Queen Mary Alumni

Alumni profile - Ayotunde Rufai

Fashion has always been an expression of a community and/or individuals who represent a community. You cannot separate the two, and to get people to buy into any idea you need to make them feel a part of a community. For Jendaya, our aim to do luxury “The African way” means that our culture is one of our differentiators; the African identity is vibrant and fashion-forward which translates into our clothing and our branding. 

(Biology BSc, 2014)

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What did you enjoy most about studying Biology at Queen Mary and how has your degree remained relevant throughout your life and career?

I enjoyed getting to know the people on my course, their backgrounds, their ambitions for after the course and their wider networks (in fact, one of my course mates is an angel investor in Jendaya!). After graduating, I ventured into a career in investment banking and an MSc in Entrepreneurship and I would say that the analytical mind I had developed throughout my degree was most helpful in both of these avenues. When I entered the world of work, it was particularly nice to see Managing Directors and Heads of trading floors be Queen Mary alumni (and specifically Biology alumni too) and to know that I was following in the footsteps of the alumni before me. On this course I was also able to meet some of my best friends till today.

What was special about your time at Queen Mary? Were you involved in any sports, societies or extracurricular activities and if so, how have they contributed to the person you are today?

I joined the ACS (Afro Caribbean Society) and that helped me navigate being a university student as it opened me up to a team of students from different degree professions and enrolment years. It also introduced me to some of my current group of friends and my Co-Founder at Jendaya who was from a neighboring London university as we would always do intra-London events.

Jendaya is a luxury fashion ecommerce business with a focus on buyers from continental Africa, but also accessible for the global shopper. The name Jendaya means thankful in the Zimbabwean dialect of Shona. 

You are a ‘former Investment Banker turned Fashion Entrepreneur’ as CEO and Co-Founder of Jendaya. Please tell us a bit more about Jendaya and your journey with the company to date.

Jendaya is a luxury fashion ecommerce business with a focus on buyers from continental Africa, but also accessible for the global shopper. So at its core we are a fashion and logistics tech company. The name Jendaya means thankful in the Zimbabwean dialect of Shona. It has been an interesting journey from entering our first competition in 2018 with the University of Monaco, their annual luxury startup competition for which we reached the semi-final, after which we started believing in our idea. To now receiving angel investment from the likes of Game of Thrones actress Maisie Williams.

Jendaya model wearing African inspired clothing

Jendaya prides itself on being grounded in culture and community and the first platform to prioritise the African shopper. In your opinion, what is the link between fashion and community?

Fashion has always been an expression of a community and/or individuals who represent a community. You cannot separate the two, and to get people to buy into any idea you need to make them feel a part of a community. This is why we started with an editorial-only platform to build consumer trust and let people into our world. For us, our aim to do luxury “The African way” means that our culture is one of our differentiators. The African identity is vibrant and fashion-forward and so the customer deserves the same thought and attention as luxury buyers in other parts of the world. This is reflected in our branding too, which breaks away from the typical monochrome.

What are some of the distinct features of the clothing available to buy through Jendaya? What makes it unique?

We list both international and African brands, so you can discover new brands, shop the best (both familiar and new brands) and digest great content. We also have a personal shopping concierge service to help customers source items that are not available on our platform. So everything from African accessories brand AAKS, to Italian heritage menswear brand Zegna, is available on JENDAYA.

Black History Month is a much welcomed reminder of pioneering black individuals and defining moments in history. I do wish it wasn’t an event that we celebrate at specific moments in the year, but that it was more something we were cognizant of in our everyday lives. 

Huge congratulations on being featured in ‘Guap Magazine’s 30 Under 30 Black Professionals and Creatives you need to know’. What inspires and motivates you and what has been a highlight in your entrepreneurial journey to date?

I would say I am inspired by my best friends, peers and family members who are working hard and breaking new ground in their respective fields. I want to make a name for myself within fashion tech as a black African (British) male. One of the highlights for me would be our initial 2 hour long conversation with fashion entrepreneur maven and legend, founder of Net-A-Porter Natalie Massent, who has been one of our industry supporters for over a year now.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

A much welcomed reminder of pioneering black individuals and defining moments in history. I do wish, however, that it wasn’t an event that we celebrate at specific moments in the year, but something that we are cognizant of in our everyday lives. So instead a fair account of black history in politics, history, economics, engineering, the Arts etc should be woven into the everyday fabric of life and into our teachings for future generations to come. 

Jendaya model wearing African inspired clothing

This year’s theme is ‘Proud To Be’ and its aim is to celebrate being Black or Brown, and to inspire and share the pride people have in their heritage and culture. Why are you ‘Proud to Be’?

I am proud to be a Black Entrepreneur!

Do you have any particular Black role models?

My role models are creative director and founder of the fashion brand Fear of God, Jerry Lorenzo, black music executive and icon, Clearance Avant and cosmetics and men’s grooming entrepreneur and CEO of Walker & Company, Tristan Walker. 

In your opinion, what are some of the most pressing issues faced by black communities and what do you think needs to be done to bring about greater equality and racial justice to the black community?

In terms of issues facing black entrepreneurs like myself, I would say we need less mentoring and more funding for our ideas, the playing fields needs to be evened and less opaque. Our counterparts are being funded with less of an idea and validation and it can be really frustrating. This is what I would like to focus on, because there are a myriad of issues with unique nuances that others are more qualified to speak on.

This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Officer, Nicole Brownfield. If you would like to get in touch with Ayotunde or engage him in your work, please contact Nicole at n.brownfield@qmul.ac.uk