“When life situations hit you, don’t let it win” | The Guardian Nigeria News
Serial entrepreneur, mentor and coach for women in all fields, Kiki Okewale is the CEO of Hope by Kiki Okewale, a Lagos-based fashion outfit. After a degree program at the University of Ibadan, she went to Williams Shakespear College (a branch of the University of Portsmouth) to continue her education. She obtained a Masters of Business Administration from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) upon her return to Nigeria and has since added other certifications to her portfolio including green cleaning, coaching, marketing, sales. , corporate structure and customer service.
Its distinctive collections have carved out an enviable place for it at the heart of haute couture. Her passion for helping those most in need prompted her to create the Hope Foundation, in order to fulfill her mandate. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her passion for fashion, empowering other women and living her dreams.
Tell us about your trip to the fashion world?
It started when I was a child; I never felt beautiful, I looked so much like a man, so much like my father. I wasn’t used to feeling this beautiful, so when my mom bought me clothes I would add a bit of my own effect just to give myself that attention with embellishments. I would say then that I want to be a fashion designer when I grow up.
Over the course of my life, I forgot this thought; I went to UK to study and when I came back I was totally confused. I didn’t have a clear direction of what I wanted to do so I got an internship where I didn’t get paid for a whole year and due to my dedication to the job I got a job in a public relations firm; Marketing Mix and later TPT.
However, I always knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I was not someone who could be limited so I gave so much more than I received and for every company I worked in they double or triple my salary when I want to leave, which shows that I was doing something more. When I got married, I thought about it. I like to organize events very much, I have always traveled and did not want to be far from my family, especially to raise my children. Having lost my father at the age of 12, I knew what it was like not to have a single parent. So, I wondered, if I can’t plan events, then I could style the people who go to the events.
Also, my wedding planning sealed it; it was hectic to find sellers. It wasn’t the era of social media and then I thought to myself that I was going to create a one stop shop where a woman has everything she wants from head to toe. This is how the dream began six years ago.
What are the highlights and challenges of running the business?
I started without having a mentor or coach, or anyone I knew who worked in this industry; I was afraid. I didn’t have any vendors or vendors. So the first time I bought it was from Alibaba; there were fears of getting ripped off or not getting the right products. But then I did it with fears and here we are. However, I can’t forget when a customer walked into my store and said, “I can’t shop here; your store is empty. ‘ I cried; I had just spent all my money stocking the place up and was just getting started, but it made me change my mind. I also realized that my friends and family might not be my target audience as I was upset that they weren’t buying from me. But then I realized that they either didn’t need what I was selling or they couldn’t afford it, which is part of what I teach new business owners.
Also, in terms of staff, I would take them like family, but over time I realized it wasn’t good for business. A staff member stole three million naira from me; she continuously gave my clients her personal bank details to make payments, until one day a client called me and told me that she was about to make the payment and wanted to confirm the details of the account with the name “Bimbola”. As soon as I heard this, which is the name of my store manager, I couldn’t believe it. I arrived at the store and with the police; we got her bank statement and saw payments from high profile women that i didn’t know were my clients.
Apparently her accomplice was her husband. I would see fabrics on these people on TV and think I have them too, not knowing that they are actually wearing fabrics from my store. That has all changed now, as I persisted and bet on building the right structures to meet these challenges.
Nigeria does not appear to have tapped into the multi-million dollar fashion industry, how do you think this can be achieved?
Being a Nigerian business owner is difficult, and trying to take your brand to an international platform is even more difficult. First, we were not positioned in this space because we do not get this support from our government. So everything that Nigerian entrepreneurs have done is on their own. Therefore, we have tried to support each other. Now a lot of people wear Nigerian brands; I have a lot of people I ship to who are not Nigerians or Africans.
So what we need to work on is to make sure that the quality of what we are giving can withstand the international market. We all know the cost of running a business here is high. For example, I pay for water and electricity, then I run a generation totaling around 900,000 N in a month and it’s frustrating. It takes courage to move forward, we have what it takes, a lot of Nigerian designs are so good, but we don’t mass produce which is a problem. Therefore, I started my garment factory where we are mass producing, because many people buy from Turkey, China and USA; we can do it here. So, in our factory, we mass produce for fashion entrepreneurs.
What inspires you?
As a creative, a variety of things inspire me; I used my center mat to create an outfit, which has become our bestseller. If I create a collection, I see what message I am trying to convey. During the ENDSARS events, I created t-shirts where we also put different inscriptions around this theme.
When I am in my creative space, music and the sound of water help me become creative. My vacation is incomplete if I don’t go where there is a beach, because that’s where I can be really calm. I’m not going anywhere without my sketchbook, even at my bedside. I could sleep and jump out of bed to pose a sketch that I dreamed of.
You are a multi-faceted woman, how do you deal with all of this while still looking your best?
The first is that I am not compromising the family; my children and my husband. I don’t spend my time at home anymore, except it’s absolutely necessary. I did a time mapping for myself to figure out what really matters and make sure it isn’t missing.
For my various companies, I have invested in good managers and employees, which makes the work easier. Yes, I have to train them from time to time, remind them of the values that we stand for, but then they are ready to do the job. I have a farming business, a supermarket and pharmacy, a fashion school, a clothing factory, and this fashion house. So what I do is set dates to attend meetings at the different locations and still get daily and weekly reports, and then Saturdays and Sundays I don’t work.
So, I have invested so much in the structure, so I can stay even up to a month without being in one place and everything is going well. I have also invested in auditors; with the right structure in place, it helps a lot. I want to start a business that can outlive me. It was never like that, because when I started I was the manager, the cleaner, the accountant, the cashier and everything; I didn’t rush, I let everything take its course.
My mission is to die empty and therefore the purpose of my life is to help people achieve their goal and so I needed to create time for that. No one here is aimless and many people cannot identify their purpose. I’m here to help, that’s what I’m trying to achieve with my live Instagram show, Pain to Purpose, where I get people to share their experiences and how they’ve lived over it. For me, I’ve had a good deal of life too.
How can other women sit at the same table as you?
So when I talk to people the first thing I tell them is to accept where you are, stop living in denial so that I can deal with issues adequately. If you are in the off season, accept it and stop trying to be like a strong woman; understand your reality, even if it’s not where you want to be, it’s where you are right now. So the focus will be on what can be done to get from where you are to where you want to be. It comes down to your life goals; if you want to be a business owner, how can you achieve it and once you have identified it, consistency. If you understand that you will be faced with challenges, your approach to your situation determines the outcome.
I always encourage women; when life situations come to you, don’t let it win. When you fall, no matter how many times get up, because I have fallen many times. It’s about determination and showing off; you never know the day when this turnaround will come. In everything you do, be sure to do your best; for most of my international shows, these are people who recommended me.
So, I advise women not to get involved in mediocrity; all that is worth doing is what is done well. I’ve had governors’ wives who came to this store covering up and wearing slippers and not looking what they are until later they say the reason I keep coming is because even when you and your staff didn’t know who i am i was treated like royalty which is really the key. So whatever you do, do it right, serve it right. Someday your name will be mentioned in places where your feet have not yet reached and the doors will begin to open. Always give your best, serve well, and remember it’s all about service. Make a niche for yourself and do it with a sincere heart and Heaven is your starting point.