Hello, wonderful people of Ibadan. You are welcome to Made In Ibadan for this week. Our guest today is Temitayo Balogun, CEO of May Coutures. She is also a graduate of Industrial Chemistry from Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State, and a prospective Masters of Science in Analytical Chemistry from the Federal University of Technology Akure, Ondo State. She talks about her foray into Couture, combining her degree in Chemistry with her business and the challenges of doing Haute Couture business in Nigeria. Enjoy her amazing insights.
Miss Balogun you are welcome to Made in Ibadan.
My pleasure. Thanks very much for having me around.
Our readers are really interested in knowing your definition of Couture?
Couture is just an old French word for “working with needles,” so it can be described as a form of needlework.
How did you get into Couture? Was it always something you wanted to do or was it something you stumbled upon?
When I was much younger I liked to do things with my hands. I actually loved working with fabrics and needles. My first experience with actually making Haute Couture accessories, however, was when I was about to finish secondary school. A friend and I saw a necklace made of beads that we loved. Unfortunately, we didn’t know how to make beads and that prompted us to go to a bead maker who gave us tips on what materials to use and how to make beads. Also, when I was about to graduate from university, I felt I should find something to do while I waited for my National Youth Service Corps year. So I and a friend went for a training on how to make Couture Accessories, bags, neckties etc.
How long has May Coutures been running as a business?
As I said I started the business when I finished university in 2013, but I established May Coutures last year. At the moment, I have a strong customer base in Ibadan and Akure where I school.
As an owner of a business that is less than a year old in a place like Ibadan, how have you been coping in the current business climate?
I will not just streamline the answer to this question to Ibadan. I must confess that things have been rather hard. In fact, it got so hard that I nearly quit the business altogether. Finance is a problem, but it is not the greatest problem for me, because I have learned to save since I was young and I have learned to find ways to grow my business. The major problem is that of getting quality materials for my work. For a while I scoured the major fabric markets in Ibadan and Lagos but I could not find the materials I needed. Till now I still have to order some of my materials from China, the internet has helped in this regard, though, as I can now order products online. Also, I have found a few places that get products from China into the country that I can then order from. But it is still hard to do business when the materials you need to do your best work are not readily available. However, I don’t focus on challenges, because I know that every business at every stage has challenges.
Haute Couture is fast becoming a big business in Nigeria, there are large Couture Houses as well as small couture businesses like yours. How do you cope with such competition?
I love competition, it makes me get better. It makes me not want to follow the trend. I want to be unique, to speak volumes about my own work. Sometimes I go online and I check out work done by other Couture Houses like May Coutures and I’m like wow! Here is something I can aspire to. So competition is actually nice.
You are a chemist, as well as a fashion designer. Are you at a point going to practice as a chemist or have you found your niche with May Coutures?
I know it might not sound business like but I want to practice chemistry. I want to contribute in the field of Industrial Chemistry as well as in Fashion Design too.
Don’t you think a business like May Coutures deserves your full attention?
Not necessarily. I can work from nine to five, and then do my own personal business for the rest of the time. I am not the kind of person that wants to do everything themselves because I know that is impossible. That is why I am working on training people to work for me so that my job will be just to supervise them. I hope to get a store one day where my interns and trainees can work and my customers can find me. I am also working on getting on online stores, where customers can order for my products and I can deliver on order. That should give me more time to catch breaks and not get worn down by the stress of combining my business with my nine to five work as a chemist.
While we are talking about online stores, what do you think about the new online stores that are fast becoming the new cool thing to sell products on?
As I said, I have come to discover that having an online store is perfect for May Coutures. Incidentally, I have started to use your store and I like what I see on it. Even if I need to build a physical store, I will only use it as a base for the people I train and the people working for me. I love being online, it has brought me plenty of clients and I think it will serve me a lot, going forward.
That leads me to the next question which is about technology. How do you think tech companies and Digital Management Agencies can help businesses like yours to maximize your use of technology as a small business?
As I said I have been using social media to run May Coutures and I must confess that social media has been a great asset created by tech companies for a small business like mine. However, I think a lot of tech tools that could be useful for our business are quite expensive. For instance, I was forced to turn down a quotation for a website from a tech company some time ago, because it was too expensive for me. So if tech companies and digital management agencies can make tech and e-commerce tools more comfortable it will really be of great help to us businesses. Training is also nice as it will help startup owners to know the useful tech tools that they can use to grow their businesses.
Moving away from Tech now to the government, what do you think the government should be doing to help small businesses like May Coutures other than funding of course?
I think we need more industries. It is just annoying that in a place like Nigeria, we still have to import some basic things. The Government should invest and should provide the enabling environment for investment in the Polymer and the Fabric industries. It will sure make the work of those who work in the Haute Couture business easier.
Wow! Miss Balogun, it has really been illuminating having you on Made In Ibadan today.
Thank you. I have really enjoyed talking with you too.