April 26, 2023
"Nigerian tailors showed me shege when moved from the US to start my fashion business"- Lilies Africa on #MarketLife
This month's #Marketlife subject is a fashion business owner who left the US to start a business and an NGO in Nigeria. In our conversation, Amarachi shares her journey and the challenges she faces as an entrepreneur in Nigeria.
Can I ask why you left the US?
A: I was born in the US but I moved back last year. Lol, no worries I get the question a lot.
A: I moved cause God told me to. So I packed everything up and left.
Then you started a business here?
A: Yeah. I’ve always wanted to be a business owner. Growing up, my parents always had their businesses. My mum had a home health business in the US and my dad was a full-time pastor. So that did influence my wanting to own a business. My whole life, I’ve had like two conventional jobs. I did both while I was in high school and started my NGO when I was 18.
Nice, an NGO?
A: Yeah. We sold T-shirts and the sales would help our cause to feed people and help different communities in the area.
So what led you to start your fashion business?
A: I think I always wanted to do fashion. My NGO was first a fashion brand before it became an NGO. I gravitated towards fashion because I have a problem.
A: …a problem with people who don’t like African stuff. People dim African attire as ‘bush’ or unprofessional.
Oh. So that's what inspired you to start your brand?
A: So the idea of Lilies is this: Number one, preserving African culture. At first, it was going to be a Nigerian brand alone but I believe in the continent as a whole and the transformation of African culture overall. Number two, Social Impact. Thinking of a way to bring social impact to communities.
Do you have a physical store?
A: No. We look for tailors who already have shops and just partner with them. My long-term goal is actually to bring in tailors from Togo and have our factory. Nigerian Tailors have shown me shege!
What was your business strategy like at first?
A: Initially, I just thought it was to buy fabric, find a tailor, and open Instagram. Finish. I didn’t have a proper plan. I won a pitch in my church in 2022 when I just started Lilies. That was how I got the capital to start my business. It wasn't wise to start without a plan and I wouldn’t advise anyone to do that. You can really start with little money and do a lot. I blew that capital and if I have that capital to do what I’m doing now. It'll be a different story.
How much was the money?
A: It was NGN 100,000 I got then. But I took a course last month that has helped me learn a lot about running and scaling a business. So we are currently changing things with the brand to see how we can adjust pricing.
Would you say Nigeria caused those bad days?
A: I’d say it’s a mixture of lack of knowledge and Nigeria’s environment. Many of us starting in Nigeria think that you’ll blow when you start and that’s not how it works. I’m saying it because I was in that mindset too. Now I’m learning that there's beauty in building your brand’s story. The goal for my brand is that when people think of African clothing, they’ll not just think of danshiki.
Hmm. Showing diversity?
A: Yesss. There’s a lot of diversity in African clothing especially when you hear of Kente only one pattern comes to mind when there is so much more. So I want that diversity to be seen through my brand. Lilies will be on runways, movies, and in stores in the UK and US. I also want it to be very affordable for people.
So what did you expect running a business in Nigeria to be like before you started?
A: When I started the brand at first, it was Adire clothing and since it is associated with Yoruba culture, I thought that being an Igbo girl would make it difficult for me to relate with people with an interest in it. I imagined that would be the only problem I’d face. I didn’t know I'd struggle with getting tailors too. Lol.
A: See. They're a big problem until this day.
Haha. What did Nigerian tailors do to you?
A: I have a lot of stories. In fact, I'll share two stories. When I first started my business, I was really desperate for a tailor. Then one of my friends said they knew a tailor. The first red flag was that she sewed for 1K. Omo. I should have known. By the time I was going to get the clothes, her child had drawn on the clothes and she just ironed it for me like that. Omo, clothes that I wanted to sell. I cried that day. Also, her finishing wasn't so good.
The second tailor even insulted me. I cried premium tears. I raised funds and got expensive fabrics I really liked. I found her on Instagram, where she was selling ready-to-wear clothes. I asked her to put Ostrich feathers on some of the clothes. This woman went to get chicken feathers for my clothes and said it was because it was cheaper. I was in painssss.
A: I think it was the insults that pained me the most because I had exhausted the initial capital I got and was using my own money from NYSC, some of what my parents sent, and whatever I made from brands as a content creator. I was using my hard-earned income. Nigerian vendors don’t know how to talk to people. Even customers trying to buy from you as well. It’s just terrible.
So what did you do?
A: At first I gave up on the business because I didn’t have my 'why'. I was just freestyling. Ever since I defined my 'why', giving up has not been a first option. Now I know how to leverage capital, how to communicate with vendors and I know how my pricing will be. I know how far I’m willing to go for my brand.
I'm also improving our operations. Working with people in Abeokuta has taught me a lot about timing because although you can get some things cheaper, some Abeokuta vendors can be slow. Those with double the price are willing to do things faster.
These questions need to be asked.
A: Yeah, I want the business to be able to pay people and pay me. We now offer stipends for people who want to learn the business. They also get a certification after their training.
That's a great strategy.
A: Exactly. Once the period has been exceeded, we’re going to do an evaluation and then retain people based on how they’ve performed. Then you get to grow with us.
If I had known what I know now, by the grace of God we would have been making a lot of money and had our first runway show by now. So by the end of this year, you should be hearing a lot about Lilies.
Amazing. How do you keep track of your finances?
A: I’ve been doing everything myself. Sending invoices on WhatsApp and collecting transfers, then I record everything manually. But I’m open to any software that can help me manage everything better in one place.
Great. OurPass can help you generate invoices. You also get a free business bank account and loans to expand your business. There’s also a tool for you to manage your staff.
What’s your advice to people who want to start a business in Nigeria?
I think I’ll say three things:
- Stop copying, be yourself, and define your own why. Be original. You can invest in young people.
- Follow your dreams, don't give up. Running a business, especially in Nigeria has its ups and downs from logistics to vendors and customers because people are rude.
- Find Jesus because he’s the only reason I do what I do. I don’t know how anyone is running a business without Jesus.
#Marketlife is sponsored by OurPass, the number one smart banking solution for African businesses.