Fashion and passion: Meet Zipporah Bett, founder of Zia Africa
ZIPPORAH BETT is the founder of Zia Africa, a clothing and accessories brand founded in 2013 when she was just 20. She is an entrepreneur who has always loved business from a tender age. She terms Zia her second business, with her first being a popcorn vending business she started at 10, on the roadside. NJERI MAINA caught up with her to learn more about her business acumen.
Tell us about your childhood and what you wanted to be growing up?
I’m the last-born in a family of five. I was raised in church by supportive parents.
From a young age, we were taught the importance of faith over fear, and I think that shaped how willing I was and still am to chase my dreams and take risks.
Growing up, I wanted to be a paediatrician, but that ship sailed after my first chemistry class (laughs).
What did you study?
I studied community development at Daystar University. I have always wanted to empower people, so this was a natural step.
I still use my education when I am crafting strategy on how my fashion brand can better impact people and communities. That is the great thing about knowledge; it is never defunct.
What inspired you to start Zia Africa?
My two sisters and I started Zia exactly eight years ago this month. I was inspired by the idea of creating access to clothing that would make women stand out while making them look and feel good.
At the time, I found that there was limited access to good quality, unique and affordable clothing.
It has always been about empowering women to be the best version of themselves through every collection we put out.
What does Zia mean?
Zia is actually my nickname from high school, which has persevered long after school. It means “light” or “splendour”.
We hope to make our consumers feel splendid every time they wear our clothes. We also hope to empower people to be their best selves and be beacons of light in their different communities.
Coming up with inspiration for new items can be difficult. Where do you draw yours?
From everyday life and struggles. For example, my recent Hodari sweat suit collection was inspired by the latest leaps I’ve been taking in life, including but not limited to my weight loss.
These leaps have forced me to step out of my comfort zone and conquer more of my dreams and fears.
But, at times, I hit a creative block. When this happens, I take a break and travel, spend time in prayer, journal and surround myself with creative, likeminded people.
What have been other challenges you have faced in business?
There have been several. Businesses face challenges daily, and that is part of running an enterprise.
While starting out, the biggest challenge was finding the right mix to produce locally, and the high importation fees, as we were bringing in the finished products.
Through hard work and a lot of networking, we started producing locally. The next challenge we faced was learning how to scale up. We are a work in progress.
It took me several years to finally get my big break, where most of our consumers knew and trusted us.
We are not yet where we aspire to be, however, it has been quite the journey already, and we celebrate where we are and where we are going.
What have been the highlights?
Wow, there are so many, it’s hard to pick just one. Collaborating with digital creator Sharon Mwangi was a big highlight for me.
I learnt a lot from her, and it was an amazing creative process for the brand. Rebranding from Zia Collection to Zia Africa was also a major highlight, as it is something I had wanted for a long time.
This year, we gave a full makeover and photo shoot to a mum who doubles up as an essential worker, on Mother’s Day. Seeing the joy on her face was indescribable.
What keeps you going?
God, family and the desire to inspire and uplift women.
When did you decide to ship globally and how has that been?
It was a decision made quite early on in my business. I was able to actualise it a year ago, and we have been shipping worldwide since. We have shipped to Australia, Switzerland, Canada, UK and America.
Do you have a support system or mentors?
Yes, I have an amazing support system of fellow entrepreneurs alongside a mentor to whom I credit my growth. I do think it’s important to have a mentor, a good one at that.
You will avoid plenty of mistakes because of their experience, and they will push you beyond your limits.
What do you hope to achieve with the brand?
I hope to be the number one store in Africa for timeless, well-thought out pieces.
What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion to me is both an extension of one’s personality and a form of expression. Through the collections we put out, you can learn a lot about me as a person.
Whether it’s a dress that makes you feel empowered or a tee reminding you of your worth, the fashion and passion you find at Zia Africa will be difficult to find elsewhere.
What are the lessons you have learnt while in business?
I have learnt the importance of discipline and resilience. I have learnt to take risks and to trust my gut. I have learnt to dream big, as you can only go as far as you can envision. Thanks to the pandemic, I have learnt how to quickly adapt to change.
You are also a digital consultant on the side. What does this look like?
I am. I enjoy helping businesses grow their online presence through digital marketing. Since I also run my business full time, I try to plan ahead of time.
This helps ensure that I don’t spread myself too thin. I believe that you can be anything and everything you want to be if you just decide on it and pursue that.
What do you do for fun?
Run my business (laughs). Just kidding. I love to travel, discovering new places and restaurants, engaging in nourishing conversations with likeminded people, working out and trying out new recipes.
What does a day in the life of Zipporah look like?
On most days, I’m up by 4am. I put in a good workout, some quiet time, and family time before the day begins.
During the day, you’ll most likely find me in a meeting, working on proposals, reading on global brands or working on future collections.
You have achieved a lot while quite young. What is your definition of success?
Wow. Thank you. There’s still a lot to be accomplished and success is fleeting. Success is a continuous process and not just one point in time.
I live by a quote that says, “The most successful lives are those of people who have had a very positive impact on a great number of people”.
So, each day, I seek to do more than just make money. I spend time with those I love, give back often, spread love and kindness, and strive to be the absolute best at what I do.
What would you tell your younger self?
You are doing amazing, sweetie. Trust the process.
What in your opinion shaped your ‘let’s do business’ mentality whereas so many are scared of business?
Possibly my desire to leave a legacy and break barriers. I am driven to push through even when afraid. Especially when afraid.
What can you tell people scared of starting their own businesses?
I would say, just start. You will never be completely ready or have enough money.
Trust the desire God has put in your heart; that is your purpose. Follow it and follow it with everything you have. That is what creates success.
What are your plans for the future?
We plan on expanding into the rest of East Africa in the near future and, who knows, maybe another collaboration is in the works.