Student Success Stories

Chiso Osuji

Student Spotlight

Chiso Osuji (WG’25), Founder and Creative Director, Zena Ziora

Starting a business is truly an achievement for anyone. But starting a luxury designer brand while still a student, with no formal fashion background… in the depths of a global pandemic, no less? June 2020 was when Chiso Osuji, now a first-year Wharton MBA, laid the groundwork for her luxury shoe brand Zena Ziora

What’s more, she didn’t use any outside money. “I bootstrapped the entire business,” says Osuji. “And this was on my first-job-out-of-college salary.”

Osuji was motivated by a lifetime passion for beautiful shoes to try to build her own collection. (“If I only had a thousand dollars left in my bank account, it’s going to be spent on shoes,” she joked.) She approached ateliers in Italy’s Le Marche region—“the same place where heritage brands are produced”—until she found one willing to work with a small, unknown business. Osuji achieved this using only online searches and virtual contact since travel wasn’t feasible during the pandemic.

Visiting the Zena Ziora website, one feels enveloped in luxury. Elegant models show off impossibly delicate stilettos with pearl straps that resemble necklaces. Each pair of shoes sells for between $600 and $900. Osuji notes that the pearls are real Spanish Maiorca pearls—a feature that distinguishes Zena Ziora from the many brands that use glass or plastic. She says her brand has a “cut-no-corners” philosophy: “We’re very intentional about our materials because if you’re spending that amount of money, you’d better get the best of the best.”

Osuji, who is Black, notes that Black entrepreneurs are a rarity in the U.S., accounting for only about 6% of all entrepreneurs and less than 8% of fashion designers. She knows she is bucking the odds—and hopes her breathtaking footwear creations will continue to win the day!