Meet the Founder of Not Just Pulp | Exclusive Interview
Not Just Pulp (NJP) is one brand that I am so excited to be associated with. I just love it when a brand captures a niche and does a fantastic job at it. You should be as excited as I am to finally meet the young, vibrant and intelligent lady behind the brand. They are called “the greeting cards of the people” and absolute keepsakes. Her name is Chidinma Akobundu, I bet you can’t wait now. Let’s meet her..
- Please introduce yourself and your background.
My name is Chidinma Akobundu, Founder/Creative Director of Not Just Pulp. I’m 27 years old and the 3rd of 4 children. I am an Alumni of Olashore International School (class of 2006) and moved to England in 2007 to further my studies.
My university education was primarily at the University of Huddersfield where I graduated with a 1st Class Bachelors degree in Fashion, Communication and Promotion in 2011 as well as a Distinction with honours in International Design Marketing and Communications for my Masters degree in 2013.
I moved back to Nigeria at the end of 2013 to begin “adulting” and registered my 3 businesses (1 of which is the fully functional Not Just Pulp) by May 2014. I landed a job at a tech start-up “Super Geeks” as the Head of Branding and Communications in the same year. I left that job after a little over a year to focus on building my own dreams. Enter Not Just Pulp.
- Please tell us about your work. How did Not Just Pulp start?
Unlike most businesses, Not Just Pulp started with the name. I have always had a passion for design and paper goods (I have a notebook for EVERYTHING and I’m constantly doodling).
Having studied in England, I’m very partial to the European design aesthetic and quirky, dry humour. So with all of this in mind, I knew I would have to do something stationery related with my life even if it was just for the fun of it; so when I moved back to Nigeria in 2013, one of the first things I did was register 3 business names, one of which was Not Just Pulp (the other 2 are in Branding and Fashion respectively).
It wasn’t until 2015 that I started to think about what to do with it. The idea evolved from a stationery line (notebooks and journals) to a gift shop (importing from quirky brands abroad and selling here).
My partner (hey boo) was my primary sounding board at the time and he was the one that really pushed me to be more confident in my design abilities and create my own line of cards instead of buying them in. At the time, it was meant to be a side-hustle…no one anticipated this growth and reception. It’s been a wild ride.
- How did you come about the name and what does it mean?
Shebi it’s just paper?!”. Nigerians have a very unique way of reducing a product down to it’s most basic level in a bid to manipulate a price reduction/discount. I knew that whatever I would do will be for the mid to high-end market so I wanted to make sure that the name not only made a statement but was completely unapologetic. So “NOT JUST PULP” is a response to that phrase “Shebi it’s just paper”. I created a brand mantra below that explains this further:
I also wanted a name that wasn’t necessarily tied to “local”, a brand name that is flexible enough to explore various markets and strong enough to stand next to any international brand on any platform.
- What is your niche and how did you know it was a market to get into?
My little niche is the greeting cards market and I’m absolutely loving it so far. It’s considered to be a dying industry but there’s still a lot of room for innovation and a lot of avenues to explore.
The beauty of Nigeria is where other countries have “been there, done that”, we haven’t even scratched the surface. So what may be dying in England is just hitting puberty in Nigeria.
So I wasn’t 100% sure about “blowing” with NJP but I was certain that I just wanted to do something that I knew my passion will be enough to keep me going when the going gets tough.
- Where do you find the inspiration for your cards?
Nigeria – plain and simple. We are arguably most unique, peculiar, hilarious and complex set of people you’ll ever meet…and that’s where the magic lies. I listen to a lot of Afrobeats and watch more Nollywood than I need to help tap into the mind and the heart of the true Nigerian. It’s “Things Nigerians say whether we like to admit it or not” 101.
- Can you remember one of the first messages you put on a card? What makes it memorable?
Honestly, no! I’ve done so many over the years and each of them resonates with me for different reasons. My first collection was for Christmas 2015 and what makes that entire collection so memorable is how much my design skills and aesthetic have improved since then. MY favourite design to date is still “Food To My Soul”. It never gets old.
- What are the challenges you face in your business?
1. Timing- having to work 3 months ahead of the seasons.
2. Deciding what designs to put out and when. If I put all my designs out at the same time, the stores won’t have space for them lol.
3. Juggling all the pieces
4. Quality control
- So would you say you lean more towards bespoke cards?
Definitely not. Personalized cards are a fantastic addition and a really important part of customer engagement for the brand. But the real push for NJP is to be able to sit comfortably on the shelves of every major greeting card stand in the country. I want every gift shop owner to think of ordering NJP cards before they reach out to Hallmark or Simon Elvin.
- What is your most popular card design?
- To what extent do you draw upon your Nigerian (African) heritage for your work?
The original idea for NJP was for it be a luxe generic card line with fine papers and luxury finishing but it quickly dawned on me (thanks marketing degree) that I needed a stronger story for this to be a success.
Our African heritage is the crux of what we do at NJP. It’s the hook…it’s the story. Without it, NJP will be just another greeting card line struggling to be relevant. I am extremely Pan-African in my views, my Masters thesis centred on Pan-Africanism so it was not a difficult decision to make.
- What are your goals for the future, both work wise and life?
For work, onwards and upwards. Pan-African expansion and product diversification are the ultimate goals…there’s so much room to explore. Life, the main goal is to live it to the fullest; happy, healthy and well travelled.
- What would people be surprised to learn about you?
1. I’m quiet and super chilled. I think with the nature of what I do, people might expect me to be loud and talkative, but I’m the complete opposite…quiet observer
2. My first love is fashion and my first degree is in fashion. I just don’t fit the stereotype
- What profession would you be in if you weren’t into the arts?
Design marketing/PR/Media Publishing
- If you could give one piece of advice to youths who want to start their own company, what would it be?
Just do it…without pressure, without insecurity…just do it! Don’t be afraid to say “no” to your parents. Mine have been extremely supportive since we were kids but there’s always that general concern of financial security and that tendency to doubt your abilities and maturity but you have to make it your responsibility to prove them wrong and make them listen.
The results will speak for you. This is the time to explore yourself and make your career mistakes so that by the time you’re 30, you are financially and emotionally secure in yourself and your abilities.
If for some reason NJP fails, I can at least look back and say “I tried”. There’s nothing worse than the regret of not trying. Also, keep your family and loved ones close because when all is said and done, they’re all you have.
I am certain you enjoyed reading her interview and gained one or two vital things.
Thank you Chidinma for sharing with us.
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