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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Black Entrepreneurs Month: Walter Njboke

Walter NjbokeWinston and LeeLake Balboa(818) 458-9106 • Email: wnjboke@aol.comWebsite: winstonandlee.comWalter Njboke always liked fashion and design, even as a youth growing up in Nigeria. He moved to Oregon at age 17 to attend college and later got involved in various career initiatives before returning to fashion. He started an Italian-made clothing and shoe line and named the company Winston and Lee after his son, Winston, and his then-wife, Lee.The target customer is a professional man between 25 and 74 who is “looking for something different,” Njboke said.

His company wholesales to 19 U.S. retail outlets. “We also fit and dress some high-profile entertainers and athletes,” Njboke said, and the company ships directly to some other customers.Njboke co-owns a factory in Italy and its three employees make apparel to his specifications. He has a home office in Lake Balboa and seven independent contractors who look for new retail locations and service existing clients.

Question: Tell us how you got your business started.

Answer: We have been in business for over 19 lovely years. The company came into existence out of the need to create high-quality, affordable Italian suits and accessories for every man. But most importantly, to enhance their personality and elegance, making it possible for them to express themselves without saying a word.Do you like being your own boss? Do you ever think about trading it all in for a steady paycheck? It’s good to be your own boss, but it can be very challenging because you do not have a lot of room to mess up and have a do-over. In a very competitive fashion business, you have to anticipate what your clients would love to wear, especially when creating a new collection or selecting and buying fabrics for a new collection. But when you nail it and people love your creation, there is no better feeling. That is the motivation.  What’s the best aspect of running your own business? Making people happy because of the way your creations make them feel. Allowing them to express themselves.

And the worst? Long hours and managing other members of my team so their goals are aligned with their desire to succeed.

What’s the biggest challenge your business has faced? Anticipating how our customers would react to a new collection. This is a constant battle. Luckily for us, we have customers who trust the quality of our work. We also ask them for input to know what they would like to see.

What advice would you give someone who’s about to start their own business? You have to be passionate and determined to succeed. You should not be focused on making money and building wealth. That will come in due time. If you are passionate and determined, you will not fail.Has being African-American affected your business? Not really. We do business with everyone. We all have our stereotypes and beliefs. But in the final analysis, we are all the same, regardless of who we are.Do you think you’ll ever start another business? I’m always looking for something new – always involved in three or four projects, either by myself or with others. I love to collaborate with people. I love to mentor others and help them get their business ideas off the ground. One of the biggest challenges for a new business owner is the fear of failure. But if you don’t try, you will not succeed. Even if you fail the first time, you would learn and be better and stronger the next time around. I always believed that if you are interested in something, you will do what is convenient. But if you are committed, you will do whatever it takes to succeed. Success is not for those who want it – it’s for those who are determined to seize it.

How has the pandemic affected your business? It has impacted us in a big way. But we are very optimistic that we will be able to make up what we have lost during the pandemic. Our goal is for everyone to come out of this healthy. As long as there is life, there is hope for a better tomorrow. Unfortunately, we have lost some people. But we pray for the Lord to grant their family members the strength to manage the loss.How do you think your business will change, post pandemic? I think it will explode and be bigger and better. It has to be. I am very optimistic. I think there will be a huge need that needs to be filled.

– Charles Crumpley

Charles Crumpley
Charles Crumpley
Charles Crumpley has been the editor and publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal since March 2016. In June 2021, it was named the best business journal of its size in the country – the fourth time in the last 5 years it won that honor. Crumpley was named best columnist – also for the fourth time in the last 5 years. He serves on two business-supporting boards and has won awards for his civic involvement. Crumpley, a former newspaper reporter, won several national awards and fellowships for his work, and he was a Fulbright scholar to Japan.

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