It’s always been about art and design for Andrew Akufo.
One year after graduating from the University of Central Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, he moved from his hometown of Oklahoma City to New Mexico to pursue a career in arts administration. He soon found a job as the head of a local cultural organization there. And five years later, he moved to Sonoma County to take over as the first executive director of the Healdsburg Center for the Arts.
During his tenure in Healdsburg, Akufo reconnected with Toja Hodge, a friend from New Mexico, and the two started talking about launching a new luxury fashion brand. They wanted the brand to be fashion-forward. They also wanted it to help create Black wealth—for themselves and for others in their respective Black communities.
So the duo joined forces and created Gapelii Brand (pronounced jap-el-lee). The name is an acronym for growth, ambition, prosperity, elevate, lifestyle, innovation, and influence.
The brand launched in August 2019. Since then, despite the pandemic, it has expanded its inventory to include t-shirts, hats, denim jackets, shoes, infant onesies, zip-up hoodies, and a women’s collection. The company also sells branded face masks.
Philanthropy is a big part of the Gapelii Brand mission; Akufo and Hodge give 10% of all proceeds to nonprofit organizations and local families who have been affected by Covid-19.
Pride is another driving force for the 31-year-old Christian. “The widely publicized deaths of African Americans such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have shone a spotlight on America and society’s need to support not only Black Lives Matter, but also Black businesses such as our own,” Akufo says. “I consider my current position a blessing.”
While Hodge designs the merchandise, Akufo manages operations and handles production, marketing, and customer service from his apartment in Santa Rosa.
Here’s how Andrew Akufo spends a day.
I start my day by checking and responding to messages and notifications on social media. I finally get out of bed around 8 a.m., open the blinds, pray, and read chapters in my 365-day Bible lesson plan.
I listen to YouTube playback videos of sports talk shows such as Undisputed with Skip and Shannon, First Take, and Jalen & Jacoby during my home workout. Around 9:30 a.m., I conduct meetings on Zoom and do a virtual interview with a Bay Area news reporter about our business.
I have a brief phone call with my business partner to discuss product samples, customer questions, new promotional opportunities, and forgotten passwords. I usually eat breakfast around 11 a.m.
This is my errand time- taking out the trash and recycling, checking the mailbox, and grocery shopping.
In the afternoon I schedule social media advertising posts for Gapelii Brand on Facebook, and share posts on LinkedIn and Twitter. I also conduct Zoom meetings with my small business coach/advisor, Lance Cotrell.
I follow up with photographers, models, and venues about upcoming photo shoots in Sonoma County, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. One of my favorite spots to shoot locally is Goat Rock Beach, near Jenner.
This is when I check daily traffic and customer data on Gapelii Brand’s online marketplace, and review reports on subscriptions to our digital newsletter through Mailchimp. I update information on the website, add photos to our online gallery, and ensure all links and videos work.
I’m winding down for the day. I review and select photos from previous photo shoots for editing and promotion. I follow-up with Toja about potential new products, supplier options, and sales in New Mexico. We also discuss new collaborations and the overall progress of shipments.
I take a shower, eat dinner, and wash the dishes. I also research civil rights and social service organizations that serve families impacted by Covid-19 to receive Gapelii Brand contributions.
Time to end my day. I brush my teeth, take vitamins, open the windows, pray, watch random videos on Instagram and YouTube, troll my friends on social media, and finally go to bed.