CV Convo with Stefania Manfreda: Stitching Together A Creative Career on One’s Own Terms

The New Career Platform and Circumspecte joined forces to launch the interactive Instagram Live (IGLive) series CV Convos on navigating careers as young professionals. In CV Convos, career coach and Circumspecte.com founder Jemila Abdulai chats with Ghanaian and African professionals about the highs and lows of shaping careers, as well as the lessons learned along the way.

For the first  IGLive segment we talked to Ms. Stefania Manfreda, owner, curator and designer of the brand Lokko House in Accra. She shared so many gems in this CV Convo so get ready to be enlightened by her experiences. As Stefania emphasised throughout the conversation: “Every job will teach you something, no matter what job it is.” Stefania’s curriculum vitae (CV) is very impressive with many different activities and roles over the years.  A multifaceted entrepreneur and the brainchild of various brands including Elle Lokko and Lokko House, she is well known in creative circles in Accra for her work in fashion, retail, visual design, communications and furniture design. Through her work and the Lokko brands, Stefania has also been involved in promoting Ghanaian and African creativity for the past 12 years. She curates retail experiences, exhibitions, and out-of-the-box events that evolve around Ghanaian art, music and urban culture.

Stefania Manfreda: a curious human being

Stefania Manfreda describes herself as a curious human being, which is definitely reflected by the diversity of her CV. She links her curiosity to her zodiac sign gemini; they are known to be endlessly curious by nature. Aside from her natural instinct to ‘know more’, she also sees information as her drug. She is always on the lookout for something, on the hunt to know more. If she gets a new project, the first thing she does is research. Generally speaking, she is a person who wants to know the ‘why’ about everything in life. A bit of stubbornness comes with this curiosity, and this curiosity needs some satisfaction every day. As the creator,designer, and owner of Lokko House, Stefania’s day usually starts around 9am or 10am because she is a bit of a night creature. Nighttime is personal time for her, and she uses it  to do research, satisfy her curiosity and get new information through her “online explorations”. She starts her day behind her desk and comes up with a plan for the day. Later in the day she heads to the Elle Lokko shop to check if anything needs her attention. The Lokko House is a buzzing hub so many people pass by the store and office; Stefania usually spends her afternoon conversing with customers and guests. Evening time is when she gets time for herself and gets her creative juices flowing.

 

 

Stefania’s first job: Sales Clerk

Stefania’s first job was as a sales person; she was a student and became a shop clerk at a neck tie store for the Christmas period in Italy. Working in the shop taught her about the importance of her relationship with customers, especially because she was dealing with neck ties which can be very personal products. Stefania had to do one-on-one sales pitches for almost every tie she sold because people were very particular about their ties. As a salesperson in fashion, you have to have a sense of style and know who you are getting the item for, she explained. You would need to know about the person’s personality and what they like; a new thing she had to learn on the job. Keeping in mind the human aspect of work is very important in shaping your career. Stefania emphasised that any job will make you work with people and people skills are therefore key to develop: “In a first job you interface with experiences that you never faced before and you just have to learn from the situation. Every job will teach you something, no matter what job it is”.

Finding a career path

Education played a major role in Stefania’s career even though it was not straightforward. Instead, “it was a meandering path I had, I liked too many things – I mixed everything from languages to art to computers to science,” Stefania explained. She describes her academic career as a tasting menu with all the different things she wanted to do. In the end, and with help from loved ones, she chose to study economics. Although she knew almost immediately it was a wrong choice, she wanted to give it a shot for at least two years. However, this did not turn out right and she became quite unhappy. She started skipping classes and spent most of her time sewing. Figuring out what she wanted to do was a confusing period for Stefania. Eventually, she found a faculty program she liked with syllabus topics such as history of design and photography. She wasn’t sure what she would do with it but decided to give it a go. The experience turned out to be great. She ended up going to Milan and immersed herself in a whole new world for the next five years. Stefania’s educational path wasn’t a straight one, but in the end, she felt that she was in the right place.

“My neighbours were these old ladies who sewed. I used to visit them and they taught me how to sew so I spent most of my days sewing with them…This has helped me with what I am doing now – I know how to put together an outfit, and what the quality standard should be as I learned from the best. I can look at a piece and take it apart to see if it’s made well or not. So all these things come around.”

CV Convos host Jemila Abdulai pointed out that most career trajectories are not as linear as one may expect. Exploring career options and being willing to try different fields as a student or entry level professional can help one find their career path – especially since there are more constraints against risk-taking in mid-level and high-level jobs. Ultimately however, Stefania believes it is important to be true to oneself: “At the end of the day it’s your own story and your own evolution. It’s very important to be very sensitive to how you are feeling about your choices: to know in your heart that you are calm about this decision. If you feel peaceful about a decision, then most of the time you are on the right track. We often really need to look inside to be sure about our decisions“.

Creativity in construction

Another remarkable thing about Stefania’s CV was her work for a construction company in Ghana, which was quite a bold move for a creative like Stefania. How did she end up there? She decided to move to Ghana to satisfy her appetite for learning, something she found lacking after her time in Milan. She felt limited by what she could achieve or contribute in Italy and knew that Ghana offered the opportunity to create what she wanted. Her ticket to Ghana came in the form of the job with a construction company that her mother told her about. The company was looking for a bilingual English and Italian speaking professional, so Stefania applied, got the job and decided to move. It was Stefania’s first time working in a corporate environment. Her boss recognised her eagerness to learn and wanted to teach her anything he knew about sales. He was quite the entrepreneur himself; at 13 years he had quit school and learned everything he knew about sales, business and construction from practice. Besides gaining new skills as a salesperson, Stefania learned more about the structure of a business while she was handling customer relations and being the personal assistant of the Managing Director of the company. She got to meet a lot of industry players and built her network, which she is still benefiting from today. She also learned Excel, spreadsheets, how to balance accounts; the ins and outs of building a business from the foundation. Today, Stefania draws on these very skills and experiences with her own companies under the Lokko brand.

 

 

Failures and lessons learned

One’s career path is not only made up of the successes, but also of the failures; something Stefania acknowledges. Her vivid recollection of failure was when her managers gave her an opportunity to run a company that was focused on a specific product for the Ghanaian market. For three years, Stefania gave the role her all, even putting her own money into the business to save the company.  In the end, she had to close down the business; the product didn’t gain interest and was a poor choice at the time for the Ghanaian market. The company’s failure came with a silver lining – it gave Stefania the confidence to quit her job and start working full time for herself. Looking back, Stefania wasn’t sure why she had delayed  her decision to start something on her own for so long: “Your comfort zone – you don’t want to get out of it like that. But once I did, I moved on to doing what I had to do for Lokko brands. Elle Lokko started that year.

Team building is also a topic with ups and downs for Stefania. As a creative, she is detail-oriented and can be very specific with how she wants things to be done. Consequently, she tends to push people to do better and expects a lot from her team. At a point, this led to tensions within the team, so much such that her staff sat her down and had a conversation about it. Stefania realised that it’s okay to focus on what you want to achieve, but that this should not make one lose sight of the people around them. She learned to be more sensitive to the needs of her staff and team.

Cv tips for creative professionals

What does Stefania look out for when she is hiring? Well she is (honestly) not a big fan of CVs herself, since most CVs seem to be copy and pasted templates and haven’t impressed her. Instead, Stefania looks out for passion. She encourages creatives to focus on their experiences, how they have contributed in previous roles and how they achieved the things they did. In the same vein, Stefania likes to keep her interviews very personal as she wants to know who a candidate is as a person. Wrapping up her CV Convo, Stefania shared that she is currently working on building up her staff and business to be self-sustaining by putting in procedures which don’t require her being around all the time. This, she hopes, will give her the space to pursue the next stage of her creative career.

“I will ask you very personal stuff to see where your interest is. Once I know where this interest lies, then I can put you in the right position. Finding something that fits you will make you come happier to work and it will yield higher results as you put your passion into it as well.”

Chipping in with some additional CV tips for creatives, host Jemila pointed out that extracurricular activities, interning, and volunteering can be excellent opportunities to begin building ones resume outside an official job. They tell a lot about a person and also offer insight into the career sector one may be interested in working in. To distinguish oneself from other job applicants, Jemila also encouraged creatives to avoid being too technical with their CV and instead explore how they can present themselves creatively.

Curious about Stefania’s work? Visit http://lokkohouse.com/ or find her on Instagram as @lokkohouse. You can also watch a replay of Stefania’s CV Convo below for all her amazing insights and responses to audience questions on pursuing a creative career:  https://www.instagram.com/tv/CCZHGyWJ_UW/?igshid=1t7yvs7r0a6p6

See you next Wednesday July 15 at 6pm GMT on @Circumspecte_’s Instagram page for our next CV Convo, this time with an agribusiness professional.

This event summary was written by Ileen Wilke and Jemila Abdulai. CV Convos is an Instagram Live series on navigating careers, created by Circumspecte and the New Career Platform