SJNC Client Spotlight on Black Businesses in Saint John: United Colours of Fashion

2023 / 02 / 24

The fashion industry is one of the world's most dynamic and rapidly changing industries. It’s an industry constantly evolving, with new trends, styles, and designers continually emerging. It drives economic growth and quality of life in any city. One such organization leading in this sector is the United Colours of Fashion Inc. (UCOF). 

UCOF runs on a business model that combines a social mission with a commercial operation. It seeks to use the power of business to solve social and environmental issues and create economic value. Thus, they established UCOF as a non-profit organization to offer training and support for immigrants and minorities interested in pursuing education, business, or a career in fashion. Behind this powerhouse of cultural diversity in Saint are Christine Eruokwu and Rufina Ajalie.

As co-founders and directors of United Colours of Fashion (UCOF), Christine and Rufina were motivated by their challenges while building individual businesses from the ground up. They believed that nobody should have to face similar difficulties and realized the importance of providing opportunities for everyone to shine, be recognized, and be discovered.

Their flagship program, the UCOF Fall Fashion Show, has been running for three years and has been a highlight of cultural events in Saint John. Its success has been a testament to the potential of UCOF as a fashion enterprise. It has enabled them to become a leader among black-run businesses in Saint John, both in fashion and sustainability. This success has inspired other entrepreneurs to create their own fashion entrepreneurship.

The UCOF Sewing Hub, a project sponsored by TD Group, allows  women to learn fashion, pattern design and sewing – for free. This program runs every week and has seen unprecedented uptake by Newcomers especially. The hub has enabled UCOF to impact the community positively. Its Friday Fashion Clinic provides a platform for members of the community to work on personal fashion projects including retrofitting and alterations under the guidance of Elena Sherstobitova Luciani, who is also an immigrant.

While Christine and Rufina, through UCOF’s unique value proposition, have helped businesses to think of new ways to make an impact in their community, their entrepreneurial journey is incomplete without its challenges: « As black newcomers attempting to break through in the business world, Rufina and Christine encountered challenges like rejection, lack of access to resources and information, as well as networking opportunities. »

They overcame these hurdles by seeking mentorship, attending networking events, and using other resources to navigate the business world. In addition, collaborating with like-minded individuals and organizations such as the  Imperial Theatre, ONB, PRUDE Inc, SJNC, YMCA of Greater Saint John, Saint John Newcomers Centre, and City of Saint John amongst others,  helped build a robust support system and community. Finding creative and innovative ways to fund the business, such as targeting grants specifically for minority entrepreneurs, has also been helpful. 

Although the organization is still expanding, with initiatives to take UCOF to other areas in New Brunswick and Canada, it is clear that their focus has not wavered. "We rise by lifting others. An effort made for the happiness of others lifts us above ourselves,” a quote by Lydia M. Child continues to guide them. 

The story of UCOF continues to inspire as much as it encourages Saint Johners to join them on their journey to success. They encourage Black-owned businesses to be creative and innovative in their approach to business and to start where they are and with what they have.

For more Information about UCOF


Address: 165 Union Street (2nd Floor), Saint John E2L 5C7



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