and go out. It was the essential piece of our thing, because I think I happy if you're happy in your community, you can relax.

You can sweep a right. That's a lot of people don't realize how simple it is, but when you're happy in your little area yet you can definitely relax. So, and you've done some stuff, you know, with Andrew Harris, with Donna marrow, right. You've done some good things, kind of locally with them as your champion.

Oh, yeah. You know, they've been amazing. Like, I mean, as we kind of make this new journey, uh, Andrew Harris has been a crazy, Donna marrow has been amazingly and they've all [00:21:00] had very similar outlooks in terms of how they viewed community and what they want to do and give back. And that's, you know, we've really picked individuals like ABC.

There's been a lot of different collaborations you've had along the way that I think we just have aligned and we've been picky and they've been picky and it's been great. And it's helped us kind of, you know, help kind of keep pushing the narrative forward because we feel that, you know, the more we can talk about certain issues, ain't no one with the big one with Adam Harris, with mental health, the more people talked about it, the more we started to see, you know, oh yeah, you experienced this.

Oh, I experienced it. And we've had ACR. It's been pretty amazing, kind of just seeing how, you know, when your community feels comfortable and you start to talk, people are a lot more, you know, willing to think of things in a different way, but I think it's great for your brand. It's great for who you and Brian are.

It's great for how you're trying to sort of set yourself up in the community. So I think that's fantastic. One of the things I just wanted to ask you about has your strategies [00:22:00] changed since you started your business? I know you say we try and pivot we're learning, but there any. If you were sort of sending a message out to an entrepreneur that was saying to you, oh, go, I'm thinking about getting into business.

What kind of advice might you give them from what you've learned? Definitely you'd have to be flexible. I mean, flexibility is the key of entrepreneurship because there there's just too many. I didn't quit my job thinking that I was expecting to walk into a global pandemic. Right. You now all of a sudden have to think, well, what are other revenue streams that you can figure out?

What are other things that allow you to position yourself in the. I definitely think, you know, entrepreneurship, you have to be flexible. You gotta be viable. You gotta be willing to learn and, and more bro, you gotta be willing to work with others. That could mean if you, if you aren't willing to work with others, just not going to be too many, you'll have a couple opportunities, but not many.

And long-term, it doesn't really work out for you. That's kind of what, as an entrepreneur and as we keep going right now, we've definitely pivoted. And we've gone from, at first, not thinking we were going to do [00:23:00] corporate to team sales to now we're right into corporate and a team sales because it provides us a certain thing and it's allowed us to kind of stay afloat and to keep going.

And yeah, so it's, it's been good, but also it's allowed us to keep in the community. Most importantly, people are not just buying from Winnipeg. I mean, you've got, you got customers outside of Winnipeg. Yeah. We've been lucky enough to work with, you know, guys in Alberta with none of it drawn. Oh, we've got a couple of the us.

It's been pretty good. I mean, as we've kind of gone and we hope to kind of keep to explore and expand ourselves a little bit further, but yeah, it's been, it's been fun. Like we definitely haven't just been regional, but I mean, the regional is really what has kept us going and it's been great. If you think about, you know, black history month, which is the month of February, what does that mean to you?

When people sort of say, Hey, it's black history month ago, how do you feel about that? I think [00:24:00] it's a great month just to explore of all the contributions that blacks have community to, you know, north America to the world, so on and so forth. But I think most importantly, you start to realize it's really just history.

One of the biggest parts, I think people forget. It's just part of history. I mean, it sucks that it definitely has to be moved into, you know, a short month and we got to talk about it then, but you know, our idea is to continue that narrative throughout the course of the year. It's just something that is not for 30 days.

And you can forget about it. It's something that, you know, every community has added something to. And it's great to celebrate this. Great to talk about it. It's great to talk about. The good is get to talk about the bad is great to talk about all of it. So you get a good idea of, Hey, you know, this is why we might be where we are.

Maybe this is why we can fix certain things, or maybe why we got to pay a little more attention over here. But that is a big thing that I think I would love that people would, you know, not just take it [00:25:00] as a black history month. This is the time that we celebrate, you know, black people or black, whatever.

I think it's great to try to think about it as you know, It's a great month. We're going to celebrate it, but it's a, it's a piece that we should celebrate throughout the course of the year. And every other group let's celebrate them throughout the course of year. Let's not hide it. Let's not make it something that has to be a month for a special day.

You know, it's like orange t-shirt day. I don't think we should just have it as an orange shirt day. It's a serious thing that should be talked about constantly and something. Cause that's the only way that it's going to improve and be taken seriously. Awesome. Okay. So Ogle . If you had to, you know, walk in every morning into Zoe K your shop, and there was a song that was the theme that you wanted to sort of start your day with what song you're going to rock out to.

Oh my goodness. That is such a good question. I have so many songs that I love. I have this one song and it's young Jeezy, young Jeezy I put on for my [00:26:00] city. So it's a song that just about representing for myself. I love it. Like it's the one that I, I, if I'm pumped in and getting ready to do certain things, that would probably be the one, because like my dad said, when I was younger, Hey, you know, there was only a one Oak mob Wawa and you know, name and all of Canada right now because he was the only brother that decided to stay.

The rest of them, went to the U S he said, so your name is very important. So protect it and represent it. Well, when you leave this. And it's the same way that I feel about when I represent Winnipeg, would I go to Chicago? If I go to Toronto, I want to represent for my city. I want our brand to represent for the city that we might be smaller in stature, but we're big players that we can hang with any of the big people across the world.

And that's that's me putting on for my city. So that's totally, totally great. I appreciate your time today. Your store is located and trucks. Yeah, 45 George, a bay [00:27:00] unit six. You bet. Unit six. Awesome. Listen, man. Thanks for the time today. Really appreciate it. And look forward to coming to visit you sometime soon.

Thank you. You bet you can't wait to see you. Soon. Humans on rights is recorded and hosted by Stuart Murray, social media marketing by the creative team at full current in Winnipeg. Thanks also to Trixie may bet you in music by Doug Edmond for more go to human rights, hub.ca juiced and distributed by the sound off media company.