In the case of these pioneering mother-daughter pairs, it would seem that the apple indeed didn’t fall too far from the tree. Our writer caught up with them to find out what they rubbed off on each other:
Bidanya and Jennifer Barassa
Business guru Jennifer Barassa is the Founder and CEO of Top Image Africa Ltd, a 23 year old multinational below-the-line advertising agency. Her daughter Bidanya is yet another name that needs no introduction.
Despite a dazzling modelling career that started when she was 19, Bidanya’s heart craved a different kind of career. In marketing, she found her muse. She is the current Managing Director at her mother’s agency, being groomed to take the business to take the business to the next level. But it wasn’t an automatic transition into the family business.
While she was completing her Master’s degree in the US, Bidanya came up with a detailed 5-year plan for her life and career. Returning to Kenya, she joined her mother’s company working in Client Service. But she only lasted four months.
“I felt that I needed to do my own thing first and then come back when the time was right. I felt like my mum didn’t think I was mature enough to make decisions in the company. I would offer solutions that clients loved but she would initially fight me on.”
Bidanya accepted an advertising position for half the salary her mother had been paying her. “She couldn’t believe I left her for less money. She still talks about it to date. I never realised how bad she felt. She didn’t fight me though, and she still expected me to pay my share of our house expenses!”
Bidanya proceeded to stamp a permanent footprint in the marketing industry, gradually weaving her way into various managerial positions in global corporations such as Nestlé and Tetra Pak. Her career was soaring. Then, in 2009 leading to 2010, colon cancer struck.
“In hindsight, I see why that had to happen to me. My life was perfect. My five-year plan had until then come to pass and I was in a wonderful relationship. I needed to get away from being in a self-centred space and find my spiritual gift which is teaching and sharing knowledge. I wasn’t thinking about making a difference until went through cancer. ”
For 10 months, Bidanya had to brave chemotherapy every three weeks, while still holding down her job. In that time, her relationship ended. “I tried to fight the chemo with a brave face but I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.” She is grateful that she experienced minimal side effects during her treatment. Mostly, the sessions made me very tired and sleepy.
A while later, she received a job offer from a start-up firm. They were looking to recruit a Group Managing Director. Her mother, who had never given up on working with her daughter, also made her a job offer.
“It was during that holiday period in December and I had just left another position in Mauritius that November. I needed to think hard. In the end, it I didn’t make sense at the time to build someone else’s empire when I could get into the family business and grow that empire.”
Jennifer, glad to have her daughter back, overcompensated by offering Bidanya a bigger remuneration package than the start-up had offered for the same role.
In her new role as her mother’s successor, Bidanya oversaw their rebrand into a multinational company. She also saw the agency move into brand new offices from Wilson Airport to Westlands. They are also growing into newer markets from different countries.
Key lessons Bidanya swears she learned from watching her mother include responsibility, spirituality and hard work because she knows nothing can be achieved without it.
“I saw my mum start her company at home with just an answering machine. Look at where we are today.”
She also says that her mother showed her that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. “My mother is a strong, intelligent, independent woman, but she taught me how to learn to delegate. No one can do it all by themselves.”
Bidanya brought in a different style of management to the agency. “My mum manages by fear; I manage through passion. I introduced the open door policy to the business. I cannot help the team if they are too afraid to ask for help.”
Luckily they have not had too many teething problems in working together. Bidanya credits that to her global working experience. “She can finally see the value I bring to the family business, which is what I needed when I left many years ago. My voice is being heard and valued.”
Ann and Iona McCreath
Ann McCreath is a household name for Kenyan fashion. She has had an illustrious career at the helm of KikoRomeo Africa and had been at the forefront of many efforts involving fashion as a tool for socio-economic change. Her daughter Iona, who has just recently graduated from university, grew up watching her mother actively promote fine arts, fashion and events in their house and beyond. She has met and interacted with many industry players as a result of her mother’s artistic partnerships.
“Iona has been my apprentice from the time she was born,” Ann Mcreath begins with a big smile. “She was modelling from 3 months, I believe.”
They both agree that Iona’s feels most at home in an artistic environment. “The fact that I was a single mother might have played a big part – she came everywhere with me - but that was not the only factor. I believe she still would have been influenced by my work. She grew up in a house where a lot of creative contemporary African things happened. From a very young age, she was quite shy and quiet. But I have learned that shy people tend to be very observant. And in her silence, she kind of absorbed and learned everything that happened around her, and by extension, about the fashion industry.”
Iona adds, “I have always really enjoyed the process of working with my mum especially behind the scenes in production. I was already working at the shop by the time I was 14. I have been drawing and sketching since I was really small so it has always been natural; I would see something in the design process and give feedback and we still sort of bounce off each other that way.”
Iona’s inspiration for studying sociology was fashion, inspired by the late Ghanaian designer Kofi Ansah. “If I am trying to create a brand that supports a cause, then it is important for me to understand how society works and how to best get my message across in a positive way.”
For ten years, KikoRomeo had a home at the Yaya Centre, but in 2017, in response to a shift in the selling environment, Ann felt that it was time to close it and relocate. “I realised that my brand has become very commercial; the image I had in the shop wasn’t necessarily reflective of our brand’s creativity. Globally, the retail culture has changed; people aren’t going to buy from bricks and mortar establishments or malls as much as they used to. The kind of people who are interested in brands like KikoRomeo are looking for a more personalised retail experience, where they interact with the creator; and they will go anywhere for it.”
Needing to revert to her original creative space, Ann says that moving to their current location within The Kobo Trust has played a part in reenergising her. Iona on the other hand, injects youthful practicality into her mother’s original vision, as evidenced by her work in creating and designer her own line of clothing titled Kikoti. Originally, Ann created the line for Enkarasha around 2005 -2006. After they closed the line went dormant until Iona picked it back up in 2013, where she merged her conservationist side with fashion.
Iona played an instrumental part in reminding her mother that the retail and design business can be costly. In the beginning, KikoRomeo put out two new collections each for men, women and kids a year. “In this market, I found that that was great for PR and marketing, but quite costly in terms of return on investment. Iona is very business savvy, whereas I tend to be more artistically inclined. She is clearer on when it makes sense to be pioneering, and when to start reaping the fruits of the grounds that we have already pioneered in, and that is an intelligent use of money.”
Together, they are returning to two collections a year, refocused on men’s wear – KikoRomeo’s original concentration. To be more commercially viable, they are also looking into female interpretations of the men’s wear lines they create to satisfy clients looking to find androgynous fashion.
“No one really realises how much time, money and effort goes into setting up and growing a company’s infrastructure and I am grateful that my mum has all this experience that I can learn from,” Iona says.