By Christy Anyanwu
Nkem Adeniran-Adedokun designs and manufactures maternity and baby essentials such as maternity gowns, breastfeeding covers, feeding and support pillows, baby play mats etc. She’s a maternity consultant and Creative Director at Ninekay Maternity. She also educates, prepares and supports new and expecting moms through pregnancy and beyond to enable them achieve a stress-free maternity experience. She spoke with Sunday Sun about her journey in business over the years.
At what point in your life did you discover your entrepreneurial tendencies?
I would say I discovered my entrepreneurial potentials when I was waiting for university admission. I was tired of sitting at home doing nothing, so I asked my mum for some money and bought some shirts from Main Market, Onitsha which I brought back to Asaba, where I was living with my parents and sold. I stopped when I gained admission into the university and continued when I was pregnant with my second child.
Why did you choose to go into your kind of business?
Wow! This is like asking me the story of my life. It started early 2006, one month after my wedding. I started feeling feverish and we were advised to see the doctor that I might be pregnant. My husband and I were excited. At the hospital, after the routine questions like “when did you last see your monthly flow and all” I was given chloroquine tablets before the test results came out. I got home and took the drugs and it was later discovered that I was pregnant! Although I discontinued the drugs, it was rather too late. Weeks later, I had a painful miscarriage which required evacuation. It was so painful and heart-breaking and I wondered why I didn’t know that it was wrong to start treatment before a lab test. Why didn’t someone tell or encourage me to see an experienced gynaecologist?
As a first time mum to-be, I didn’t know what to expect because some of the physical and emotional changes I was experiencing were new and confusing. I needed to talk to someone badly, someone who really understood what I was going through. I became even more confused with the numerous “buy this, buy that, don’t bend, don’t stand, do this and do that” and was eating like a glutton. I gained so much weight as I had no counseling. In fact, for the headaches and fatigue, I was advised to drink milk, which I abused and took almost every day!
I couldn’t find trendy maternity wear, so I managed to buy some loose regular dresses and a blazer, which was dubbed, one nation, by my peers because I wore them with everything I could lay my hands on.
Again packaging my hospital bag was so stressful. I wondered why I couldn’t find all the items in one store. I bought so many irrelevant items thereby spending much more than I anticipated. Anyway, I managed to scale those hurdles and delivered my 4.0kg baby boy via C-section.
After I had my son, I thought the stress was finally over but I didn’t know it just started. I had so many issues and complaints like painful breastfeeding, sleepless nights, emotional breakdowns, weight gain, shopping for baby essentials and how to organise myself to resume work. I was becoming depressed and it started affecting my relationship with my husband. I became withdrawn and easily irritated. I complained about almost everything. I was frustrated at work and I couldn’t handle being a wife, mother and a career woman.
I went through this ordeal for two years and one day, I found out I was pregnant again! That was my wake-up call and I didn’t need anyone to tell me that I had to get myself together. I had to make this second journey through pregnancy and motherhood enjoyable and stress-free.
I read books, subscribed to notable maternity, baby and parental websites. I joined the married woman fellowship in my church and attended events and programmes that addressed marriage. I also talked to experienced mums who were doing so well managing their careers and motherhood.
Since I couldn’t get maternity wear that I liked, I started designing mine. I was determined to enjoy this pregnancy. I became better organised and more cheerful. I knew what to expect at every trimester and I was prepared. I started looking stylish and elegant and other expectant mums asked me for styling tips and I advised them about how to make their experience stress-free, recommended baby essentials that were necessary and how to work within their limited budgets.
In 2010, I started a fashion business making clothes for women (pregnant and non-pregnant) and men but it wasn’t fulfilling because my initial goal was to make clothes and accessories for pregnant women and babies. This later gave birth to a maternity clothing line.
I recently started an intensive online training in the USA to enable me educate, prepare and support people through the journey of pregnancy and beyond. I am going this route because I understand that a first time mum needs someone to listen to her and answer her questions, help plan and organise her for her new role as a mum, set up her dream nursery, recommend the basic essentials she and her baby require, which will help her reduce wastage and save her money and many other tailored needs.
How much did you start your business with?
I started with about N1million which covered my factory rent, sewing machines and essentials as well as some fabrics. I sold African fabrics at that time to fund the ready-to-wear line.
Did you at any point get a loan from the bank or elsewhere?
I got money from family and friends. I had mentors, people I looked up to that believed in me and my business. They helped me out financially when it was really tough. I also believe strongly in growing organically.
What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs?
Not everyone can be an entrepreneur, it’s a tough journey. You have to be sure of what you want to do or be known for. How bad you want it and be ready to serve. Always look at the long run because the first few years can really be frustrating. There have been times I wanted to throw in the towel but my passion and the fear of failure sustained me.
Look for mentors in your industry, study them closely (not stalking them) and don’t be shy to ask questions. Those you admire but can’t reach immediately, read their books or read about them online.
Knowledge is key. Research about your industry and be knowledgeable in your field. Learn from experts and again online. Youtube is not only for movies and all, it is also a place you can get practical experience in your field. If I am confused about anything, I go online to research or attend a training, seminar or workshop.
Finally remain focused, prayerful and be true to yourself.
How do you source materials to do your work?
At present, I source all my materials locally here in Lagos.
What’s your vision for your business five years from now?
To be a recognised, trusted, maternity consulting company and leading maternity and baby essentials brand in Nigeria.
Did you attend special courses to enrich your work?
Yes, I did. I did an entrepreneurial management course at EDC of the Pan Atlantic University, a six-month intensive sewing course, fashion illustration at London School of Fashion and studied maternity consulting under a top American consultant. I obtained my first degree (B.Sc ED) at Delta State University, Abraka, a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology at the University of Lagos, Akoka and also I have a Pre-school Diploma from North America Montessori Centre and Certificate in Enterprise Management from the Enterprise Development Centre (EDC) of the Pan Atlantic University, Lagos and these enhanced and enriched me a lot in the course of my business.
What are your challenges in this business?
I used to have challenges with my operational costs but I have been able to eliminate that by moving the bulk of my business online. There is also the problem of inability to secure a single digit loan for expansion. The environment is terribly unfriendly. And then, there is the high cost of inputs.
After graduation, where did you work?
I served at the then AfriBank Plc and moved on to Zenith Bank Plc where I worked for six years before I resigned to start my business.