Beautiful new week!!
Hope your weekend was restful. This week we feature the interview of our Creative Director published on Sunday Punch newspaper (a Nigerian newspaper) of 18th October, 2015 page 44
A good business must address a need –
The founder of Belle & Grace, Esther Adegunle, 28, talks about her fashion outfit, in this interview with Motunrayo Joel
Tell us about Belle&Grace
Belle & Grace (B&G) is a fashion and social enterprise that promotes Africa’s beauty through its products and weekly blog posts. It was incorporated three years ago and has since grown its product portfolio from 1 to 5. They are aprons, pocket squares, neckpieces, robes and tops all made with beautiful African prints. As part of B&G’s social campaign, every week a blog post is written about the beauty and pride of Africa to remind our clients and readers about Africa’s beauty.
How did you get trained for the type of business you are involved in?
I got most of my training from past business ventures (successful and failed) and my undergraduate/ master’s study (BSc. Economics & MSc. Business Analytics & Consulting). Also as a Chartered Institute of Management Accounting (CIMA) student, I learnt accounting related skills from the institute. My soft skills are being developed daily as I work with suppliers, clients and team members. I believe in continuous learning so I am still in the training mode.
Have you always been entrepreneurial?
Yes I have. During my undergraduate studies I had series of retail businesses; selling shirts with my brother to selling accessories; I had a mini savings business for my roommates. I believe I have grown to be entrepreneurial.
Also, during my NYSC, I sold toast bread in my place of assignment because I realized my colleagues always asked for my toast bread so decided to make extra to sell at work. Lastly, I converted my personal car into a taxi (it was a failed business but I learnt from it). In my mini-business journey, I have learnt that people start businesses for different reasons; to make extra income (most common), to meet a need/ solve a problem and to fulfill purpose. The last two reasons make the entrepreneur stand even in turbulent times.
What inspired the creation of your business?
Belle & Grace is inspired by Africa’s beauty that needs to be promoted. Many people including Africans have lost hope in Africa and don’t see the beautiful features and greatness of our great continent. It is Belle & Grace’s mission to promote Africa’s beauty and remind people of our great continent.
Our product portfolio has developed based on needs recognition; our first product (Aprons) was developed because I couldn’t find lovely kitchen aprons to buy so I designed one. Also, before my wedding we needed unique bridal robes and couldn’t readily get it so we made robes with African prints.
What are the major challenges faced early in the business and do you still encounter them?
Initially, it was getting the right designers to work with but we have stabilised in that area. Now we have reliable and talented designers we work with. The power constraint is common for most Nigerian businesses, Belle & Grace supplements it with generator which is not cost effective. Lastly, efficient delivery of our products used to be a challenge when we began however we have partnered with a logistics firm that assists in our delivery. Outsourcing has helped us focus on our core competence.
What was your starting capital at Belle & Grace?
Belle & Grace started with as low as N70, 570. I believe in starting lean and expanding with time.
Do you offer trainings?
When the opportunities arise, I speak on my business experience. Belle&Grace does not offer technical trainings for now.
Do you think young entrepreneurs are receiving enough support?
I think there is a growing support for young entrepreneurs both from the private and public sector such as mentoring and coaching platforms and business competitions. However there are still a large number of entrepreneurs that do not have access to these support. Many more organisations need to embrace supporting young entrepreneurs in the university. Grants and loans need to be more accessible to young entrepreneurs at lower interest rates.
What is your advice for unemployed graduates?
I will simply ask “What is in your hands?” So aside the degree and certificates you have, what else is in your hands? What problem can you solve with what is in your hands? What are people doing that you can do better at? Identify it, develop it and use it.
If you could go back to when you started, what would you do differently?
I have enjoyed the entire process and still enjoying it. I may just have started somethings earlier like partnerships with other Afrocentric businesses and outsourcing our outbound logistics (delivery).
Do you think entrepreneurship is in the blood? Or is it something that can be learnt?
I believe like leadership, entrepreneurship is learnt over time. I don’t think some people are born to be entrepreneurs. We can all learn to be entrepreneurs in one area or the other. Organisations grow when employees are intrapreneurs hence problem solvers/ solution providers within their organisations.
What are the plans for the future?
We want to be able to reach out to more people in our mission to promote Africa’s beauty. We want to build a sustainable business that engages and employs people within our production chain.
What are your thoughts on the state of unemployment in Nigeria?
There is a high unemployment rate in Nigeria, Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) puts it at 7.5% in the first quarter of 2015. However I believe the rate is much higher and also underemployment is high in our country. It is a fundamental problem that needs to be tackled and some people have seen it as a business opportunity like the job connecting companies/ recruitment agencies.
Furthermore, we need to train our children to be enterprising; give them a certain amount to start a business in secondary school (this can be done during the holiday) and business competitions should be encouraged in secondary school. In the university, practical business courses should be taught and students should manage the universities’ business activities.
There are certainly many problems in our country waiting to be solved. These problems are entrepreneurial opportunities to be harnessed. We must not fail to harness them.
What motivates you?
I am highly motivated by the potential of Africans and Africa. I believe in its greatness and that’s what B&G is about. I desire to see African businesses top the Fortune 500 list.
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy reading on business issues, researching and window shopping.
What is your view on President Muhammadu Buhari’s ministerial nominees?
I look forward to them performing on their designated roles (soon to be disclosed). Like most Nigerians, result is what we want to see, so I look forward to them bringing positive changes to our economy.
Special thanks to our friend and editor Chris Imaralu, Belle & Grace appreciates you
: Belle & Grace
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