I started my business to inspire others, says handbag designer, Sharon Agwunobi
I first connected with the founder of Aura by Alaye Sharon Agwunobi at the AWP Network business pitch event at Afe Babalola University in Ekiti State, Nigeria. She was one of the student entrepreneurs who received financial support from the AWP Network. I became interested in Sharon’s company when she showed me samples of her designs. Not only were her bag designs beautiful and impressive, she is also a savvy entrepreneur who sells her products to students on her college campus. Students who purchased from her raved about the quality of the bags and the unique designs. In addition to this, Sharon has a wide social media presence on Instagram and other platforms. In this interview, we learn more about Sharon’s company, what inspired her to start and the next steps for her company.
How did you come up with your business name?
My brand name is Aura by Alaye. My brother inspired the name. He always said to me, “Embrace Your Aura,” and this has now become the slogan of the company. You see, I am quite jovial and creative; my brother always encouraged me to hold on to this part of myself. The other half of the name, “Alaye” means chairman or boss, and this is like an oriki, a cognomen. When I was in secondary school, a close friend began referring to me as Alaye, because I was interested in and participated in almost every club and after-school program.This name and reference has stuck until date and many even think that “Alaye” is my last sur name. Putting the two words together was suggested to me by another friend, Isaac. I think the combination of the words describe me perfectly, considering that I am proactive and I believe in creating, innovating and improving upon existing ideas.
What inspired you to start your business?
I was finally motivated to start the brand when I got tired of being cajoled into carrying handbags. You see, I do not like carrying bags, however, when I go out with my mom, she makes me carry them. It is important to note that I am not a ‘bag girl.’ Bags that I carried at the time, were either too plain, too big, or too small with little or not enough room for all the things that make up a good bag. As a result, I decided to master the art of creating and designing various fashion items and began making what I always wanted to.
The other side of the story is that I wanted to create a brand, a product that would inspire other people and help to bring their talents and skills to an audience. When I started my business, I hoped that my customers would appreciate my designs and so far, I can say that the feedback has been amazing.
Who is your target market?
Anyone who can afford the product. I plan to start making items for children soon.
How have you financed the business?
I used my savings to finance the business. My mother has also supported me. She paid for my training program in fashion design and assisted me in sourcing for quality fabrics by connecting me with the best fabric distributors in Lagos.
What is your competitive edge?
The high-quality fabrics; also, the shapes and sizes of my products differ from existing brands.
What is the long-term plan for your business?
It is my intention that my business becomes a “one-stop shop for African fabrics and new designs.” My goal is to change people’s perspective on the use of African prints and fabrics and more importantly, contribute significantly to the fashion industry.
What challenges do you face?
No challenges yet, just experiences and lessons in running my business.
What key things have you learned since starting your business?
The first is to understand that starting a business is a risk. Secondly, is to keep trying, keep failing, and keep going at it until you meet your goals. Thirdly, after taking a risk and not getting your expected result, work harder and figure out better ways to do things.
. Know that not everyone will appreciate your growth and your work. However, with time they will come to take interest in it and even if they do not, keep working to inspire others.
. Remain focused on your goals. Remember that ideas die or may become outdated. Find new ways to do things, to innovate, stay consistent over time and apply it to the type of creations you intend on making.
What five things do start-up entrepreneurs need to know?
Always pray and commit your works to God.
When you get some attention, do not get too excited. Focus on your mission and continue to create.
Always find the time to check on your goals and achievement lists. Sadly, many people jump on new trends and what people like rather than what truly inspires them.
Keep your circle small. People will gravitate towards you because of your success and will begin to make all types of suggestions, then they want to become advisors when they themselves do not have the required experience. Then they want to tell you what you should and should not do with your brand. Do not get carried away by these characters.
Do not forget and always remember that you are doing this to inspire others and not to prove anyone wrong.
What advice do you have for youths looking to start an idea but say ‘there is no money’?
I would say, start from somewhere. Do not merely conclude that, “there is no money.” Seek assistance from reliable family members; if you have none, which is very unlikely, there are companies that give out loans to small businesses. Banks also give loans to small business owners. The process is strenuous but I think it is worth a try.
How do you think African youths can continue to support each other?
By supporting each other’s businesses. The sad reality is that people do not want to see you doing better than them. African youths need to understand that supporting others will not make them any less of themselves. I find that strangers and outsiders tend to show more support than those who are close to you.
How many jobs have you created so far?
I have created two jobs, a company director and a social media promoter.
How has technology enhanced your business idea?
I use social media to promote my brand. The technology is fast and I can reach more people.
How can we support and improve innovation in Africa?
We can support and improve innovation in Africa by providing more financing options to entrepreneurs and organising more networking events and seminars for startups.
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