Young Entrepreneur Wale Alesh shares his beautiful perspective on life, which accompanies both his eye for fashion, as well as his love for West African culture. – By Jess Evora (All Photos by MUJO SIX)
Providence-native Wale Alesh stood at the corner of a busy street in Providence, RI. Crowds of people filled the blocked streets of downtown on this warm June afternoon. It was nearing the end of one of Rhode Island’s largest block parties, PVD Fest, and the MUJO SIX pop-up shop was so successful that Wale – the owner – was literally selling shirts off his back.
It proved to be a successful day of business for the relatively new clothing company. However, for Wale, MUJO SIX is about more than just business. MUJO SIX is a means to spread awareness of the beauty and elegance of West African culture.
Wale carefully selects dynamic prints from Nigeria to craft into beautiful works of art. And as the company has expanded over the past few years, he has worked to ensure that every piece continues to be handmade with care.
With the great success of MUJO SIX, and the recent spotlight on West African culture by mainstream media, I sat down with Wale to discuss the goals of his work, as well as how it all got started.
Wale Alesh, who identifies as Nigerian, always had a love for West African culture. He also thoroughly enjoys fashion. “I really wanted to know how to tailor clothing so I spent a lot of my time teaching myself.”
Wale recognized the power of social media as a tool in spreading ideas and sharing messages. He began wearing the clothing he created and published photos on social media to showcase his work. People soon started to ask Wale to buy the pieces. This is where the entrepreneur in him kicked into gear.
“I started selling some pieces literally off of IG [Instagram], and I was surprised,” Alesh said. “They would send the money via DM [Direct Message] on PayPal. This is not normally something you would experience through traditional marketing. So I thought, ‘Okay. Let’s see what I can do with this.’”
Wale decided his next step would be to create his first pieces of clothing specifically made for sale. “The first 6 pieces were Dashiki tops, and it was a hit on IG. I sold all of them within a week.”
This was all Wale needed to realize that he had something special here. This is how MUJO SIX was born. The “MUJO” in the brand’s name is a combination of his mother and sister’s name. “MUJO SIX was named after the love of my mom and my sister,” Wale said. “The ‘Six’ represents the first pieces of clothing sold.”
Wale soon developed a website and began producing a variety of traditional West African pieces, as well as custom-made orders. He has been producing handmade quality pieces ever since. Wale is happy with how far his company has come since it’s initial creation in 2015. And his success at PVD Fest last month is just one indicator of how far MUJO SIX can go.
Taking That First Step
I asked Wale if he experienced any fear or hesitation during the start-up process. Wale successfully turned MUJO SIX from an idea to a business. This process takes time, and it takes a willingness to risk failure.
“I actually enjoy failing,” Wale said. “I think I failed enough and succeeded enough in life that I don’t see failure as a negative.”
Wale recalled a time several years ago when he had put a lot of effort into PartyWithLe, an initiative he started in 2010 to bring together young professionals in Rhode Island for unique, upscale experiences in the Providence area. PartyWithLe produced many successful events.
However, it was ultimately not a project Wale chose to continue. “With everything you start, you learn something, whether it was successful or not,” Wale said. “Do I experience challenges? Yes. But fear? No.”
Wale chooses to not allow fear to impact the decisions he makes in his life. “I’m really fearless. Before I walked on to the basketball team at URI [University of Rhode Island], people laughed at me.” Wale said.
This did not stop him from giving everything he had during tryouts back in 2007. Wale walked on the team during his junior year of school. He would go on to enjoy 2 years on the URI NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball team before graduating with his degree. “When you believe in something, you have to go for it,” Wale said.
He is not only a business owner with a passion for fashion and interior design, but he also loves his career in IT (Information Technology). After attending high school at both Times Square and Mount Pleasant in Providence, RI, Wale earn his bachelor’s degree in IT Systems from URI.
He went on to obtain his master’s degree in Cyber-Security also at URI, and has been enjoying his work as an IT Manager ever since. “I guess I got lucky because my day job is something I like to do,” Wale said.
His love for his full-time career did not stop him from pursuing his creativity. Wale believes anyone with an idea that excites them should run with it.
“I’ve always been a creative person and into design. I’ve always had a love for West African culture,” Wale said. “So, as with anything else I do, I decided to just start. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Some people take so long to write a business plan, and to perfect something, and they don’t realize that just starting is sometimes enough.”
Spreading Culture Through Clothing
Wale attributes much of his success to his Nigerian roots. His culture has played an important role in the creation of MUJO SIX. It also continues to heavily influence the way he lives his life.
“If you think about the Nigerian cultural in general, Nigerians are probably one of the most educated immigrant groups in the U.S.,” Wale said. “Education is a great value. If it wasn’t for school, I wouldn’t have these skills. I’m not saying school is necessary for everyone, but for me, it was crucial.
“In Nigerian culture, you are just held to a different standard. Your parents believe in you so much and want you to shoot for the stars,” Wale said. “It’s a culture of excellence.”
“When I was growing up in school, all we had was Caucasian people and National Geographic to tell us what Africa looked like, that we’re all living in huts,” Wale said. “But today, the Internet has opened the World’s eyes to what West Africa really looks like. People are able to provide their own narrative. Africa is more influential than people realize.”
Wale intends to continue to widen this exposure through his fashion.
“We’ve had on a blindfold to the culture for so long,” Alesh said. “This is why I’m so happy to do this work through MUJO SIX. To some it might just be a trend, but I can tell you about the print, and how there is intention in every pattern of fabric. The clothing shows that we are one. It shows unity.”
This is a beautiful concept, especially considering the importance of unity among today’s young professionals. We should support each other’s dreams, invest in each other’s businesses, and celebrate each other’s achievements. We are stronger together, especially once we realize that there is enough sunlight in this world for all of us.
And with that, I wish Wale all the sunlight in the World as he continues his pursuit to spread unity via the West African fashion of MUJO SIX.
- Shop MUJO SIX: mujosix.com
- Connect on Instagram: @youufirst
- Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
- Wale suggests Things Fall Apart by Nigerian Author Chinua Achebe. This beautiful piece of art is one of the most widely read and loved pieces of African literature. This is one of the several African works that shines bright on President Obama’s 2018 Summer Reading List. Pick it up the next time you’re looking for something beautiful and thought-provoking in which to indulge.
LOOKING FOR MORE?
- Check out our list of resources for young entrepreneurs.
- Listen to our special compilation of leadership podcasts for more inspiration.
- Participate in one of the many excellent Rhode Island programs for young people with big dreams.
US & OUR CULTURE
A blog that celebrates the diversity and the impact of today’s young professionals
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
– African Proverb