From: Bianca Iboma
In Nigeria, there is an increasing number of women entrepreneurs driving business innovation in the emerging markets. Despite the gender challenges, women in the emerging markets are overcoming obstacles to break through the glass ceiling.
One of the women doing this today is Princess Debo Odutola, a female entrepreneur who is currently making waves in her Bespoke(Handcraft) business.
Princess Odutola began this handcraft industry in 2014 using scarfs from her Bubu and wrappers to start up as an entrepreneur. Today, her Bespoke business with ethnic fabrics has grown.
In this interview, she spoke on various issues.
Can you tell us about the Porter’s signature?
The Potter’s signature came into existence in July 2014.It basically manufactures bespoke (hand-made) products like bags, slippers, luggages, umbrellas, belt, clothes etc. All made from our local source fabrics like Aso-oke, Ankara, Damask. It is a craft made-in Nigeria in our ethnic fabrics. Initially, I started my business with my scarf, bubu, wrappers and later, my mum gave me her own wrappers that I used in making creative designs.
Basically, women are denied access to loans especially those who want to start up SMEs despite the fact that the procurement process is cumbersome. What is your take on it?
The issue of SMEs procuring bank loans had been on forever. It is very difficult assessing loans especially because of the experience from Bank of the Industry; those who secure loan had defaulted. There is a particular facility in CBN which they also distribute through banks. I feel the banks should advertise more of that instead of their own packages. The government should provide loans for women; make the requirement so they can actually contribute to the welfare of the home. A lot of women are not aware that such facilities exist for them. I heard Lagos State is equally giving grant to people who want to start up SMEs from N50,000.00; they give to them after some verification. Procuring loan in Nigeria is really difficult but what I would suggest is for government to be more involved with the securing of loan. People really need money. The Bank of Industry made a provision for the fashion industry to secure a loan. I attempted procuring a loan. Someone like me cannot ask for a bank loan of N5 million. I actually requested for a loan but when I studied the requirement, I discovered that I cannot meet it. I was given 27 requirements. At the time I looked at it, I could not even meet up to 10 requirements. It was like bringing the head of John the Baptist; if someone like me who had been in business cannot meet the requirements, what about someone who just wants to start. There is need for government to review the requirement policy. If there is a lot of SME’s in the country, it will help especially for women. It is a market that you cannot over saturate.
Assessing the Nigerian Fashion Industry and the various challenges along with the competitive Chinese Market, how can local manufacturers survive?
The fashion industry in Nigeria has grown from what it used to be though there had been a lot of numerous challenges. Nigerians are still fashionable. Our government needs to work on its policies. Some of the laws need to be flexible. Government should make funds available to aid business growth. There should be accessible funds for businesses to benefit.
I don’t compromise quality. Let any person who prefers chinese product buy it. A well produced product from Nigeria would last longer than a China product. I see people who import ankara bags and other things designed with Ankara from china but you cannot compare the quality with a well produced work from Nigeria. The China bags crack within two months. I produce my bag from the scratch. I see people who import Ankara bag from China despite this. I sell according to the cost of my production; those who appreciate quality would patronise you. I rather do a quality product that a few people would buy than do something that is of low quality because of China.
Two designers can have two products but have different finishing. It is about the finishing. Designers should not be afraid of the competitive China market. They should not equally compromise the price because of China. They are two different products. As designers, they should be able to carve a niche for themselves. Once you have an attention to detailed product, you would see those who will interest you.
Most SMEs that manufacture products have challenge with branding and packaging, what is your view?
When I started my bag business, chief Mrs Folorunsho Alakija saw my bag in one of the exhibition I went and she bought it. She invited me and told me that she wanted more of the products and appreciated it. But she said the labels are rubbish I had to discard. She asked me to google how to attain the best quality of labels. She is more knowledgeable in the fashion industry than I am. And she was able to mentor me for a while. In the course of examining my products, she would notice some stitches that we didn’t finish well and she would inform me that I had to look at the stitches. I google some companies that produce labels. My labels carry Nigerian celebrities’ names like Oba Sijuade, Olori Ladun, Adebisi Abiola, Hajiyah Bola Shagaya, Maria Penawo, Teju Philips, Mrs Arase etc. This embellished bag labels patterned after Nigerians is to promote our very own. I had an interview in Manchester and they were surprised about my concept. It is time to promote our own celebrities. Once your name is after a bag I produce, people recommend it to others. Oil was our major source of economy. I encourage women and advise them to do quality job and ensure that they tidy whatever jobs or craft they are making even if what they are producing is not pure leather. No attention was given to other sector of the economy because we had so much dependence on oil.
Ordinarily to export product from Nigeria is very cumbersome; how were you able to export your wares considering the hurdles as an entrepreneur?
There is a lay down procedure by the Nigerian Export Promotion Council(NEPC) but I think the process is very lengthy. Government should take urgent steps to remove the obstacles. Since the process constitutes a serious bottleneck and cumbersome means, it usually delay the products from getting to their destination on time. Most business people would not want the movement of their products to be delayed.
Personally, I have been very lucky in that regards because people order my products on line. They export my products under the African Growth and Development Act; I ought to have been exporting. I also have luggage I send when someone is traveling. I have always exported my wares although in America and Canada, my products are there technically but in UK and some other countries, people have been able to export my products. Exporting things from Nigeria has been very cumbersome.
There is a challenge that women do not rise normally to hold management positions in organisations like their male counterparts who feel that they are created to be helpmates? What is your take?
I don’t see it as a challenge. If a woman is qualified for a position, she should be given. The current chairman of First bank is a woman; I don’t think she had issues getting there. Mrs Cecilia Ibru was a woman, also Joke Bakare, Medplus. There are many men who are pharmacists but how many of them have been successful with it. Chief Mrs Stella Okolie has been successful in running Emzor pharmaceuticals. There is no glass ceiling women have not broken. A woman would have been the governor of Taraba State but you know what happened. The president of Liberia is a woman. People don’t want women to rule in Nigeria but we will get there. Nigeria needs a woman president; I really want to rule Nigeria if Christ tarries, that is my desire. Nigeria needs a woman who can be dogged and liberal as well to rule this country.
A lot of graduates had been unemployed despite the schemes provided for them to acquire skills, what do you think should serve as an intervention for the youth who plan to travel out in search for greener pasture?
During the course of their youth service, some vocations were taught; why can’t they develope those skills. I know of a lady who does make-up, a skill she had acquired during her NYSC days. That was a skill developed. The male also were groomed but have refused to make use of those skills because they have insatiable wants. They want to travel abroad at all cost, risking their lives, following sea and other means just to get to where only God knows. They just want to cross regardless of the danger. When you go overseas, what are you going there to do? Roaming the street until you are deported? The government has been able to put in place a lot of youth empowerment scheme. Let them take advantage of it. Why won’t they work, Nigeria is the only country where you can sleep with N5000 and tomorrow people can give you something. In UK, nobody gives you pounds; they all keep their money. I was opportune to be on Oxford street one day in USA when a boy was accosted, I got interested and I discovered that he had been in that place for six months without any papers. He was busy doing credit card fraud. The boy was deported. All this issue of traveling is just the male. I don’t encourage idleness. Let them build on those skills. They live on credit, nobody gives you money in America. They live on credit cards. It is difficult for anyone who had stayed abroad for a long time to live in Nigeria. They don’t spend cash. Now Nigeria is facing recession and in reality, it has not been easy. The few people that have money don’t want to release it. They are keeping it. In those days when a driver comes to his boss and informs him of an occurrence, maybe he just lost his mother or the wife delivers a baby. The master would give him money. Today, nobody wants to give out money; they have to take care of the situation.
There are certain things women do that are out of place. What would a woman do that you frown at?
What I don’t like about women are those who live in denial. Nigerian women that forms and live make believe life. Don’t put your hand where you cannot reach -fake life, or borrowed life. If a woman is not real, it affects the children. I went to an exhibition, then I met a woman who had a Levinton bag.
Inferiority complex, jealousy and pride. I admire a woman in government, the present wife of the Kwara State governor, Mrs Ahmed. The former governor of Lagos State’s, wife Dame Abimbola Fashola. These are women who have been up there, yet they are humble.
So, if you look at Mrs Obama and the impact she has made on the American woman, she has left an indelible mark, set her feet on the sands of time and written her name in gold. I have not really seen the woman in this country that can lead us or really stand for the woman. But some have to take the lead. It is either they are so much into themselves or they feel Nigeria problem is too much. This is not an islamic country that women are not allowed to speak. Nigeria is not Saudi Arabia or the United Emirates. We should be able to speak. Why can’t the first Lady be a voice for the women? I heard that the wife of the president, Mrs Aisha Buhari is trying. I hear she fights for the less privileged and those in IDP camp but has not been able to gather the women. The only woman I know that has been gathering women to pray, for this country is Mrs Dolapo Osibanjo, the wife of the current vice president. If she can gather women to pray, she can also gather women to move the nation forward. The women are the ones who will advise their husband and mentor the children. A prayerful nation is a prosperous nation. If you go to a prayer room and you find 20 people, 18 of them are women; the only two men you would find there would be dragged in by their wives. I don’t know why there can’t be a strong voice for the women in this country.
The issue of violence against women has been on the increase recently; how should it be curbed or even eradicated?
I think there is a law in Nigerian now that protects children’s right(child act) and the women too have a right that protects them against violence. I would look at the antecedents of marriage; did he try to slap you while you were dating. If there is a bipolar syndrome, don’t marry him but if such traits did occur initially and it appears at the latter end, then examine it. I find it difficult to cope with a man beating his wife. A man who beats up a woman, how was his growing up like? The girls can equally be groomed to tame their tongue just the way the boys need grooming. Were their parents also doing the same ‘Tyson’ while they were growing up. These are background check women ought to find out before getting into marriage.
What is your advice to young women who intend to do business especially with the challenge to start up a business?
Young women in business should be focused. They may not have huge capital like N10million to start up their business. You can actually build on whatever cash or resources you lay your hands on to start up business. The success story I am celebrating today started with a step. I started my bag business with my wrappers, bubu scarf and Ankara fabric. Then my mum later gave me her own Ankara. Today, I am a brand name. Every woman who is determined to do business should just be passionate about it and believe God if they truly want to make it.