Shabs Kwofie is the founder of Amawrap.
Shabs Kwofie’s introduction to being a mother started with an emergency caesarian, an inability to breastfeed, and postnatal depression. Her efforts to leave her London flat while carrying her baby, pushchair and bags down the stairs to the ground floor was made even more difficult due to her caesarian stitches. Looking to her own African and Indian ancestry, where her family historically used slings to carry their babies, she eventually fashioned her own baby wrap to get her out of her apartment.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
My name is Shabs and I am the owner of Amawrap. We specialise in babywearing products and information about skin-to-skin contact; showcasing all the amazing benefits that these things can offer. Our range has recently expanded to include maternity wear and reusable washcloths, and we will also be launching organic cotton slings, by summer.
After a traumatic emergency caesarean and failure to breastfeed, I ended up going down quite a slippery slope in terms of depression. The only thing I could think to do was get out and about more but navigating my bulky pushchair down the apartment block stairs (while being mindful of my caesarean wound) proved challenging. My African Indian heritage kicked in and I did what my ancestors have historically done: I went to the local market, bought some fabric, and wrapped my daughter to me.
All I can say is that it changed my life. Eventually I could feel the depression dissipating (there’s lots of research into this topic and the benefits of babywearing), which allowed me to feel like I was in better control of my life. Getting out and about with my sling also allowed something else to happen – local mums and soon-to-be-mums saw my friends and I wearing my homemade slings and started trying to order from me. And with that, Amawrap was born!
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
God no! I left university with a degree and a masters, then ended up working at something completely unrelated. Every job move was more dependant on where I was living as opposed to a well thought out career move! Is “follow your heart” a wise piece of advice career-wise? I just think that if you will be spending so many hours in a day doing something, as long as it allows you to put food on the table and a roof over your head as minimum, make sure its something you enjoy doing!
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Absolutely. Working from home is no easy task! Yes your office is five steps from any direction, but it also means that you’re in charge of school drop offs and pick ups, dinner, poorly kids, and that you have minimal social life! But I do have a couple of wonderful co-workers and they keep me sane.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Keeping this business going for nearly ten years! In ten years the amount of comments I have received from mums who have thanked me for helping them to keep their babies close, for listening to them when they have felt especially vulnerable, for video chatting with them to help if they felt overwhelmed, for donating our wraps to organisations supporting new mums.
And for being able to keep it going no matter what. I had Hyperemesis Gravidarum when pregnant with my second which made it incredibly difficult to work (imagine having norovirus on top of the worst hangover you will ever experience, and you have those eight months!). He turned up six weeks early and we spent a few weeks in hospital, so I spent many an hour working from there while looking after my new-born and getting to grips with breastfeeding. Instances like that helped me to understand that if I looked after Amawrap, Amawrap would look after me when I needed it to.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Learning. Learning every step of the way. Eight years on and I’m still learning, and I’m still talking to mommas every day. More than anything, I was that momma who needed the help and who needed that sling to survive. I was that momma who needed a baby wrap for my firstborn to help with my postnatal depression and I was also that momma who needed the sling for my second to help me to run after my first born! For both kids my need was different. First time it was the skin-to-skin, the second time it was for the convenience.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I have mentored in the past and loved every moment of it, but if anyone reading fancies mentoring me then that would be amazing too!
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
I’m going to also add equality for BAME people too. We not only need better representation, but also a better understanding on the disparities and inequality which got us here. If you don’t know how you got here, how can you understand how you move forward?
Education – our current education system is geared one way – towards telling the story of white men. We need to understand and be taught about the contributions of women, and of people of colour too. Breaking these stereotypes alone will help future generations to be more open to people from all walks of life.
We also need to make boardrooms more diverse. Look at what Justin Trudeau did when he first went into office. Did you ever see his ministers when he first took office? The Minister of Health was a doctor. Minister of Transport – an astronaut. Minister of National Defence – a Sikh Veteran. Minister of Sport and persons with disabilities – a visually impaired Paralympian. I could go on. 50 per cent of the cabinet were women. This is how you make progress. When these people’s voices are heard, and when these people, with their lived experiences, are shaping policies moving forward, we will see actual change.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Stop being too nervous to contribute to a conversation. If you don’t have anything to add, then (humbly) learn. Ask questions. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being the least knowledgeable person in the room – in fact, it’s a privilege for you to use wisely. Make the most of it, make connections, and learn what you can, both in that room and later on (so you don’t end up there again for that particular subject!). If you can’t be seen to be contributing, be seen to be learning. It’s just as good.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
To build the brand. For our baby slings to be used in hospitals all over the country. We, as a brand, want to continue to stand for UK made products which are made ethically, with natural materials.
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