By Alexandra Sternlicht
Fisayo Longe wants to be very rich, and not from an inheritance or marriage, but on her own. The pursuit of financial freedom is what keeps Nigeria-raised entrepreneur logging 70-hour workweeks at her women’s clothing brand, Kai Collective.
“The clothes are really a love letter to women who grew up the way I grew up, which was very much going through life in a standard way: coming up in school, getting married and deferring to a man,” says Longe, the face of the 2021 Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe Art & Culture list. “I wanted to build something that would show Nigerian women that we can actually prioritize making money, not just relying on a man.”
Since founding the Africa-inspired, direct-to-consumer e-commerce company in 2016, Longe hasn’t taken a cent of outside funding and owns 100% of the business. She’s focused her efforts on growing Kai through community, going so far as to survey top customers and incorporate their feedback into every strategic decision, from color palette to cut. Her strategy appears to be paying off: From 2019 to 2020, revenue grew 535% to $550,000.
“Our clothes make women feel good, but I don’t think we would be successful if it wasn’t for our community building and our very clear message that priorities and uplifts women,” says Longe.
Though the majority of her customer base is made up of Black women between the ages of 24 and 30 living in the U.S., U.K., Australia and Nigeria, Longe’s models represent a diversity of ages, body types, ethnicities and races. With every article of clothing, she aims to simultaneously celebrate and subvert Nigerian culture, and while many of her bestselling pieces—including the floor-dusting, curve-hugging Gaia dress, designed by Adebusola Adetona, CEO of Nigeria-based Grapes Pattern Bank—may look expensive, they cost less than $230. And each dress is cut from the same cloth, making them unique, not to mention sustainable.
“Growing up, we women were taught to be kind, sweet and quiet,” Longe says, who is usually based in London but temporarily in Tulum to oversee the photoshoot for Kai’s first-ever swim collection. “For me, it’s about embracing femininity in all forms.”
Longe’s journey has been anything but traditional. At 15, she moved from Lagos to..