Cynthia Asije, founder of Adire Lounge. (Credit: Courtesy of Adire Lounge)

Cynthia Asije has achieved something special in the sustainable fashion industry. Using agricultural waste – including banana stems – she developed a new material source for making textiles. The Paris-based CEO and founder of Adire Lounge, a company which sells those textiles as well as clothing, has won numerous awards for her innovations, and been recognized as a leading figure in the field. In 2017, she was hailed as the “Best Indigenous Textile Designer” by the ACE Awards. Asije’s company was also named one of Africa’s 100 Next Start-Ups by the World Bank. Today, Asije is proud to support the local farmers who supply the plant fibers Adire Lounge uses – and to have recycled over 50 million tons of agricultural scraps, which she says has reduced carbon emissions by over 80 million tons. 

Here’s our lightly edited Q&A, from The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project.

How is your business different from others in your industry?

By using agricultural waste, we are able to repurpose a material that otherwise would not be used for anything and turn it into something beautiful. We have created a unique way for these fibers to be made. We also support local communities through fair-trade labor practices.

Tell us about your biggest success so far. 

We were awarded the La French Tech Award, and were recognized as one of the Top 100 Female Social Enterprises in the European Union. To date, we have sold our products to over 3,000 customers in 40 different countries. 

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?

Personnel management. As we scale and grow, we want to ensure that our employees are aligned with the vision and mission of the company. To tackle this challenge, we have implemented systems and structures that promote effective communication, foster team spirit, and enhance overall productivity. We also hold monthly team bonding meetings where we discuss our progress, which helps our employees feel motivated and focused. 

Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?

I witnessed firsthand the negative impacts the textile industry has had on the environment. I wanted to create a solution. The social inequality I have witnessed also made me want to create job opportunities for marginalized communities through my business – especially women. 

What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs? 

Start with a clear plan. Define your business goals, target market and unique selling propositions before you start investing time and money in your business. 

Also, build a solid team. It’s important to surround yourself with talented and committed people who share your vision and values. Choose partners, employees and advisors who bring complementary skills and expertise to your business. 

Finally, stay focused on profitability. While it’s important to invest in growth and innovation, don’t lose sight of your bottom line. You have to make sure your business is generating enough revenue and profits to sustain itself and grow over time.

How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?

I take a break. Sometimes stepping away can help you clear your mind and gain a new perspective. Go for a walk, listen to music, read a book or do something that makes you happy and relaxed.

What is your go-to song to get motivated on tough days? 

I have a few. “Stronger” by Kanye West, “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey, and “Hall of Fame” by The Script featuring

Who is your most important role model?

Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx. She overcame many obstacles to build a successful company, and has created a brand committed to sustainability and social responsibility. ◼

Instagram: @adirelounge

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