Earlier this year, Boston University student Malika Kounkourou, a graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences, started her own jewelry business”Chidite” — a brand whose mission is to share the culture of the Tuareg, a Saharan ethnic group.
Whenever she visited her family’s hometown in Niger, Kounkourou always brought home handmade jewelry from her tribe, the Tuareg people, for her friends back home. Jewelry has grown in popularity. Initially, she had no plans to turn the application into a business, at least not until after she graduated.
“I was like, ‘maybe one day I’ll start selling these for real,'” she said. “I really thought it would be like, way later in time.”
However, in the summer of 2020, Kounkourou’s father suggested that he start selling the authentic jewelry online.
With more free time and the support of her family during her distance learning, Kounkourou was able to officially launch the Tchidite brand last February. According to its mission statement, Tchidite aims to “preserve heritage, encourage authenticity and follow it”.
With the help of family friends, Kounkourou tapped into social media apps, such as Clubhouse and WhatsApp, to make connections and find mentors. They helped her access resources to launch her new brand.
She added that Tchidite had also started selling jewelry to help struggling artisan businesses.
“Artisans have really been affected by COVID because there is no tourism,” Kounkourou said. “They weren’t selling anything.”
Kounkourou said the brand name, Tchidite, which translates to truth, is about “making everything true to the culture and true to the people who make it.”
Kounkourou also added that authenticity is a fundamental tenet of his brand.
“Most of the time it’s not a culture person who sells it, it’s just a tourist who picked them up and came back to sell them,” she said. “It’s crazy that people wear these symbols and don’t even know the connection.”
During her first year, she noticed a classmate wearing a familiar cross on her collar – it was the symbol of the Kounkourou tribe. When questioned, Kounkourou said her classmate did not seem to know the meaning of the cross.
Although she doesn’t plan to focus all of her energy on the brand after graduation, Kounkourou hopes to continue working on the project for the foreseeable future.
Humna Siddiqi, a senior executive at CAS, claims to be Tchidite’s first client. She bought a ‘TANFUK’ necklace because she liked that it represented growth, which she experienced during the pandemic.
“I always knew representing her culture and traditions was meaningful and meaningful to Malika and I loved the idea of how she wanted to showcase that,” Siddiqi said in an email.
Hikima Lukomwa, a senior at Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and a friend of Kounkourou, describes her as a “powerhouse in every aspect of the word.”
“I feel like she wants to build community,” Lukomwa said. “I think she wants to impact the people she touches, so in that sense I wouldn’t necessarily say she achieved her goal just because it feels like the goal never ends. “
When Kounkourou was building her brand, Lukomwa said she agreed to help. Modeling for jewelry and buying pieces, she made sure to be there for her friend every step of the way.
“She’s got a lot of really cool ideas and I’m really happy to see her when she has time to spend on Tchidite,” Lukomwa said.
From BU today published an article about Kounkourou’s brand in April, she said many NGOs contacted her, seeking to learn more and collaborate.
Following the success of her startup, Kounkourou encourages other freelance students to seek advice, especially from small business owners — “people are friendlier than we think,” she said. “You’ll never be ready to do it, so do it.”