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The virtuous cycle

Alumni standing outside buildingThe year was 2000 (Geez! Seems so long ago) when I first set foot on the grounds of UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. Having received my earlier education in Nigeria and then the United Kingdom, Carolina was a whole new world to me. I had no idea what to expect other than I was about to be immersed in a world with some of the University’s brightest students. I was both nervous and excited to see what the halls of the McColl Building had to offer.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover how warm and welcoming my classmates were. They shared the same intellectual curiosity I had, but what stood out to me was just how collaborative they were.

I particularly experienced this sense of collaboration in my marketing class. During this class, I learned how to work with a team of individuals with strong personalities to reach a consensus. I also learned a very important business principle on how to price a product prior to market entry. We learned that in entering a new market you either penetrate it by offering a price lower than that of your competitors or alternatively you skim the market by introducing your product at a higher price. This might seem like a simple tenet, but it is so profound and I applied it to my current start-up later.

One of my fondest memories at UNC Kenan-Flagler was the volunteer opportunities. From the Adopt-A-Highway program to the annual food bank drive, I found myself actively involved in giving back to those in need. I am glad that this is a value that I still practice in both my personal and professional life.

In 2015 I took the lessons I learned on the importance of collaborating, pricing strategies and community service to launch a tech-enabled, fashion company with my wife and co-founder, Taffi, called Thando’s. Our inaugural product is a vegan, machine washable, foldable ballerina flat. (Yes, the first product was Taffi’s idea).

Our radical idea with Thando’s is that we can produce products that are:

Image of shoes on a clothesline

  • African inspired
  • Allow the customer to decide what we make
  • Gives back to communities in need.

How do we accomplish this? Well, I’m glad you asked.

We do it through what we like to call a “virtuous cycle” and this is how it works:

  1. We identify a cause in Africa that means a lot to us.
  2. We host print design competitions in Africa that are inspired by the cause identified in Step 1.
  3. We have our community who we fondly refer to as #teamthandos, choose the best print design.
  4. From every pair of shoes we sell using the print from Step 3, we give a royalty to the winning artist.
  5. We make a quarterly contribution from our sales proceeds to a local African NGO that supports victims from the cause that inspired the competition in the first place.

We entered the U.S. market with a penetrating price strategy and have seen early success. Despite increasing our prices to a fair price, customers still have the willingness to pay because they feel like they are part of our journey and are getting a quality product.

You can find out more about our current collection and the cause behind it on

So as you can see through our virtuous cycle model, everyone wins. We fundamentally believe that you can do good and do well at the same time.

I owe a great deal to how I think about business, teamwork and community to the time I spent at UNC Kenan-Flagler. The foundations I built there have been invaluable to my career as a former banker and now an entrepreneur. Through this foundation, I am now fortunate enough to build a company that creates products that our customers can feel good about literally and figuratively!

By J.G. Ayodele II (BSBA ’02)