[email protected] Interview
Interview with Anthony Aina and Steven Okeya
“ Most people don’t pursue their business ideas due to fear of failing; however, failure makes your success story more interesting, with cliffhangers, tearful movement, epic moments..” – Anthony Aina and Steven Okeya
Today we feature Anthony Aina and Steven Okeya, the founders at Penificent. We hear their story in their own words, their successes, their challenges and their insights.
Let’s start by getting to know you. Can you please tell us a little bit about you and what you do?
Penificent produces high-quality modern urban comics that tackle complex topics and social issues – particularly those affecting young black people in Southwark.
Established at the end of 2017 by myself (Anthony) and Stephen, Penificent draws on our growing-up experience experiencing domestic conflict, knife crime, living on the streets, and anti-social behaviour.
As Southwark residents, we have witnessed young people experiencing similar issues and wanted to use our talents to give young people the skills, experience and resilience to take a different path. In 2019, we secured funding from the Mayor of London to produce our first anti-knife comic, ‘KnifeBoy’, with workshops in Southwark Schools.
The programme gained support from the Mayor of Southwark, and over 200 people attended the comic launch, including representatives from the Mayor of London’s Violence Reduction Unit. In addition, we are continuing talks with ‘No Knives, Better Lives, and Feltham Football Club regarding mental health and knife crime. In 2020, supported by the Positive Futures Fund, we produced ‘State of Mind’ – a comic series that tackles mental health issues in young people.
We hosted workshops based on the comic at St. Mary Magdalene Primary, ARK Globe Academy, St. Saviours and St. Olave’s, and English Martyrs Schools reaching over 200 young people
A great introduction and start to this interview. Can you please tell us, how did you start, from what age, and what made you decide to change direction and start?
Steven and I both enrolled on a Digital Media course at Lewisham College in 2010 to develop and enhance their creative skills. They both met on the same course after being paired by their teacher to complete an end of year assignment. They decided to combine a combination of their life experiences and skill set to develop a comic series.
Penificent officially was created in 2017 by Steven, age 25 and Anthony, age 28 at the time; Penificent launched with a collection of bespoke PSHE self-published comics. We connected with young people from the ages of 8-14, using characters of different ethnic backgrounds but not solely to minorities. Passionately tackling issues such as Knife crime and mental health innovatively is our core objective.
Penificent has now developed into a young, vibrant organisation that encourages young people to aspire for more and help them communicate/channel their emotions and problems while creatively addressing current issues.
Thank you for that insight. So can you tell us…What does your business do and where is your company based?
Penificent produce high quality modern urban comics as well as bespoke comic workshop that tackle difficult topics and social issues – particularly those affecting young black people in Southwark. Penificent draws on our experience of growing-up experiencing domestic conflict, knife crime, living on the streets, and anti-social behaviour.
As Southwark residents, we have witnessed young people experiencing similar issues and wanted to use our talents to give young people the skills, experience and resilience to take a different path.
In 2019, we secured funding from the Mayor of London to produce our first anti-knife comic ‘KnifeBoy’ with workshops in Southwark Schools. The programme gained support from the Mayor of Southwark and over 200 people attended the comic launch, including representatives from the Mayor of London’s Violence Reduction Unit. We are continuing talks with ‘No Knives, Better Lives’ and Feltham Football Club regarding mental health and knife crime.
In 2020, supported by the Positive Futures Fund, we produced ‘State of Mind’ – a comic series that tackles issues of mental health in young people. We hosted workshops based on the comic at St. Mary Magdalene Primary, ARK Globe Academy, St. Saviours and St. Olave’s, and English Martyrs Schools reaching over 200 young people.
We host the Letz Hustle Podcast to give voice to Southwark residents relating to mental health – including paid work experience for a local young person to vide and edit the podcast.
What’s the story behind your success? What led to your aha moment? how did you get to where you are now?
In May 2018, we successfully obtained a grant through the UnLtd Do It Award program. We had to complete two written pieces, including our aims during the application process, stating our social strategy. The final part of the process was a ‘Dragons Den’ style pitch which helped us realise that we wanted to address more severe issues in the community we were raised in.
We wanted to tackle the problems directly, still maintaining our creative elegance.
May 30 2019, we launched our anti-knife crime comic, which gained a lot of interest from the Sunday Times, Mayor of Southwark, Mayor Of London, Cbbc Newsround.
This learning experience gave us more drive to work on our social objective and expand to workshops to develop better relationships with our young readers.
When we first create a comic, we highlight the social issue we’re addressing, adding multicultural characters integrated into an engaging continuous story.
The exact process is used when creating clothing designs; there is a story behind every unique creation. There is always a positive message attached to any clothing designed.
Thank you for sharing that. What’s been your life’s biggest lesson so far?
At first, we were working with a company called kids co, which loved our idea and story but unfortunately closed down in 2015 before funding was provided.
So we were stuck in a position for a considerable amount of time where we had a good story but wasn’t sure how to get it out. We were then introduced to a company called gift which helps young people develop their ideas; we learnt how to source all the resources to bring our concept to main life challenges.
We need to show an example of our story, but not having the funds for a piolet.
So we failed a Kickstarter campaign in 2016 in an attempt to raise money for the pilot. We bounced back in the same year with a combination of 02 to think the big project and using a different fundraising platform combined with our own money; we created our first piolet in 2017, late 2018 Unltd funded us for young social enterprise scheme.
After going through the progress of grant style application and lastly pitching via dragon den format to the grant managers, we received our first banking for our social enterprise. This was pivotal as being supported gave us the confidence that our idea is good and can succeed.
The effect of lockdown and to keep relationship updated and relationship
If you were to go back in time, what piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
Invest in yourself, whether it be financially or mentally.
Don’t be discouraged when your friends don’t support your business, as you will meet new great people during your business journey, that will be some of your biggest supporters.
We’re nearly halfway through our interview so it’s a great time to ask how does your business run. What three tools make your business run better?
Our Network plays a vital part in enabling us not to miss opportunities to raising capital to complete social issue projects. Artist to produce high-quality industry level, Workshop facilitators to help run workshops, comic creation to design and published art.
What do you know now that you wished you had known before?
The effect of lockdown and to keep relationship updated and relationship
What has been your greatest or proudest achievement or moment?
In 2019 featuring in Sunday Times, during the same year successfully launching our anti-knife crime comic lunch event.
What future life goals do you want to achieve and why?
Ultimately, becoming the UK marvel will allow us to produce stories relatable to all people from a different socio-economic class, background race, inspire a new generation of creators, and give job opportunities.
To finish our inspire questions…”We believe that sharing inspiring words can inspire others.” If there was one positive thing you would say to someone to inspire and empower them what would it be and why?
Most people don’t pursue their business ideas due to fear of failing; however, failure makes your success story more interesting, with cliffhangers, tearful movement, epic moments.
“Thank you it has been great learning more about your founder story and Penificent”
To learn more about Penificent Visit www.penificent.com
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