It’s interesting how our style and fashion sense evolve with our careers. Remember that day you got your first job and got all excited about your first suit which probably didn’t fit but hey it was still a suit? This is what Yoeal, former CEO of ASPIRA, a credit finance company has experienced as well. Born in Eritrea but brought up in the USA, his background is in engineering but spent most of his life working as a trader in the New York and Hong Kong, before launching several successful startups in the continent over the past six years. He first came to Kenya in 2013 on a business trip and marvelled at the bush, the coast, among others and fell in love with the geographical diversity, prompting him to finally moved here in 2017.
With COVID-19 prompting for safety and social distancing becoming the trend of the day, you can almost guess that this interview was done online. And for someone who’s always on the move about the next big thing to bloom, it was obvious that Yoeal was driving and you can see the passion that he has about fashion when he pulls over to answer a few questions for the 7 Menswear series segment.
7. Tell us about your career. Has it influenced your style and the way you dress?“
When I started working in finance as a business professional, I was wearing shirts and pants that don’t fit, something I would probably be embarrassed to wear today. This included ties that don’t go well with the colours of my outfits. I then transitioned to business school afterwards started working with start-ups, where I haven’t had to really dress up at all. At Aspira, I have had interviews, wearing suits a couple of times a week.
I got a pair of suits done from Genteel and I love the Africa fabric accents- It made me feel like even if I have a business background, I can still look chic. So this has been my style since, wearing prints from Rwanda and even Ghana. That is my style and always will be my style- occasional suits.
6. Tell us more about your business in Finance
I was a stock trader at one of the largest banks in the US and was trading stocks for firms, both big and small. I went to business school to learn more about finance in business, got my MBA and afterwards was interested in pursuing opportunities in Africa. I joined Africa Leadership University, where I was the Chief of staff to the founder and worked there for two and a half years. I was basically learning how to do business in Africa and how to grow and scale up startups.
I then moved to Kenya in 2017, started a company called ASPIRA and over the last two years, have grown a team of 100 employees. Ever since leaving Aspira I have worked on several business ventures like WineLife.
5. One thing you are most passionate about besides your job?
I like to travel. I tend to travel once a month, but for now haven’t seen my family in a year.
4. Most memorable place and what memories did you carry with it?
I really enjoyed Cambodia, a country still classified as an emerging market and an up and coming tourist destination but filled with historical landmarks like Ankor Wat, and a country of resilient and friendly people. It’s a beautiful country with a lot of natural heritage sites but a bit under the radar.
3. While in Kenya, what’s been your most memorable experience?
2 years ago, my family came to visit me over Christmas, that being my parents and sister. When they landed in Kenya, they thought it was different, with its natural beauty and a possible destination to retire. Just realising that Kenya is a place to call home gives me a great experience.
That’s my style and always will be my style. Occasional suits.
2. One of your Social media captions portrays the Mamba mentality. Would you mind explaining that?
Yeah this goes back to the late Kobe Bryant, who said if you have supreme focus on what you are doing, there’s no reason why you can’t be the best in the world about what it is. Kobe didn’t have much athletic skills but due to relentless focus and work ethic, he did big things before he died.
1. What do you do in your spare time?
If I have any spare time at all. There are a few businesses I am working on. I always like planning new ideas with friends, I play poker once in a while, watch American football and basketball and even go out to eat. I started playing golf after graduate university. It’s a game designed for people of all ages to play and master. It’s a great sport for networking and also to clear your mind from stress.
What’s your advice to someone who wants to freshen up their wardrobe and look more stylish?
Use a brand that understands fashion. Get a designer who gets your personality, what type of look you are aiming for and let them run wild with it. I often give them my budget and let them work with it. You may not have a girlfriend to help you with this but always work with fashion brands to pick something that always looks good on you. They will definitely help you, as they are professionals.
Since I met Genteel, my style has changed quite a bit. I started by buying a few suits from Genteel that look like your typical suit from the outside that had elements of African fabric branded inside that gives you a clean business professional but proudly African type of vibe. I am also spending my time with Genteel now to spice up some of my wardrobe outfits for golf and also for ‘weekend casual’ or ‘business casual’ vibes.
Parting Shot: Now that you are fully concentrating on Wine Life as your next business venture, could you share more about it as well as some tips on fine wine dining?
Wine life came to mind in August of 2020 when sharing with a few friends on how difficult it is to find high quality wine in the Kenyan market. Having lived in South Africa previously, I enjoyed wine and knew a couple of different brands that I liked when I got to Kenya, but I couldn’t look at those brands. I began working with different people to understand the challenges and the value chain in the industry and realised there was a massive gap in the market, not just in Kenya but globally. There are no companies that offer a level of personalisation when it comes to understanding their consumers’ preferences in terms of their palates. At Wine Life, we are building a business that will completely change how our customers discover and consume wine.
Before drinking some wine, expose it to air and allow it to breathe. A wine like this one was bottled in 2018, so you can imagine up to 2 years, it will need some exposure to air before having the optimal taste that the vineyard had in mind when they were producing it.
One of my favourite brands is La Mascota from Argentina. Wines from Argentina are classified as new world wines as they are produced outside traditional wine growing areas. These types of wine go well with red meat and anyone who’s been to Argentina knows it as a famous place for barbecues. This type of wine has a sense of oak, vanilla and blackberry.
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