Meet Sophia Ukor

Founder, Violet Simon

In this piece, we speak to Sophia Ukor, Founder of Violet Simon.

She bravely opens up about her struggle with mental illness and talks to us about founding her own company and shares advice to her younger self.

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your current role

My name is Sophia Ufy Ukor. I was born in Lagos, Nigeria and grew up in a family of four to parents who worked hard to give us the best they could afford. Notwithstanding my relatively privileged upbringing, I experienced an unhealthy amount of abuse of different sorts, struggled with mental health issues, and only in adulthood was I diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. I am fortunate to have had a support system that picked up on my struggles and has supported me with interventions that help me with life.

I am the founder of Violet Simon, a media-tech company that amplifies the voices of women from all walks of life. We use authentic storytelling to explore the lives of women; their experiences, challenges, accomplishments, milestones, and the essence of their being with a view to inspire others and potentially generate calls to action on key women’s issues.

My journey to entrepreneurship started in my early teenage years when I worked in my mom’s pharmacy. I attribute some of my business acumen to my mom who taught me the basics of running a company from a young age. Over the course of two bachelor’s degrees in English and Law, I have founded two fashion companies, an interior design company and co-founded a PR company.

I am also a mother to an incredible toddler and married to an amazing man.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I wouldn’t say I sat down to plan it. I had an idea of the kind of career I wanted to have but more importantly the kind of woman I wanted to be. Over the course of the years, this plan has evolved, and some plans have changed, however, I am becoming the woman I have always wanted to be.

Growing up in an African home, sometimes you do not have the luxury of deciding what your career would be – your parents do. I wanted to be an accountant when I was a little kid because my favourite uncle was an accountant but I was terrible at maths and had absolutely no interest in numbers.  I realised that it just wasn’t something I was interested in. I later switched to law. Back then the professions you were expected to pursue in order to be ‘somebody’ in life were law, accounting, banking and medicine. When I decided that I didn’t want to study law but focus on going to fashion school, my parents objected and because they were the ones paying the bills, I had to agree to it. I am nonetheless grateful for that path as it has led me to where I am today.

In spite of all the many career decisions, the one thing that has remained constant was my desire to have a media company and tell stories. As a young kid, I would have imaginary people sitting opposite me that I was ‘interviewing’. I started writing stories in small notebooks from the age of nine. My dad often told me that I would be the next Oprah.

My vision has evolved over the years but  I would say that my journey and my work are in large part inspired by my experiences growing up.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Absolutely. My mental illness diagnosis for one. It can be a real struggle getting up every day and living life within your personal and professional community. For years I had been suffering from a mental illness and did not even realise that I had a mental illness. So while I was busy trying to get through life, my mental and physical health was deteriorating badly. It is only within the past year that my health – physically and mentally – has improved.

One recurring part of my childhood was listening to people tell me how difficult it would be to attain certain goals, especially as a black woman. As a founder and a Black woman, it goes without saying that you have to prove yourself and be twice as good in order for people to take you seriously. Even then, there are still people who do not care or are not just interested in what you have to give and what you have to say. Being able to access resources – funds, support, in order to grow our company has been very hard. It can be an excruciatingly tough and lonely path to walk and some days I feel like packing it all up.

In a country like the UK, it can also be incredibly tough due to the nature of how the average UK person is very conservative in relating with others. The community spirit I enjoyed and a lot of the privileges I also enjoyed from my background while in Nigeria went into thin air when I moved to the UK. Starting all over again has been a challenge that I still struggle with even after almost 10 years of moving into the UK.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Launching the Disruptors series magazine-book – seeing the engagement, positive reviews and the impact has been an achievement I didn’t even anticipate.

Having my son has also been one of my greatest achievements.

What is the Disruptors series about?

I have sought to share the stories of women who have gone against the grain in their personal and professional lives and made inroads into hitherto inaccessible areas, pushed the boundaries in their various professions and vocations, and led movements that led to or are leading to much-needed changes in social contracts in local and public spaces. I called them ‘Disruptors’. I have been inspired by their stories and have put together the Disruptors magazine-book series to share them with the world.

The first series which was recently launched featured the stories of over 35 women who are challenging the status quo to create a positive societal impact for women, young girls, underrepresented communities and other people.

Where can the Disruptors series be seen?

Series 1 of Disruptors magazine-book is available on our website.

More information is also on our Instagram, Twitter,  and Linkedin.

What do you believe has been a major factor in your achieving success? 

Tenacity, therapy, my family and asking for help – which is a very hard thing for me to do but something I have recently started practising.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I think mentoring is very essential for growth and success. I have intentionally sought out people to mentor me and it has been very beneficial for me in growing as a founder and a person.

I have also mentored a couple of people in the past and it was a very fulfilling experience.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

Our leaders. In order to change, the people who are in charge of effecting those changes need to be committed, capable and aware. We need more female and non-binary leaders. We have lots of male leaders who cannot be bothered about Gender Equality. A lot of them have been ridilled with reports of misogyny, sexual assault and worse yet, they are still in positions of power. We, unfortunately, have leaders who are just out of the loop with reality and do not care about what happens to women, young girls or underrepresented communities. The issue around abortion in the US right now is an example among many others.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Be patient with yourself, be kind to yourself. It is okay to fail and you are allowed to celebrate your successes too.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

We are working on the second series of Disruptors which we also hope to make as a documentary. We are also launching a video podcast show in August called ‘Conversations with Sophia.’ 

It is my hope that voices of women from all backgrounds worldwide are amplified and celebrated, to inspire more women and young girls through the stories we share and to potentially generate calls to action on key women’s issues.

Related Posts

Comment on this