As a female entrepreneur, founder and designer of The OULA Company, Erika Dalya Massaquoi is often juggling designing and running her brand while caring for her family. Since relocating to Denver last year and expanding The OULA Company, which is now available in various Nordstroms nationwide, Massaquoi is learning to find balance in her personal and professional life. Often, that means firing herself from her many jobs.
“I need to run my business not to let OULA run me,” Massaquoi said.
This mentality didn’t come easily. After relocating to Denver from Seattle in 2021, Massaquoi has focused on expanding The OULA Company nationwide. The Black and female-owned brand offers a line of dresses crafted from Ankara African Wax Fabric.
While her brand continues to flourish, Massaquoi has focused on expanding her team to initiate a balance between work and play in her life. As a mom, an excellent cook and with an eye for interior design, Massaquoi’s talents extend from fashion design. However, finding the energy to focus on her personal life outside of her brand has been a difficult journey.
“Sometimes I’ll hold onto things that I’m not even being productive with. You just have to let it go,” she said. “That’s what I’m doing, it’s all about pairing down, getting it off my plate so that my plate is balanced.”
Many female entrepreneurs experience a level of burnout due to the nature of running a business while caring for their families. As OULA grows, Massaquoi realized the importance of making time for herself in order for her brand to reach its peak success.
Activities like yoga and cooking help center Massaquoi both personally and professionally. A friend that recently passed helped her come to this realization. Massaquoi often finds her friend’s voice in her head encouraging her to care for herself before her brand.
“I would be like, ‘oh I don’t have time to go to yoga today,’” she said. “She’s the voice in my head who would be like, ‘oh Erika you’re only making excuses, you have to put yourself first.’”
Massaquoi’s ability to prioritize balance has led to the overall success of The OULA Company. Her collection is now available in 10 Nordstrom stores across the country, including the one here in the Cherry Creek Mall. The line is chic yet fun and flamboyant and serves a purpose for the woman looking to feel confident in what she is wearing regardless of the occasion.
The attention to detail in each OULA garment is apparent within every Nordstrom that carries the brand. As Massaquoi had to learn how to pivot her business model to become a supplier, her vision for her designs is apparent even in a retail setting.
“I really want The OULA Company, whether you’re purchasing it online or in-store, to almost be like an art installation,” she said. “All of the colors are clashing wondrously and it’s really an exercise in color theory and color play.”
The OULA Company is all about combining culture and fashion. Massaquoi’s designs derive from the African culture shared by her parents throughout her childhood. She often draws inspiration from The Black Arts Movement and the Black is Beautiful Movement, as well as her exposure to natural hair, statement jewelry and African prints.
Moments in time celebrating Black culture “really informed my own style ethos and it’s been coming out more and more the older that I get,” Massaquoi added.
Through her cultural inspiration, Massaquoi has created versatile pieces that are meant to withstand the test of time in any wardrobe. The fabric itself tells a story through its print, texture and wearability. While OULA is available in Nordstrom, the brand still prides itself on small batch pieces that are unique to the wearer.
“You’re not going to see yourself coming around the corner, it’s going to stand the test of time and you’re going to have it forever. You’ll be able to build your OULA collection almost like an art collection,” Massaquoi emphasized.
While the success of The OULA Company has been transformative, it hasn’t been easy. Massaquoi is learning the difficulties of selling her pieces in a department store. Although her experience in the fashion industry is vast, this new path has been a learning experience for her and her team.
In a retail setting, “the work begins once you’re on the floor. You don’t want to just survive, you want to thrive. And there’s so much competition and noise and there’s so much choice,” Massaquoi said. While OULA pieces can stand alone, they are surrounded by many other options. Therefore, Massaquoi continues to prioritize connecting with her customers on a personal level and telling a story through her designs.
“Any designer who is thinking holistically about their business … the intentionality behind it, is really something to be celebrated,” she added.
Massaquoi continues to expand in Nordstrom stores nationwide and has several additions in store for The OULA Company, including a jewelry line and a memoir depicting her cultural experience as a fashion designer. All the while, Massaquoi has enjoyed settling into her new chapter of life in Denver.
Finding balance is enjoying the community of female entrepreneurs in Denver, supporting her daughter who is an avid equestrian and taking the time to renovate her historic home in Capitol Hill.
“I love Capitol Hill, it feels like Brooklyn,” Massaquoi said. “There’s all these different characters and just a huge economic mix which I love. I love that you can walk the neighborhood.”
With beautiful weather and a rapidly growing fashion scene, Massaquoi is thriving in Denver. Her intentional outlook to find purpose in her life while running her brand serves as a model for designers relocating to a city like Denver or experiencing growth in both their personal and professional lives. Massaquoi’s advice to those in her shoes is to give themselves praise every once in a while – even though it may not seem like it, their hard work will pay off.
“It’s important to be able to pivot your perspectives and your business so that you can participate fully,” Massaquoi added. “I’m doing enough just by running OULA responsibly and being present for my family – that’s good work.”