Fovwe: astute female woodworker
Before deciding to go into the furniture business in 2013, Adjuwheru Afore Fovwe had tried her hands on a few other ventures. First, she worked with the Delta State Service as an accountant, and then she went into merchandising and was into the buying and selling of clothes. In all this, however, she discovered she wasn’t getting the fulfilment she craved, which prompted her into doing something unusual for a woman.
Now the CEO of Afokare Furniture, she is not only happy with herself and what she does, but she is also delighted at being able to contribute to the economic growth of the country. And despite the fact that her outfit has built a reputation as one that offers creativity, elegance and trendy furniture, art and décor, Afokare would readily tell you she is yet to achieve much.
“I am not just your average female, I am a carpenter,” she says. “I create things. I love working with all kinds of wood— plywood, timber, walnut, as well as oak. It is very exciting, delicate, rich and sustainable. And despite the fact that my organisation is relatively young, I must confess business has been good. It’s been developing so quickly that I can barely keep up.”
The Delta State indigene from Ughelli North grew up in Warri and is the first child from a family of six. She had both her primary and secondary education in Warri. Through part time studies at the Abia State Polytechnic, she obtained a Higher National Diploma (HND).
“Like many young graduates in Nigeria, I wanted to work in an office. So, I worked in the accounts department of the Delta State Service, but I wasn’t satisfied with my job. So, I had to look for something else. I then tried buying and selling of clothes, but I still wasn’t satisfied. So, I had to search deeper for something else. I have always been fascinated with furniture showrooms, so I started considering starting my own thing along that line. My eureka moment came, when one day something told me, ‘why not learn making your own furniture instead of just buying and selling clothes,” she recollects.
So, she trained as a cabinetmaker for a year in Lagos and then took the plunge and started her own furniture company. But she resolved from onset to create her own unique brand. She wasn’t going to be just your average furniture maker and she is proud to have done things along this line.
“The Afokare brand is about giving our clients strong, trendy, efficient and affordable pieces of furniture that can be in use for years,” she explains. “We use processed woods for our medium density furniture (MDF) and oak, walnut and beech for out high-density furniture (HDF). But we are not limited, if our clients ask for local wood, we are ready and willing to use just that. We usually import our materials from China and Canada.”
Though things are looking up, as Afokare’s business is growing rapidly, she had to contend with several daunting challenges initially.
“Being a woman in a male-dominated industry, where competition with fellow male carpenters is fierce, it was not easy at first, but I give God the glory. We were able to withstand the initial storm and emerged victorious. It was all due to determination and focus. Before going into the business, I told myself, it was either success all the way or nothing else,” she says.
As a female furniture maker, I am like a spotlight. People come around and they see a hard working woman. They are amazed and always encourage me to do more. They also purchase my products, which has helped to boost my morale
But it wasn’t just her male competitors that gave her a little headache in the beginning, as she also had to battle other challenges.“In this business, we sometimes have problem with the importation of materials. We are competing with the international market, so majority of our materials are imported. But when importers bring these foreign materials, they are sometimes expensive because the forex is not stable in Nigeria. And once the dollar goes up, the prices of imported materials also shoot up. So, we have the challenge of paying high rate for imported materials and still charging our clients the normal price,” she explains.
Being unable to produce these necessary materials is a major challenge. So, she would want the government to assist with finances to procure machinery to produce them.
“By doing this, furniture production would be made much easier. It will also create job opportunities and furniture will be generally much cheaper,” she says.
All this notwithstanding, Afokare says there is the plus side to her job, which has made everything worthwhile.“As a female furniture maker, I am like a spotlight. People come around and they see a hard working woman. They are amazed and always encourage me to do more. They also purchase my products, which has helped to boost my morale.
“I have made furniture for hotels, offices and homes. But above all, I feel very fulfilled with my job, because when I see the end of production, I am always happy. One tool I cannot leave home without is my screw machine. Whenever I deliver my clients’ orders and they express their satisfaction, I am ecstatic. It makes me feel good, because they are satisfied with my styles and are very impressed with my creativity.”
So, what is her projection?
“In another two or three years’ time, I would love to be in the big league of such popular furniture companies as Bedmate and Lifemate furniture houses, if not better,” she says.
What is her advice for women wanting to carve a niche for themselves in the society?
“They should follow their heart and go after their passion. With the economic situation in Nigeria, it would be unwise to search endlessly for white-collar jobs. Just go out there and acquire a skill. And even if you succeed in getting office job, this will still come handy, because no knowledge is lost.
“I am creative and I help people bring their ideas to life. When my clients come to me, I help them sketch pieces that meet their taste and satisfaction. For instance, I make trendy dinner set or lovely side stools. By just talking to them, I’m able to pick their taste and understand them immediately. All this I believe makes me unique. So, ladies please go out and start something,” she says.
When not engrossed in her furniture business, Afokare loves to unwind by going on vacation in Europe.
“My vacation spots in Europe include Germany, Italy and Sweden, where I go to relax. I love perfumes but my favorite brand is Gucci by Gucci,” she says.
Afokare’s philosophy is: “Before you can be successful, you have to decide to be successful.”