Emmanuel Enemokwu, known as Emay, studied Accounting and Management at Kent Business School and graduated in 2019. Emay launched his fashion label Jehucal, during the second year of his degree. The streetwear brand is now a six-figure business with a celebrity following, countless media appearances and collaborations with famous brands.
Appearing at the 2022 launch of ASPIRE’s Business Start Up Journey in Canterbury, we caught up with Emay to mark Black History Month this October. Here, he reflects on his entrepreneurial journey and desire to be a role model for young people.
“Life for a black person really depends on where you are in society,” reflects Emay.
“We are far from the finish line, black people, especially creators are still struggling to get what they deserve, but there have been some steps forward, change is slowly happening but it’s going to take a lot more years to see it come to fruition.”
Emay, real name Jehu-cal Emmanuel Enemokwu, studied Accounting and Management at Kent Business School but had plans for Jehucal before he even applied. Jehucal was not only a brainchild of an entrepreneurial upbringing but began as a way to get back at bullies he faced during school years. Jehucal is on the brink of a big announcement that is currently top secret and due to be announced later in November.
He explains: “I was born in East London and went to school in Edmonton for a bit. My real name is Jehu-cal and they ridiculed my name. I would respond through misbehaving in class and often got into fights with those that were bullying me. My school gave the ultimatum of either I leave, or I’ll eventually be expelled. We moved to Hertfordshire, I changed my name to my middle name Emmanuel and shortened it to Emay.
“In Hertfordshire I experienced bullying for being black and having different facial features. It was an affluent area, and I was always mocked for not having designer labels. I took it as motivation and it’s how I came up with the brand. A lot of the people that used to mock me, are now buying stuff on my website and wearing it around my local area, so I guess I won.”
At university, Emay always felt different to his fellow students because he was learning for a purpose, to get his clothing brand going and make it big – nothing else.
Having launched an e-com business with his dad aged 12 (‘we didn’t make much but we had an idea, built a website and saw it come to life,’ he explains) and watching his mum study hard to open a salon that is now over two floors with 15 members of staff, he felt he had a head start in understanding the skills he needed to be a successful start-up
“My personal statement included a line that said, ‘I’ve come to uni to start my own business and gain the skills to do so’. I started with Business and Management but changed to Accounting and Management as I realised how valuable it is to be able to do your own tax, books and accounts. I went through the Business Start-up Journey with ASPIRE and pushed to take a year out to do a ‘Selfie’ year instead of Year in Industry to work on Jehucal. I had a plan all along.”
The Selfie Year became a mainstay of Kent Business School’s offering for the future, with many students launching their own businesses in the same way. The stamp Emay put on the Business School was permanent and he has worked closely with the University ever since he graduated.
Emay explains: “I come back to Uni of Kent as much as I can and offer my advice to students because of how Kent looked after me and continue to do so. In addition to this, I know how important it is to have someone to look up to and have a role model. I get so many messages on Instagram, and I encourage people to not see their degree as the finishing line, think of their own business ideas too. University is the best chance you’ll ever get to network and meet the widest range of people. I want to show people this in general but particularly black kids that they can be creative and do the business side.”
Jehucal is a full-time job for Emay and has grown year on year since launch into a sought after label. The brand appeared at London Fashion Week, in media titles like Vogue and has a cult following including famous musicians, footballers and actors. All of it, explains Emay, is organic.
“Everything that comes from Jehucal has come from me, it’s about constantly innovating. Whether it is design, marketing ideas, I’ve not paid for anything in regards to publications or people to wear/promote my clothes. I’ve always believed good design will always sell. Footballers like Emile Smith Rowe, actors such as Hero Fiennes-Tiffin (Young Voldemort in Harry Potter) and rapper/producer P’ierre Bourne wear Jehucal. They just chose to wear it, Jehucal speaks for itself.”
Though inspired to actively protest during the Black Lives Matter Movement in 2020, lockdown was serious for Emay, who has asthma, so he chose to stay at home and push the message behind the scenes.
“I utilised the Jehucal customer database to inform customers about what was going on as well as show them where and how they can get more educated on black rights. You don’t have to always be striker at the front protesting, you can be the midfielder handling the organisation, some of us were in defence getting numbers together, and the goalkeeper was there keeping it cool. I look at life through football,” he smiles.
Aside from using his own personal story of acumen, focus and success to inspire others, Emay is aware that it isn’t so easy for everyone in the black community to break out of their circumstances. The answer, he believes, is encouraging open conversations and always looking back to see where you can pull others forward.
“It’s about hearing someone’s story, actively listening to them to understand, not respond. If someone is a victim of abuse, you don’t tell them what to do and start blaming them for what happened, you sit, listen, sympathise and try to understand from their perspective and comfort them. For someone who is black, they will have been through hardships or heard about their parents or grandparents. They don’t want to be dictated to, they want to empty their heart out, feel comfortable. My sister is great at educating her white friends and they really see things in a different perspective.”
For now, Emay basks in the success of Jehucal and eagerly awaits the launch of his top-secret collaboration that he thinks will set new heights for the label.
“All I am saying is keep the weekend of 26th and 27th November free and be in Shoreditch for our launch party,” he laughs. “This is the biggest thing we’ve done yet.”