Nneji Akunne is the Cofounder of ILERA Apothecary, a handcrafted skincare brand that uses organic ingredients in collaboration with her sister, Chinonye. She is also the founder of AFRICAN L’HOMME, a menswear and lifestyle platform focused on men on the African continent and in the diaspor; and the founder of upcoming vintage womenswear company, AKACHI where the power of femininity is celebrated through curated vintage pieces. Her journey is inspirational and she shares with us how she thrives, with a team of supporters on her side.

Do you have a support system in place? If so, how important is it to cultivate meaningful connections that push you to be your best?

Support systems are extremely important for growth and sanity, which is why I take mine seriously. While my sister serves as part of my support system, I keep friends, family and mentors in the loop of the projects that I’m working on so that they are aware of different areas that I potentially may need support in.

How often do you ask for input or feedback with your work?

I’m a little ashamed to say that I don’t ask for help as much as I should. I’m kind of a perfectionist that won’t show others what I’m working on  until I feel it’s 100% ready, when in reality, that’s what keeps me from pushing through and getting things the right way. Lately, I have been challenging myself to showcase my projects to a select few before they are complete so that I can receive necessary feedback.

How do you settle differences in your partnership/collaborative project?

Whew! This is a tough one. It honestly depends on who I’m working with. Because my primary business is working with my sister, we handle things a lot differently than how I would an outside partner. When we initially got into business, our communication skills were a bit off because we weren’t used to communicating in a business manner and would solve our problems by telling our parents. Now, in our third year of business, we had to get real with ourselves and lay down some rules on how to effectively communicate and settle our differences.

When working in other partnerships, I have a contract drawn out that states the terms in which myself and  the partner will operate. We come to an agreement on how we will settle our differences, often times by a voting process and proceed from there. If a difference in opinions arises and we can’t come to an agreement, I suggest we set the issue aside and come back to it at a later time to avoid any uprising conflicts. If we still are not able to come to a decision, I like to create a business case as to why my idea would work and ask that my partner does the same. Once concrete information is provided, we can then move forward with the best decision. Things typically don’t get this far in the process but, I believe it’s an important strategy to keep.

Any advice to women and men hesitant to ask for help or input/feedback?

Even if you don’t think you need input/feedback, ask for it.

There is so much information out there and when we’re working on our businesses / passion projects, we think that no one else can tell us something we don’t already know, which is far from the truth. One concept I have learned is to ask  strangers how they feel about my projects. They know nothing about me and are not obligated to lie to me in order to avoid hurting my feelings the way friends or family may. When we communicate with strangers, we tend to provide a lot more information about the projects we’re working on because we are not close to them thus, enabling the stranger to have a better viewpoint on what we’re attempting to release.