Meet Melissa Kiguwa, the Entrepreneur Who Launched a High-End Jewelry Rental App

Meet Melissa Kiguwa, the Entrepreneur Who Launched a High-End Jewelry Rental App

Meet Melissa Kiguwa, the Entrepreneur Who Launched a High-End Jewelry Rental App

Many people discovered their entrepreneurial spirit when the pandemic struck the world back in 2020. While many people lost work and had to deal with the negative effects of the coronavirus, some used that opportunity to focus on a passion that had been brewing inside. Melissa Kiguwa happened to be one of them.

Last summer, while the world was still reeling from the disaster known as COVID-19, Kiguwa started a business called Obanj. This brand is a monthly membership program for borrowing high-end jewelry. Users have the option to choose 1 of 2 membership plans ($49/month or $99/month) and are able to select up to 3 pieces from a large variety of luxury jewelry and switch out the pieces as much as they’d like.

She got her start in the entertainment business by working as a journalist before becoming an executive assistant. She used her experience to pursue her goal as a chief executive officer, utilizing her “love for luxury living and style” to create a company that is doing well.

The Industry Cosign was able to speak to Kiguwa about her brand and how she got to a place where she was able to become a successful entrepreneur.

You are the founder of a tech and fashion app named Obánj. What is the concept for this company and how were you able to bring it to life?

Obánj is a sustainable, luxury jewelry rental platform for the new majority. Members can rent high-end designer jewelry like Dior, YSL, Chanel, Hermés, and more for a monthly membership. Members can also purchase pieces at a discounted price.

We launched in the summer of 2021 and it still blows me away that we launched a tech startup in the middle of a pandemic. Our team is incredibly ambitious, hungry, and passionate about creating a brand that makes our members feel seen.

You had an interesting road that led you to where you are today. What took you from being a journalist and then an executive assistant to becoming an owner of an app that doesn’t relate to either?

Well, there were a few pivots and turns in that journey. I worked as a journalist in television and radio and had the opportunity to travel the world doing that. My travels were confronting— on the one hand, it was like being in world school and I felt incredibly excited to learn about different cultures and perspectives. On the other hand, I was consistently confronted by how our consumption habits of us in the West impact the rest of the world in a very real and tangible way. 

Fast forward years later to me trying to transition to a film/television career in Hollywood. I worked as the executive assistant for celebrity producers and while I have a few exciting stories from those days, at the time I really struggled to make sense of my consciousness and my desire to “live the life.”  Fashion accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions and the production of jewelry, in particular, involves devastating human and environmental issues around mining, gem extraction, gem-cutting, and toxic waste.

Obánj merges my consciousness with my love for luxury living and style. I may not be in television or film anymore, but my love for storytelling permeates through the brand.

What characteristic is most important when it comes to being an entrepreneur and why?

We’re currently fundraising a round for our company, bringing on investors who believe in the market opportunity of what we’re doing. It’s been a character-defining journey— less than 2% of all venture capital has gone to women entrepreneurs, 0.64% to black women founders.

Our company is venture-backed and we’re building something long-lasting and dynamic.

In order to adjust to the changes and challenges that inevitably come up while trying to build something, I think it’s important to keep learning and to surround yourself with people who believe in both the mission/vision of the business and you, the entrepreneur.

I also think resiliency, work ethic and focus will take you places talent and intellect can’t. 

With Obanj, how do you anticipate it saturating the market and do you have any aspirations to doing something else outside of it? Maybe in another field?

Through unrivaled storytelling, strategic partnerships with luxury brands and jewelers, and collaborations with cultural leaders, we have a strong foundation to build something dynamic and game-changing.

Because our sweet spot is in understanding the unmet consumption needs of cultural groups with large purchasing power, we have an immense opportunity to expand to Latina and Asian markets.

The future of Obánj is bright and our vision is brighter. We will become a model that can be replicated for all women of color, or what I refer to as the new majority. The demographics in the United States are shifting rapidly and brands that are not culturally attuned will be left behind.

Being able to start a company from the ground up, what advice would give those looking to start their business from scratch?

The journey will challenge you in ways you didn’t even know was possible. Focus, double down on what’s working and keep going.

Meet Melissa Kiguwa, the Entrepreneur Who Launched a High-End Jewelry Rental App

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