An 18-year-old cobbler, Oreoluwa Idowu, is the founder of HR collections, a textile design and leather products manufacturing company. In this interview with FEYISAYO POPOOLA, she talks about how she has channelled her passion into a profit-making enterprise.
What services do you offer?
At HR collections, we specialise in making footwear such as sandals and slippers for both males and females.
What makes your business different from others in the same industry?
I would say innovation. I try as much as possible to do things differently to create a niche for my business in the industry. For example, there are what is ankara shoes and sandals, but I have not seen anyone make footwear out of adire fabric. A HR collections, we have made footwear from adire fabric and they turned out really nice.
How old is your business?
It is a year old. We launched officially last year.
What motivated you to start the business?
Entrepreneurship has always been a part of me. I have always wanted to be independent; physically and financially. That motivated me to start a business.
How has the experience been so far?
It has been wonderful, though there have been challenges such as financial issues, customers’ issues, marketing issues, among others. But with time, you learn how to manage situations. I have learnt so far that you have to let your products stand out because there are so many people in the same business as you. You should never compromise on quality.
What is your educational background?
I’m currently a 200-level student at the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos.
How do you manage school and business?
I have people working for me. Most times, when I’m busy, they do the work. All I have to do is draw the designs, and they produce.
What is your staff strength?
I have just two people for now.
How did you become a cobbler?
A while back, I was working as an intern in my dad’s company. On my way to work everyday, I usually saw a guy at Yaba making shoes, and it was fascinating to watch him. One day, I summoned the courage and walked up to him. I told him that I wanted to learn, and that was it.
I learnt cobbling from the guy and I was taught about adire by my mum. I joined the two skills together to birth an innovative enterprise.
How profitable is the business?
It’s quite profitable. The fact that I’m doing something different is what is driving sales. I try to make my prices very affordable so people can buy in large quantities. This also increases sales.
What are the major challenges you’ve faced?
Acceptance and trust. People don’t like to patronise start-ups because they don’t trust what we do. Also, people always feel I’m too young and they don’t take me seriously.
How much was your initial capital and how did you raise it?
My initial capital was about N20,000, and I took it out of my savings.
Do you intend practising law after school?
Yes I do. You don’t expect that I’d spend six years in school studing law and not practise. But it would be for a short while though.
How do you advertise your business?
I make use of social media. It is a lot easier reaching people through that platform.
What other skills do you have?
I also make soaps and beads.
Where do you see yourself and your business in the next five years?
I see myself designing for celebrities. I see the brand name growing to a stage that everybody can proudly wear my products the way they wear products of foreign designers.
What do you think the future holds for made-in-Nigeria products?
The future is bright actually. Nowadays, you see celebrities wearing made-in-Nigeria products and posting them on social media with hashtags such as “Wear made-in-Nigeria products.” The acceptance has been wonderful, and I see it growing to the stage that people will not be able to spot the difference between Nigerian products and those made abroad.
What would you say is the most influential factor in your business’ success?
I would say customer service. I always check on my customers ask how they are enjoying the products and listen to any complaints they might have. This really helps because they end up referring you to other people and this has really helped to grow the business.
If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
Be determined, let your customer service be nearly perfect, if not perfect, and always encourage feedback from customers even if it’s negative. Work on their comments so you can get better. Above all, be optimistic and consistent; pessimists don’t make good entrepreneurs.
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