In 2015, former broadcast journalist Sophia Danner-Okotie decided to follow her passion project, which turned into the fashion-forward brand, Besida, representing her African roots.

Besida, or “destiny determines all” is an Atlanta-based boutique that creates beautiful, traditional handcrafted African/Nigerian garments with unique designs, rich colors, and bold accessories.

The stylish ready-to-wear garments, in inclusive sizes S – 3X, are ethically sourced using fair trade values, are fashionable and sustainable, as many pieces can be worn several different ways. Also, no fabric goes to waste, as scraps are used for accessories, such as hair scrunchies or kerchiefs.

Through Besida, Danner-Okotie, a native Nigerian, is also proud to support the workforce of talented tailors, most of which are women, in her hometown. In 2018, Danner-Okotie celebrated the grand opening of Besida’s factory in Benin City, Nigeria. The workspace provides the brand’s production team with advanced technologies and resources to manufacture garments at superior standards.

Over the past few years, Besida has experienced growth, which Danner-Okotie says is due to a resurgence of shoppers wanting to connect to their roots. Most recently, Besida saw a significant increase in sales that grew 60% from the popularity of ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’. 

The Atlanta Voice: How did you produce the name, “Besida”?

Sophia Danner-Okotie: It’s so funny because I don’t speak our language, so I went online looking for Itsekiri girl names and I came across this name and it looked beautiful. The text looked so good and so I said what’s the meaning behind this, which is “destiny determines all”. I was at a point in my life where I felt like there was a calling over me and I said, ‘I think this matches what I’m feeling right now and that’s how the name came up.

AV: Now, you were a journalist before following your passion, Besida, tell me a little about that transition from covering news to following your passion in fashion.

SO: Oh my gosh! So, ironically most people thought I would go into fashion instead of TV/News just because at the University of Georgia (UGA) I did all the fashion shows, I dressed everyone, I had a vlog, but I loved telling stories and it was a career where there was an easy path it seemed like, but with the brand, I didn’t look at it much as too much from what I was doing as journalist. I still needed to do research, tell stories, and present something beautiful, so I took all the elements of news and TV and put them into creating this brand and I think that’s what people connect most with about Besida is they love our story and journey.

AV: Speaking of transition, was it scary at first or did you naturally fall into it?

SO: Now that I think about it back then, it wasn’t fear that I was feeling, I was more so feeling shame because I had to change my lifestyle. I moved back home at 25 and it was like this quarter life crisis. Everyone was like, ‘what the heck are you doing? You’ve got this sure path, why are you taking this direction?’ and I come from a Nigerian family so it’s like ‘you go be a lawyer, doctor, or engineer. You decided to be on TV, we let you pass with that, now you want to start selling clothes? I felt like people weren’t proud of me and that affected me a lot. It was a feeling of disappointment in myself that I couldn’t grow the business as fast as I wanted to. I expected within a year that I’d be a millionaire and I could go back to TV. That’s not what happened, instead it led me down this journey and I’m so grateful for it.

AV: Would you go back to journalism?

SO: Absolutely! I think it’s one of the most important jobs out there, especially in a nation where freedom of speech is defended every single day. I don’t think I’d ever go back to a 9-5, or a 2-11 basis. I’d want to go back on my own terms because this business is still very important to me and I can’t do both in that way, but I still find ways to include journalism every single day by telling our story and the stories of our customers, tailors, or team in Nigeria.

AV: What has the journey of building the brand Besida been like?

SO: I started the business as a side business while working at a TV station in Macon. I think the turning point for me was when I did a Pan African festival in Macon at the Tubman Museum. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, they want me to pay $150 for a booth, I’m not going to make that money back and no one is going to buy my things’, and something just told me to put it on my credit card and do it. Within two days, I sold out of most of our pieces. That was the moment where I was like, ‘I think I’ve got something, and I think it’s okay to take this leap of faith’. So, I didn’t renew my contract at the TV station and decided to go. The journey has been hard and it still is. Every level presents a different challenge. Before it was finding customers and now it’s how do I get enough funding to take on this purchase order from this retailer. Different challenges for different seasons and right now I’m comfortable knowing there’s always going to be a challenge.

AV: What are your plans to expand the brand even further?

SO: To get into more big box retail shops, we’re talking about your department stores and I really believe to push our mission even further which is to connect more women to Africa, especially more Black women to their African roots, we’ve got to be in their face. Our audience is an older crowd, we’re technically 29 to about 60 in ages. We have a broad range, but we’re really seeing a lot more 40, 50, 50+ years old buying our stuff and they’re still shopping in the stores, so that presents a different kind of challenge because you do have to have enough funding to be able to take on that purchase order from a retailer because they could take 90 days to pay you after you’ve fit that whole bill and you give that however many thousands of pieces they need. However, that is the next step, and we are going to do it.

Sophia Danner-Okotie visited the Atlanta Voice building to talk about her brand and passion, Besida. Photo by Isaiah Singleton/The Atlanta Voice

AV: What kinds of challenges have you faced?

SO: Feeling like I don’t know what I’m doing and that’s because of the apparel community, it’s very hush hush. It’s been in the past, but these days it’s changing because there are a lot more programs available to teach and groom you. When I first started, no one wanted to share with me, it’s like trade secrets where they don’t want to tell you how to do things like how to pitch to a boutique, how to pitch your brand to a shop, like what are the right ways to do things? What are the seasons that you can pitch a collection? How should you position yourself in pricing, people just didn’t want to tell you. That in turn made me feel like I didn’t know what I was doing. I used to have this “imposter syndrome” and I felt like there was a limit to my success. It was a program that Afropunk and the New Voices Family put together last year that opened my mind to the endless possibilities of this business. Since then, my confidence is through the roof and I walk into rooms now expecting them to give me a seat at the table.

AV: Who or what inspires/inspired you?

SO: My grandmother. Funny thing is you don’t really realize how much people inspire you until they’re gone. She recently passed away. It’s very interesting, the feeling, but part of the reason why I started the business and made it a point to make clothing in Nigeria was to be closer to my family, especially to her. I spent a lot of time with her growing up in Nigeria. So, I now realize that even that boldness to start this whole thing in Nigeria and manage a team there, was because she was very bold and advanced for being an African grandmother, very well educated and well-rounded, she worked hard, married, had five kids, dressed well and hair was always done. To me, I’ve always looked at women as being very powerful, never less than. She didn’t show that to me, she showed you can literally do anything. With the brand, we embody that. We are not just a brand that’s going to make you look and feel good, but we are a brand that’s on a mission to impact lives and give back to people. That’s how my grandmother was, she was always sending people to school and paying for their education.

AV: How are you feeling about the huge bump in sales from the new Black Panther movie and what’s the correlation from the movie to your own branding?

SO: I think at the end of the day, Black people want to feel a connection to their African roots, that’s a fact. Overall, Africa is calling us. The movie is an example of that, Afro beats is another example of that because you hear it in clubs and on the radio. I was expecting the increase in sales, but what I wasn’t expecting is how many people are now transitioning back home. We are taking our first winner of an all-inclusive paid Ghana trip to discover her roots and connect. This is a huge milestone for us. When I started Besida, clothing was just one way to accomplish the bigger vision. The bigger vision is we want Black people to go home because, and it goes back to confidence, when you see a Black person on the currency, something inside of you says, ‘there’s whole nations run by Black people, I can do anything’. I’m really hoping through this initiative we’re able to send more Black people back home for free and we don’t want anyone paying for it other than companies and corporations to give donations, but we believe it’s a birthright to be able to go back home.

AV: What is your biggest takeaway through this entire process and what kind of advice would you give to aspiring business owners?

SO: I’m all about character building and I think that was because of this business. In the past I was very much, “step one, step two, step three” and now my mind is open to endless possibilities and that’s because of this brand. My biggest takeaway is allowing this business to transform you to become a better person and always sticking to what I built this business on.

For advice to other business owners, get a mentor. Get someone who is already in that business or adjacent. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to help you. Flatter them a little, honor them, get them a gift, or take them out for coffee. Learn from them because they’ve already made those mistakes and they’re your shortcut to your success. My mentors have really helped me and helped demystify the idea of success because we think success is only for a certain type of person, but when you’re sitting with someone who already has it, you recognize that you’re just a human being. Just like you make certain mistakes, you start to see they bounce back quicker, they don’t just give up, they look for an opportunity to rise and be better. Also, don’t leave your job. I did because I had options, my mom was always going to be there for me, I’m so grateful we have a great relationship. Now that I think about it, if I didn’t have her, I would’ve been in some mess. Wait for the right time, you’ll know when that is.

Sophia Danner-Okotie Photo courtesy of Besida

Customers can purchase Besida clothing through Stitch Fix and online at