Resilience & Heritage: The Untold Stories of African Entrepreneurs in Fashion and Cuisine

In this episode of Third Culture Africans, recorded live @sohohouse, Zeze engages in a special conversation with a panel of accomplished individuals, each possessing infectious personalities that exude a sense of fun and instant likability. The guests โ€“ Yvonne Modupe Telford, Rene Macdonald, and William J. M. Chilila โ€“ share their insights, struggles, and triumphs, offering a glimpse into their respective journeys in the realms of creativity and business. Focused on the realms of African fashion, cuisine, and entrepreneurship, this dialogue delves into the challenges they’ve encountered and lessons learned.

The episode kicks off with an exploration of the guests’ childhoods. Yvonne transports us to her upbringing in Nigeria. It’s a story of dreams woven into reality, as she harboured the aspiration of establishing a shop with the most flamboyant clothes for women. Yvonne’s journey took an unexpected route, as her parents had envisioned an academic career for her. Consequently, she pursued law but her true passion ultimately found its rightful place and she was able to fulfil her dream at the age of 40.

Rene’s journey led her from Africa to the UK at a young age, yet she maintained a dynamic connection with her African roots. Frequent travels between continents nurtured her understanding of diverse cultures. She shares her unique upbringing in Tanzania, a life defined by living through a war zone. In this environment, her mother’s resourcefulness led to the creation of clothing from scratch โ€“ a circumstance that ignited Rene’s ardour for fashion and design, a passion that would later flourish in her adulthood.

Conversely, William JM Chilila’s recollections transport us to Zambia, where his culinary adventure began. He fondly reminisces about his grandmother’s kitchen, where captivating aromas and flavours were a daily delight. This environment kindled a profound love for culinary arts within him. With each dish his grandmother prepared, he felt a connection to tradition and heritage, a sentiment that paved the way for his remarkable journey as a sought-after chef that is focussed on amplifying African cuisine and culture.

Yvonne, a trailblazer in the African fashion scene, discusses her experiences in establishing her brand, Kemi Telford. Her journey, always supported by her husband, encompasses the difficulties of starting a small brand in a competitive industry, the power of self-validation, and the importance of standing firm on one’s principles. She emphasises the need for curiosity and emotional connections when creating and selling fashion.

Rene, another entrepreneur in the fashion realm – founder and creative director of Lisou – adds her perspective on the unique challenges faced by black, female business owners. She draws strength from her mother’s advice, highlighting the necessity to exceed expectations due to societal biases. Rene shares her strategies for negotiating and navigating the fashion industry as a minority-owned business, inspiring others to recognize their worth.

Celebrating his unique Zambian, South African, Ghanaian and British heritage, William, head Chef at The Future Plate and Ambassador at AmarulaUk, offers his insights on navigating a competitive field as a black chef. He recalls his journey as a semi-finalist on MasterChef UK 2018 and discusses the emotional toll of criticism and the importance of perseverance. William’s story extends to his role as head chef at Akoko, showcasing the power of a strong support network and the determination to succeed.

The discussion also touches upon the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their businesses. The panellists share their experiences of pivoting and adapting to the changing landscape, emphasising the resilience and innovative thinking required for survival. The concept of success is explored, with a consensus that it goes beyond financial gains โ€“ it’s about sustainability and making a positive impact on others’ lives.

As the episode unfolds, it becomes evident that these individuals are united not only by their creative endeavours but by a shared sense of purpose. They have become advocates for change, paving the way for other aspiring black entrepreneurs and creatives. Their stories serve as an inspiration, demonstrating that success can be achieved through determination, resilience, and a commitment to making a difference.

Dive in and listen to these remarkable individuals as they share their personal journeys, hardships, and triumphs, providing insights that resonate across cultures and industries. Their stories are a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the transformative power of creativity and entrepreneurship.


  • ๐ŸŽ™๏ธ Welcome Yvonne, Rene and William to Third Culture Africans!: (00:00)
  • ๐Ÿ’ก The importance of intimacy and sharing entrepreneurial journeys (00:01:34)
  • ๐Ÿ‘จโ€๐Ÿณ About William J. M. Chilila (00:03:10)
  • ๐Ÿ‘— About Yvonne Modupe Telford (00:5:43)
  • ๐Ÿ‘š About Rene Macdonald (00:7:58)
  • โœจ The importance of familyโ€™s support (00:13:56) 
  • ๐Ÿ™Œ Williamโ€™s biggest influencer in his career support (00:14:43)
  • ๐Ÿ™‹โ€โ™€๏ธ Yvonneโ€™s biggest influencer in her career support (00:18:35)
  • ๐Ÿ’ก What inspired Rene to view Lisou in her unique way (00:22:33)
  • ๐Ÿš€ How Yvonne felt about overcoming ‘noes’ and her first meeting with a buyer (00:26:02)
  • ๐Ÿ’ผ Zezeโ€™s experience with buyers and ‘noes’ (00:31:04)
  • ๐Ÿฝ๏ธ How William, a semi-finalist of MasterChef, navigated negative comments from people with a limited palette (00:33:22)
  • ๐Ÿ‘  Reneโ€™s thoughts about doing business in the fashion industry being black, African and female (00:43:30)
  • ๐Ÿฝ๏ธ From MasterChef to Head Chef at Akoko: How William earned respect as a head chef (00:51:55)
  • ๐Ÿ›๏ธ How Reneโ€™s retail store survived during the pandemic (01:02:19)
  • ๐ŸŒŸ How Yvonne defines success (01:07:43)
  • ๐Ÿ”ฎ How William sees himself differently from last year (01:11:37)

Connect with Rene Macdonald:

Connect with Yvonne Modupe Telford:

Connect with William J.M. Chilila:

Join the discussion

More from this show


Episode 59