Eseoghene. Odiete is an award winning fashion and social entrepreneur. In 2013, she ventured into business with just $60. Today, she has been able to raise $60,000 (60,000) dollars equity free funds to further grow her business.
She is the founder and creative director of Hesey Designs, a Fashion Accessory outfit that produces the handcrafted Afrocentric fashion accessories. Ese also runs the Hesey Designs empowerment Centre where over 50 of Nigeria’s Small and Medium scale Business owners have benefited.
The 25 year old has been a voice for women, she has been a Key note Speaker at several events including Diamond bank Business Enterprise conference, the Connect ZA/British Council on the business of fashion in South Africa, the British Council Mind the gap conference, the Future Awards enterprise program, Blank White sheet event at University of Nairobi, Kenya amongst many others.
Ese’s Designs and works have won accolades from different parts of the world including a recognition from British Billionaire Entrepreneur, Richard Branson, designing shoes for Branson for Virgin Atlantic 30th Anniversary.
Why did you ditch your communication background for fashion?
It was not such a switch as Mass Communication for me is an avenue to express my creativity and my world view, and this I have been able to extend to my brand. I have this relentless believe that the world requires a full expression of one’s uniqueness.
Have you always had the flair or passion for fashion?
Yes. I was the kind of person who hung around fashion materials; I read a lot of fashion blogs and had a very keen eye for how people pair colours and clothing together to achieve a great look. So when I was looking for what to do, fashion was an easy choice to make.
In fact, it all started when I was in school; picking fabrics and designs that work within the campus environment and getting my friends to buy and wear them. I didn’t have a brand name back then, I will say starting a brand in the real world is a whole new experience.
You cater more for accessories, why did you decide to toe this path?
Well, shoes and bags made with Ankara is where we are starting from. Like you would imagine, I have some enormous dreams. We have plans to go into other aspects of fashion; luxury designs, leather works…the list goes on. We recently ventured into corporate gift items like Cardholder, folders etc. I think the answer to this question is that I looked for the best way to start and this was the way I found to be the most effective at the time. Like we are told; entrepreneurship does not start until you start something; so I started here.
You started with just the equivalent of $60…
That was the amount I used to buy my first set of fabrics, buckles and other accessories that I used to sell the first set of products that have become Hesey Designs today.
How did you grow or raise the capital beyond this level?
For me raising capital was not as conscious as one may imagine. I am one of those people with a strong belief that good things happen; so I looked out for available grants online, applied for them; and thankfully; I won a couple.
Where is Hesey Designs today in terms of growth – non financial numbers, such as staff, number of lines, etc.?
We currently have 5 staffs and an outlet in Ikeja. Our product lines include: African inspired designs, leather works and corporate gift items. So you can find shoes, bags, wallets etc at Hesey Designs. We stock on different platforms across Nigeria and even internationally.
You have quickly gained a rising profile with high-profile awards and meetings with even the likes of Richard Branson, how have you been able to achieve this?
Really many of these things were not even part of my wildest dreams, I will say grace had its clear part to play in all these. But one thing that I can say though is that consistency pays. Entrepreneurship usually entails sticking to something come rain or high water. I remember when it was rather difficult to do business; I had to strap my shoes and bag in one bag-sack commuting by bus from to place to deliver goods. Those were though days. I did feel like giving up as frequently as 200 times a day but no, I stuck to it. And I can tell you; I am very happy that I did.
So far, what have you seen as the key success factors for running this kind of business?
All forms of entrepreneurship are actually parallel. The building blocks of which are a big dream, positive thinking, zeal to work and laser-like focus on meeting the needs of the customer. For me, I am in fashion and I am aware that fashion is about self-expression. I usually think how best my products can help my customers reflect their uniqueness to the world then I get to work. Also I keep abreast of the facts. I like to know what is new; in terms of trends, where the entire fashion industry is going and how best to position my brand for today’s customers and tomorrow’s markets.
What is most challenging about the business?
Managing people and getting things to happen at the pace that I want, but then, I am learning quickly how to manage this effectively.
What is your view/experience regarding multiple locations and even franchising? Are you considering these options for growth?
We are already available in multiple locations across Nigeria; in terms of our sales distribution. Production is still central for now. I do not think we are at the point to make a decision for or against franchising but one thing is sure; we would always consider our options deeply and do what is best for the customers and the business.
Did you have any prior experience operating or working for a company?
I wish I started with decades of experience; in fact there are so many things I know now that I wish I knew earlier but then that is the fun of it for me. I try to enjoy the process. So I would not consider inexperience as a handicap; sometimes my naivety (so to speak) is my greatest asset as I hardly ever consider anything to be impossible and that is because I have never seen it fail before; so why not try it out.
Bridging the gap for me entails being really observant and taking note of lessons as they come. Also, I read a lot about other entrepreneurs, I either listen to more experienced people or seek them out to explain some of the things that we are doing to get their thoughts on them. Those few sentences and pointers are very invaluable to a business especially at the stage we are at.
How have you leveraged technology and social media in the business?
Social media is my ultimate publicity tool. In fact I have sold more products off social media than any one of our nationwide distribution outlets. I think my generation has found a communication sweet spot and social media brings people close to your brand on a daily basis. It also helped me build a reachable community; as such it is easier to draw attention to my new collections at almost zero cost to the business.
What lessons do you have for those who may still be on the job market or even those working, but would rather want to pursue their passion?
Nothing begins until you start. Expect to be ashamed of the first version of your product because that is how it is meant to be, In fact if you are not slightly embarrassed by what your product is at start-up then you started too late. It does not have to be perfect; actually it should not be. You may not know what you want to do; do not sit idle; try things. As you do something would appeal to you and probably ignite your passion. From then on, you can expect to keep moving.