INTERVIEW (Zainab Ashadu)

The Business Side of Fashion: Redefining Nigerian Hand-crafted Leather Pieces for a Contemporary Market

The Fidelity SME Forum is a weekly radio programme organized by Fidelity Bank Plc to educate, inform, advise and inspire budding entrepreneurs in Nigeria with knowledge and expertise that will enable them build sustainable and successful businesses. The interactive radio programme features subject matter experts and model entrepreneurs as guests on a weekly basis to share their insight and unique success stories. In this interview, Zainab Ashadu gives valuable insights on “The Business Side of Fashion: Redefining Nigerian Hand-crafted Leather Pieces for a Contemporary Market”. 

Q: How did you get into the fashion industry?

Zainab: I have always had a passion for bags since I was a young child, at the age of 27, I still had this very strong desire to create handbags so I did. I decided to go back to school to learn how to construct bags, so I went to the London institute of fashion, where I did a course in the evening and then I took it from there.

Q: So did you start as a full time entrepreneur on the onset or did you do this on your side or you were in paid employment?

Zainab:I was in paid employment for a couple of years, I think for 2 years before I felt like I was forced to quit my job and focus all my attention on fashion.

Q: How have you built this brand overtime and made it a successful business?

Zainab: It’s been a number of things that has contributed to the success of the brand but i think the main thing is staying focused on the dream I think that helps you have a solid idea of where you are trying to go and separate it from any kind of ego and really give the business and also the client what it needs.

Q: The leather industry is so relatively untapped, can you walk us through how you source the leather, how you develop your designs and how you eventually get it to the customers?

Zainab: Sourcing the leather is an interesting process, there was a thriving leather industry in the country and there is some remnant of it that still exists in the northern part of Nigeria, most specifically Kano. Each bag is unique and mainly because it’s produced by artisans so each artisan is different. Each bag is made by one artisan from beginning to end. I am intrigued by colour and how colour can produce harmony. So I really work with leathers to create different kind of needs, and I put it to different types of people and they say yes, this bag is unique and it goes to a specific type of person.

Q: So are these artisans full time employees or you outsource?

Zainab: They are full time employees

Q: Can you tell us how you grow each staff, because artisans is not an easy group to manage?

Zainab: I’ve grown my staff by treating them the way I would like to be treated and really trying to understand each person and their specific needs. Also I make it easier for them, I provide accommodation for them, I provide health care for them and I listen to them.

Q: What supporting service do you provide when I buy a bag?

Zainab: Yes. We do have systems in place too to take care of all the bags that we create, reconstruct the bag, so right from the beginning we build bags to last. We also have the system in place where, if anything happens to your bag, you bring it to us and we take care of it for you, we give you instructions on how to take care of your bags.

Q: Are these bags available, what are the price range and how profitable is this business?

Zainab: The business is a good business, it is hard but it’s good, I mean it is for the long term. The average bag costs 35-45 thousand. It is a luxury product and why it is luxury is because we create bags in the old way. Nowadays there is a lot of technology, there a lot of new ways to make bag but we still male in the old way where it is the same artisans that makes it from beginning to end so it is time consuming and that time is what costs the money.

Q: Do people see your bag and know that is a bag from this brand, how do they know?

Zainab: I suppose the design and the aesthetic is very strong, I create bags in a very specific way and I’m inspired by very specific things and I have my own styles so I really don’t look to other bags to inspire my own kind of design process.

Q: Is leather industry an industry that others should enter, are there a lot of untapped opportunities?

Zainab: Yes. I think it is an industry people should enter and there are many untapped opportunities and if you think internationally there are leather brands that exists, there are so many options and I think it should be as many locally and on the continent so I think it is definitely quite exploring and if you have the talent and the passion you should definitely go into it.

Q: The stereotypes is that the creative type are not usually good business people, have you experienced that yourself and how have you supplemented it to manage money, staffs, etc

Zainab: I am one of those people who really I’m creative but I’m also very business minded. If you are a creative person and you want to have a business of your own I would really recommend you find a business person to be with you, to partner with you and likewise. If you are a business person and you want to go into this industry, the creativity is important.

Q: How do you source your end customers, do you sell online?

Zainab: Yes. We do sell online, that was how we started and we also now have a physical store seven years later. At the beginning it was very important for us to do a lot of fares, so I would recommend that and that is how you source your customers.

Q: And for the work side, when they order do you deliver or you partner with another organization to handle the logistics?

Zainab: Yes. We partner with DHL now and we deliver globally.

Q: Where are your biggest customers from, where are they concentrated?

Zainab: France and the U.S and Germany.

Q: What have been the challenges and how have you overcome them?

Zainab: The challenges are the artisanal part of it because that is a very crude part of the business and it takes a lot of. It is just a normal challenge of any business in Nigeria.

Q: Can you give us a sense of the size of the business?

Zainab: We employ 12-15 people at the moment, in terms of the numbers.

Q: You took time to go and learn how to do this, would you suggest that those who are listening who want to get into your industry needs to build their own skill?

Zainab: It is required. If you are trying to do it for the long run, if you are trying to build a brand with longevity. It depends on where your angle is. I would say it is really important to know how to construct bags and not just how to design them and make look nice. It is totally important to make them functional.

Q: What is your return policy?

Zainab: We have a return policy in place. And the time frame is 14 days

Q: What would you say is really the state around business in fashion and how to grow and stay profitable and stay competitive?

Zainab: You’ve got to be honest, you’ve got to be true to your brand, you’ve got to know what you are trying to do and really pay attention to that.