Danielle-Jocelyne Otou | On Womanhood, Female Entrepreneurship & Diaspora
Danielle Jocelyne Otouis a Montreal based entrepreneur, fashionista and philanthropist. Of Cameroonian origin, Danielle is the woman behind Female Department: a ‘modern yet Retro; Hip, yet Boho’ female brand with a clear vision. Female Department is a team of devoted individuals linking together fashion, community and most importantly female empowerment.
SAYASPORA: Let me first thank you for doing this interview with me today. Could you please introduce yourself in 3 words?
DANIELLE: Passionate. Resilient. Impatient.
SAYASPORA: Could you please introduce your brand: Female Department.
DANIELLE: Female Department is an online retailer which aims to use fashion as a means to connect, unite, and empower like-minded women. By offering a curated selection of eclectic fashion finds, exclusive networking events, and a lifestyle blog for active women (called#WomenWhoMove); Female Department aims to become a leading lifestyle brand. Fashion’s superficial aspect is often put forward, but little is known about its ability to unite, empower, and spark a conversation. Female Department’s primary objective is not only to empower its clientele through their personal style, but also to assemble and highlight those women who share both our vision on fashion and our focus on female entrepreneurship, community, and creativity.
SAYASPORA: Your success and your devotion towards female empowerment speaks to our own capability as women, especially African women to thrive and innovate. What does womanhood mean to you and how do its powers manifest into your own life/brand?
DANIELLE: The vision behind Female Department came to me as I was going through the most powerful stage of womanhood, pregnancy. Motherhood introduced me to the sacredness of womanhood, in the sense that the realization that if I can do something so divine as to create, bear, and give life to a human, then there was absolutely nothing I could not do…let alone something so relatively small as starting and growing a business.
SAYASPORA:Here at SAYASPORAwe are devoted to bridging the gap between the diaspora and the continent. Our experiences as African Women are diverse, yet the intersectionalities of our multiple identities cannot be ignored. What major challenges do African Women Entrepreneurs face on the continent and what is our role, as active members of the diaspora in bridging that gap?
DANIELLE: I think the first biggest challenge that women entrepreneurs in general face is overcoming our fears and limiting beliefs about our ability to be successful in business. Women are conditioned differently than men at an early age, in that we aren’t encouraged to be as risk-taking and opportunistic.
This inculcated risk aversion is even more prevalent amongst African women, who are culturally expected and raised to put themselves last, after their husband and kids. Balancing these traditional gender roles with our modern desire to thrive and pursue our passions is by far the hardest juggle women (across the globe) in business are currently learning to deal with.
As active members of the African diaspora, our role in bridging that gap lies in engaging our men in our fight for feminism. We cannot climb to the top without support from those who are already there; and our continent cannot rise without the lifting of its most important factor, women. Men need to understand this, and be willing to either share the thrown, or lose it altogether.
Beyond being the fashionista and successful entrepreneur that she is, Danielle Otou is also a philanthropist. At age 22, she founded Association des Jeunes de la Diaspora Camerounaise – AJDC, a network of young Cameroonians from the diaspora devoted to the development of Cameroon.
SAYASPORA: Can you tell us more about your philanthropist and humanitarian projects and the AJDC conference held in 2012? Is there anything coming up next?
DANIELLE: The idea behind the AJDC Conference held in 2012 was to bring the Cameroonian diaspora together for a day, and reflect on how we can make the slightest difference from abroad. I’m not one who believes that all Africans need to go back to the motherland in order for it to rise; however I do feel that our continent is at a critical time, and the active involvement of its diaspora, or lack thereof, can either make it or break it.
SAYASPORA: Right.Again speaking of diaspora, the essence of your association speaks to our duty as members of the diaspora, to continuously contribute to the emergence of our countries. What advice could you give those wishing to take part into that important contribution?
DANIELLE: Not to sound overly cliché, but Gandhi once said to “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. Everybody wants to change the world, but nobody wants to start with him or herself. You can’t aspire to change your continent if you personally still hold conflicting opinions and values which go against what is needed for Africa to rise. The best advice I could give to anyone seeking to make lasting impact is to start with you. Seek to personally know and grow yourself to the point that helping those in need almost becomes a reflex. Africa, and the world, will change one person at a time.
If you haven’t heard about Brunch In The Cityyet, now is the time! #BrunchInTheCity is a refreshing fashion networking event bringing together rising female vendors, entrepreneurs and fashionistas all around delicious cocktails, tapas and live DJ sets in Montreal’s trendiest and hidden spots!
SAYASPORA: How did the idea of #BrunchIntheCity come up?
DANIELLE: Brunch In The City actually stemmed from my wanting to share my platform, which was growing fairly quickly, with the wave of other women entrepreneurs surrounding me. I strongly believe in the power of partnership, and I wanted to come together with others to create an environment where women could do all of the things we love to do in a day; all the while supporting each other. Women crave community; and through its events, Female Department’s mission is to use fashion to create just that.
DANIELLE: Success to me is living a life that is aligned. It’s when your goals/accomplishments are aligned with your values, which are aligned with your personality, which in turn, are aligned with the Source (read: God, Allah, Yahweh, etc.). To make it simple, if you wake up every morning with your heart full, you are successful to me.
SAYASPORA: Right. Lastly, what would you like to tell to African and Black girls all around the world?
DANIELLE: I’d like to tell them to constantly strive to be more. More than what the media portrays us to be, more than what our continent’s state has fated us to be, more than what our mothers were, more than what we think we can be. Striving for more is what will set us, and the generations to come, free.
And let’s be honest, there’s nothing more fulfilling than becoming everything they thought you couldn’t. Success is the best revenge…