Bernice Ekoula: Turning passion into a business
At 22, Bernice Ekoula designs jewelry and already owns her own E-shop, “33:3”, pronounced thirthy-three-three. “I started off by designing just for friends,” she says. Today Bernice owns her own online shop where she offers a variety of accessories “for you” meaning “first come first served”. As she explains, this is because each piece carries individual features, exists only once and that makes it unique. Maischna Magazine discovered Bernice’s wonderful earring collection through Facebook and contacted her for an interview.
Tell us, who is Bernice Ekoula?
I was born in Brazzaville and my family moved over to Germany when I was three years old. I carry the Congolese as well as the German cultures in me. Ironically, on both ends of each culture, I have always been seen as “the other”. That is fine with me; I have always been different and it’s okay.
How long have you been designing jewelry?
I have been designing for about 4 years. I started off by designing just for friends. In the beginning, I did just bags but for the past one and a half years, I have also been designing jewelry. I do earrings, chains, rings, bracelets and brooches.
What motivated you to produce jewelry?
What really got me started was desire. You know, like when you see all this great stuff and you don’t know where or how to get it. So I decided to make mine, similar to the stuff I like. I actually found my designs more beautiful. Although I do everything from rings, chains and bracelets, I do mostly earrings. This is because I have less time as I am studying and I also lack the necessary resources since I have to finance everything myself. I always wanted to explore my creativity and I was confident I could do it. It is always amazing how positively people react to my designs and it gives me the assurance that I am at the right place and doing the right thing. My friends are the ones who gave me the final push to “go for it” and I am forever grateful to them.
So tell us when was that moment when you decided to finally transform this passion of yours into a business, that is, make money from it?
People would come up to me on the street to ask me about the jewelry I was wearing, or ask my friends where they got their pieces. As the demand grew more and more, I decided to produce a whole lot of them to keep up with the demand. That’s where the idea of starting up a business came from.
You must have faced some challenges in setting up your business …
Oh yeah! Building a website and having almost no funding were my greatest challenges. I started out with maybe ten euro or even less. I had to design the website all by myself, look for models to present my jewelry, organize photo shoots and, in fact, I could not pay the photographer. Besides all these creative issues, I had to deal with bureaucratic issues as well, you know, chase all the official paperwork required to set up a business. At one point, I almost thought of giving up but I’m glad I hang in there. At the moment, I also have to see to it that I run the business and finish my Social Work studies.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Different places, different people and different things inspire me. It could be a piece from the next fashion magazine, or a visit to the museum or a look at the different cultures I encounter or a simple look at my chaotic bedroom. I get inspired by variety and that is reflected in my work.
What is the story behind the name 33:3?
Apart from the fact that all good things come in threes, and some positive characteristics are attributed to numerology, such as creativity, flexibility and independence – which also applies to me – the name however comes from the biblical verse, Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to me and I will answer you and show you great and mysterious things that you know nothing about.” These words made it clear that things that are common to some for a craft, can be something admirable and fascinating for others.
Do you have a role-model?
Well, there a lot of people I respect and admire. But I do not have anyone in particular I can single out as my role model.
Tell us about your family and how supportive they’ve been to your business.
I live with my mum and my two older siblings. My mother left Congo for Germany in the 70s on scholarship to study Informatics in the former DDR. After her studies, she decided to stay in Germany and now works as a linguistic mediator. My dad lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in spite of the distance, he has always been a strong and positive influence in my life. As for my business, my mother may have been a bit sceptical at the beginning but she is impressed at my courage and the fact that I followed my heart and did this all on my own.
Any big plans for the future?
I haven’t actually thought that far as I would like to get established first. It is normal of course to dream big as I am of the firm belief that nothing is impossible as long as you want it enough and work hard for it. But the focus is different as far as my shop is concerned. As much as I want everything to be perfect and that I can make money from my designs, what is more important to me is not to lose the passion for what I do and that I will always enjoy doing it. The only worry I have is not having a location for my shop. I would have preferred having personal contact with my clients in addition to the e-shop.
What would you say if your jewelry creations suddenly became famous worldwide?
Y-e-s! Great, awesome!!
What is your advice to other young talents out there who lack the courage to pursue their dreams?
I would tell them to go for it. I would tell them to believe in themselves. It certainly won’t be an easy road, but it is one worth taking. They should never lose focus and should always stay true to themselves. Get rid of all negativity and be careful who you tell your plans.