BIPOC joy is missing in the media. Ochuko Akpovbovbo is here to change that.
By Nivita Sriram & Samia Abbasi
This last year, we’ve seen an increase in BIPOC, Gen Z founded organizations, start-ups, and platforms. Well, it’s about time the world allows us to share our stories — and listens. For much too long, the BIPOC community has been shown in a negative light and often from one point of view. The perspective from which these stories are told aren’t from those belonging to the BIPOC community. Ochuko Akpovbovbo, the founder & CEO of Parachute Media, is changing exactly that. Parachute is a media and community platform made by and for Gen Z women and nonbinary folks of color who are reclaiming their narratives. It’s time we share our stories, especially ones that center joy and individuality. It’s time we build the platforms and community that we have so eagerly waited for all along. Here’s an insight into our chat with the powerhouse herself, Ochuko Akpovbovbo.
Q1. Tell us about yourself, Ochuko!
A: I’m the founder & CEO of Parachute Media, and I’m 22 years old. I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, and I lived there until I was 16 years old. I live in Portland, Oregon right now, where I go to Lewis and Clark College. I’m an Economics major.
I had a really nice childhood in Lagos. My parents were very protective, so I didn’t go out much at all. So, I spent a lot of time in my house reading books. I was that kid secretly reading a book under my desk at school.
I had a crazy imagination — I wanted to do so many things and be so many things.
When I was 16, I moved to Victoria, Canada for 2 years to attend a cool boarding school. And it was transformational. There were 200 students from 160 countries, so it was the definition of diverse. I moved to Portland 4 years ago, and it was hard to be here at first. Right now, I feel like I’m in a good place with finishing up my degree soon and with the community we’ve built at Parachute.
Q2. Has studying Econ informed how you’re thinking about your career?
A: Studying Econ has taught me a lot about resilience. When I was in school in Nigeria and in boarding school in Canada, Econ was always one of my major subjects. I loved studying it and excelled at it. When I got to college, I wasn’t the best at it and wasn’t doing well in my Econ classes. I only started getting into entrepreneurship, because I was navigating my difficult Econ classes. Failure taught me a lot about finding myself and forced me to think about what I’m good at.
Q3. What sparked the idea behind Parachute?
A: I’ve always been interested in the lives of other people, and I’ve always loved books, movies, and TV shows. I’m particularly interested in the lives of People of Color. We’re multi-dimensional and have such a rich history of different cultures. In Nigeria, we love Bollywood. We used to watch Bollywood movies all the time when I was young. Aishwarya Rai was my favorite. I first saw her in Bride & Prejudice. My sisters and I would fight over the characters and be like, “I’m her!” / “No, I’m her!”
When I came to America, I thought it would be amazing and very diverse. But Portland wasn’t like that. I would hear people talk about my home country in ways that weren’t true or would only be negative. I got really frustrated with that. Firstly, where are they getting these stories? Secondly, they take my culture and appropriate it and then it’s cool?
I also saw that within the POC community, there was so much strife — colorism, racism, blaming each other on things, and so much more. There’s no healing happening here. I feel that we need to heal within ourselves first and come together.
That curiosity of people’s lives led me to want to create that healing process with Parachute.
That’s what makes Parachute what it is. I've always been someone who if I want to do something, I'm going to do it. So, it wasn't that hard for me to decide to start creating Parachute.
Q4. How did you build your team at Parachute?
A: Really, it was through shooting my shot. I slide into people’s DM’s. As an entrepreneur at an early stage, you often have to sell yourself and sell your dream. At this point, people can look at Parachute’s website and think, “Okay, I get it.” When I was pitching to people to join the team, there was no website. It was more about believing in the mission.
It’s important to tell people your “why” and have it connect with something that’s important to them.
So, it’s approaching people with the idea that: “I know X is important to you — it’s also important to me. Do you want to do this together?”
In terms of how I met my team members, I reached out to people on Instagram and LinkedIn — it was cold outreach. As the team got bigger and our social media platform grew, we started posting open positions on Instagram and got applications. I remember in the beginning, I cried one day, because I thought, “No one is going to want to join this!!” If one person joins, then another person does, and it builds over time.
Q5. What do you feel like is missing in the media space?
A: For me, when I'm going around living my life, I'm not thinking, “I'm a strong Black woman.” Being Black is important to me, but before I’m Black or Nigerian or a Woman of Color, I’m me — I’m Ochuko. I wasn’t seeing that in the media. It was always: “Talk about your culture and how hard it is and how you want to fight racism.” That’s important, of course, but also: What color of eyeliner should I put on? Should I shave my legs? Does he like me? I’m just being a person. So, with Parachute, I wanted to create a space where people can just be themselves.
Yes, we have a Politics, Activism, and Identity section. Our identities are so important. But, also, we’re basic b*tches sometimes — just sometimes. So, let’s also talk about basic problems, too.
I also wanted to center joy, because I don’t think we’re inherently heavy people.
Someone pointed out to me: We’re not minorities, we’ve been made minorities. We’re not underrepresented, we’ve been made underrepresented.
I want to create a space for women and nonbinary People of Color to talk about their interests and things they like — a space that doesn’t force them to be the voice of all things that represent their culture. I want a place where we can really go in-depth with people’s backgrounds with a variety of topics. Not just Black hair styles, but Nigerian hair styles. Not just brown girl beauty hacks, but Pakistani girl beauty hacks.
Q6. What makes you feel seen in the media?
A: I think there’s this idea that a Black woman has to be a bad b*tch — makeup done, wig laid, nails done, that type of thing. A lot of my friends are like that, but I’m not like that. I’m more like, “I want to be in sweats, in my bed, on my laptop working on Parachute.” I'm really quirky. I love seeing representation of Black women that aren’t perfect, that subverts people's assumptions about Black women. I love when they’re represented as weird and quirky and being themselves. I also love seeing things about Nigeria that aren’t negative. When a Nigerian artist wins a Grammy or an artist from the West partners with a Nigerian artist or seeing a Nigerian actor in a Netflix show. Things like that make me so irrationally happy.
My home is a whole place filled with stories and people. It isn’t just the negative things that happened to us.
Q7. What does being Gen Z mean to you v. How do people view Gen Z?
A: I think culture plays a huge part in that. The way that people talk about Gen Z is a very Western thing — the features, trends, and interests of Gen Z. I grew up in a place that wasn’t the West. So, our Gen Z in Nigeria act more like Millennials. If I’m being honest, I don’t really feel "Gen Z." Like, I don’t have a TikTok or Twitter, and I joined Instagram by mistake. Parachute’s colors are very neon and trendy, and came from a place of market research, as opposed to what I personally wanted to see.
I can’t always relate to what people view as Gen Z culture or what it means to be that trendy Gen Z girl.
Something that is very Gen Z is vulnerability. That’s something I’m still working on! I love that Gen Z is talking about vulnerable things like mental health. That has helped me so much to see that, but I’m not at that place where I can be open about my mental health and post a video about it.
Q8. What has been making you feel proud lately?
A: You know when you were 16, you were always wondering: “Oh my god, what am I going to be like when I’m older?” I think 16-year-old me would be proud of myself. Not just because of Parachute and what I’ve done in college, but
My younger self would be proud that I’m finally okay with myself.
She’d be proud that I’m a much kinder person who loves my culture and intends to keep my last name, things like that.
In terms of Parachute, whenever a new team member or writer adds Parachute to their Instagram bio or adds us as a role to their LinkedIn profiles, my heart gets so big. It never gets old. My friends have told me that they put Parachute in their internship applications and talk about it in their job interviews.
To have made something that means something to people, it means the world to me.
I can’t explain how good that feels!
Here are some fun Rapid Fire questions:
Q1. What song makes you feel like your best self?
A: The Greatest by Sia. When I want to hype myself up, that’s what I listen to.
Q2. What TV show have you binge-watched the most?
A: The OC. I love Seth and Summer. There’s a YouTube playlist of all their scenes, and I’ve watched it so many times.
Q3. Who was 10-year-old Ochuko’s role model?
A: I loved the writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I thought she was awesome, and I still want to meet her.
Q9. What’s your vision for Parachute in the future?
A: You know how there are big media companies like Conde Nast that own other media outlets and brands? Someday, I want Parachute to be a media network that owns brands that really speak to the different parts of People of Color’s lives. I’d love to venture into podcasts and really create brands that delve into topics like food, beauty/style, and career. I want to create the premier media brand in Africa. So, I want Parachute to be the expert in creating content, experiences, products, and services for People of Color. There’s such an open market, because nothing like this really exists.
About the Kulfi x Parachute Series —This article was written in partnership with Kulfi Beauty and Parachute Media. We are here to uplift narratives in the media that consider our lived experiences and allow us to feel seen in our complexities. For the month of April 2021, you will read articles and interviews on Kulfi Bites and Parachute that highlight BIPOC & South Asian perspectives on topics we’re curious about within beauty, identity, career, and media.
Cover photo credit: Ochuko Akpovbovbo, (@ochuko_ar)