Haowa Bello: Designer, Manufacturer And Goat Farmer
TO those who come across her, many do and many more will still meet her, her name is Ha-o-w-a, spelt H-a-o-w-a (not H-a-u-w-a) Bello.
That said, Haowa is the founder, Madame Coquette (MC), a company that designs and manufactures a line of luxury leather bags. She is also the founder of Fula Farms, a commercial goat farm in Lekki, Lagos.
Until recently, Haowa has been associated with the MC label because of her handbags. Although they are made in Nigeria, they have been sold in New York, Berlin and London. She has been in the business for about seven years and notes: “Our artisans have produced over 600 bags. We offer a variety of clutch purses that can be used at both day and night. We have shoulder bags for the working woman. From calf and ostrich and lamb skin, MC offers a wide range of textures and colours.”
According to her, MC is working with local tanneries to produce customised leather to boost the leather industry in Nigeria. The desire to do this is what gave birth to Fula Farm, she said.
“Fula Farm is a commercial goat farm, but it is not only expected to provide healthy meat, it supplies tanneries with a superior source of goat skin which will be processed into high quality leather.
“I started Madame Coquette out of my love for hand bags; I speak for many women when I say that a hand bag is one of the most important accessories in a woman’s closet. But we target the woman who wants timeless elegance not the one that follows trend,” she said.
However, not many people can easily match a young woman who mingles with the world’s fashion mightiest in New York and the person who tramps the ground with goats at Lekki; the two are miles apart.
Haowa says she manages them both successively. She has this photograph of herself where she holds the fore limbs of a shiny-skinned kid goat that can be seen to be galloping in excitement.
This slim Fulani beauty says that both businesses relate and appeal to creativity and nurturing. She likes to nurture things and is happy watching them mature and transform, she says.
“Agriculture as a whole is rewarding. I never thought that I would become farmer,” she observes, adding that the image of her mother bringing fresh milk home from her farm inspired her. Her mother, as was customary with the Fulanis, had cows.
“I want to do that. I wasn’t to expand and explore different types of farming like animal husbandry and herding. We have started with goats farming and we are slowly going into cattle farming.” Crop farming is very much in the plan too, she says as she gleefully looks at a ripe and succulent watermelon.
“I would not part with this for N20, 000,” she says as holds it possessively to her chest. “We planted this as a joke but look at the result.” The various stages of the melon are recorded too. “I was so happy the melon has made me to embark on crop farming.”
Haowa is one of the recipients of The Employment in Agriculture Programme (YEAP), one of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s initiatives in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture to assist young farmers with grants.
ccording to her, the nagroprenuers as they are called, are expected to help create jobs for Nigeria’s youth. “This initiative has provided me with a platform to merge Madame Coquette and Fula Farm. We have since begun plans to set up a tannery to produce our own leather.
As a nagroprenuer, I have been given the responsibility to make the most of the resources awarded me to help empower others. I not only see myself as in the business of agriculture, but I also see myself as a mentor to my generation and the one after mine. I want to explore mentoring young women,” she stresses.
She has developed into a resourceful person, she says because she grew up around strong people who included her mother, aunt, sisters and cousins. Her mother attended both a catering and fashion schools.
“Along with taking care of the family, she made a success of her business. My paternal aunt, Mrs. Akliu was strong too; she became a widow when she was very young, but she put her six children through school.”
What’s Haowa’s advice to other young people? “Your dreams are never too big. Have faith, be patient, be prepared to work hard.
Her philosophy of life is that hard work pays. “I am still climbing the ladder; every day, I tell myself that I am still growing.”
Her observation is that passion drives a business. “Passion for work is what a lot of people don’t get to experience. I consider myself lucky because I look forward to work every day. The greatest reward is how people receive your work; the look on a customer’s face when they fall in love with our product is priceless.”
She started business with N30, 000. “I made two bags, sold them, made four more. That is how the business took off. There was work like having to get materials like leather; nobody showed me where to get them, I worked them out.”
It is the same zeal she uses in the farm too. “I do not believe in the word failure. I plan to customise our leather and accessories and increase production and distribution. These are important steps in building brand and identity. We source some of our leather locally but we import all our hardware.”
Getting loans has been difficult for MC, she says, adding that they are now ready for expansion. “We are considering applying to the Bank of Industry and CBN. The Central Bank of Nigeria has made some funds available for the development of SMEs and the manufacturing sectors of the economy. We hope to take advantage of the scheme which targets women.”
Haowa tends her goats. “I interact with them often, I leave my office to stay with them outside.” However, the saying, ‘as stubborn as a goat’ is no idle saying, as she confirms.
She adds too that goat farming is expensive as it takes a meticulous farmer to give them the right food. A veterinary doctor should be on hand also as a disease could wipe out a whole farm, she points out. And young Fula has had an experience where if not for quick intervention, they would have lost more than the three dead goats.
Goat farming, she says, is not for those who want quick money. “It would not make you rich in one year. If that is your expectation, the business could fall. You need to nurture and respect the animals to get a good reward.
Haowa enjoys travelling; “I get inspiration from different cultures.” She enjoys cooking too, but prospective suitors take note: she does not expect to stay home just to cook for her husband. She adds though: “I like to spend time at home, I do a little interior decoration in my spare time.”
Haowa is the daughter of a career diplomat. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. She attended Parson’s School of Design, New York and trained at Academia Riacci, Florence, Italy in handbag making.
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