21 QUESTIONS: ‘DESOLA of TWENTYSIX
True story, Desola’s TwentySix is the first Nigerian brand I shopped. Ever. (Catch me rocking twentysix here) My parents were very skeptical about me paying money into someone’s account and hoping she’d send me a skirt, but I knew I had to have a Twentysix skirt! I’d seen them on her website at the time and they were just a breath of fresh air. Desola’s customer service is impeccable and she never hesitates to apologize and make things right if you ever encounter a problem. She’s one of the few entrepreneurs interviewed who actually spoke about the technical parts: taxes, registering your business etc. I thoroughly enjoyed this and I know you will too.
1. Tell us all you do for a living and how long you’ve been working at your own business(es)?
I run a fashion brand called TwentySix. I’ve been at it for about three years now. I am also an Interior Architect at Rattan Design, an Interior Design company I started with my friend this year. I consider both of them full time jobs.
2. How did you start sewing and why did you decide to start making skirts?
I wanted to be a painter (artist) but I ended up studying Architecture because my parents thought that was more ‘professional’, I still have plans to be an illustrator and a graphic designer, maybe when i’m 50.I still have plans to be an illustrator and a graphic designer, maybe when i’m 50.- 'Desola Click To Tweet
3. At what point did you make the decision to start your business; what convinced you? How did you generate initial capital?
Starting out was not a thought-out process, it was an opportunity I jumped on. My friend was starting her online store, she saw a skirt I made on me & she invited me to retail some on it. I was earning 100k at the time, I split that in two, got some fabrics, zips and made the first set of skirts.
4. How was the response from your SO/parents/family/friends? Especially if you decided to leave a paid job/not do what you studied in school.
It was not a surprise to anyone, my parents are entrepreneurs. They were concerned, but I didn’t get any slack for leaving my paid job, although, I still try to convince my dad that my time in school, the formal and informal still plays a role in everything I do.
5. How did you build a customer base and market yourself effectively? How long did it take you to start getting enough business to feel like your side hustle could become your main squeeze?
My first customers were friends and family. The growth of our customer base is largely from word of mouth, social media, Instagram especially. I also run ads often. It took me about two years to start taking some risks to grow the business, I guess that was when I couldn’t call it a side hustle anymore.The growth of our customer base is largely from word of mouth, social media, Instagram especially. Click To Tweet
6. What challenges did you face at the beginning? And how did you cope? What challenges do you still face currently?
My first challenge at the beginning was having a process. Managing order-production-packaging- delivery-restocking. It took at least a year to build a system that worked, which we still change and fine tune often and it was very difficult managing with my job at the beginning.
7. What do you love most about being an entrepreneur? I know you’re currently doing a number of things: TwentySix (which recently expanded to include unisex stuff, the podcast with Pemi and most recently RattanDesign. How have things changed since you started? (workload, income, lifestyle etc. For example I read that you no longer do the actual sewing, even though you’re still very involved in the making process)
I have met the most amazing people. Customers becoming friends, people I reach out to to help with parts of the business and they come through without expecting anything. I feel very grateful to have experienced so much kindness. Another is surprising myself with results when I set out to achieve something new. There’s a lot more but I’d say those are some of the best parts. I am just as involved in the process as I have always been, so, my work load has definitely increased. Income, lifestyle? I still haven’t gone on a holiday to Japan though, so till then!
8. Creative businesses are becoming quite popular in recent times. It feels like a lot of people want to become entrepreneurs. How do you deal with competition in your field? Is that something you struggle with?
I am very excited that there are more creative business and I’m inspired by all the cool stuff happening! I hope more collaborations will happen. I don’t stress about competition. The way I see it, competition only means you are still on par; focusing energy on competition will keep us in the same threshold for longer. I care more for aspirations, brands that are where we aspire to be, already achieved the things we are aiming for, what they do and how we can get closer to those goals.I am very excited that there are more creative business and inspired by all the cool stuff happening. -'Desola Click To Tweet
9. What’s the biggest lesson starting a business taught you?
Never say no; try different things. It will either be a lesson or most likely the start of something new.
10. There’s always a bit of a money vs passion debate; What do you think should be the motivation for starting a creative business? What was/is your motivation?
Money and passion are equally important. You need money to fund your passion. The major motivation should be the end user, what they get from your product. Passion keeps it going, money comes back as the reward- full circle. I was just happy and still am to create something- I guess that is passion. I became a lot more money minded as the stakes got higher.Passion keeps it going, money comes back as the reward- full circle. Click To Tweet
11. What would you say has been the worst time/experience so far in your journey as an entrepreneur?
Simple – being broke. You ask yourself hard questions, ‘is my dream really my dream?’ type of question (LOL). Customer complaints bite hard, I am way too emotional for it. I also had to start almost all over this year. That was very hard.
12. If you had to choose three qualities anyone starting a business needs to develop/have what would they be?
- Open mindedness (is that a quality?) – be open to learning a lot, a whole lot on your own and ready to adapt to changes.
- Patience, because you’re going to get shit and you have to take some.
- Honesty, be an honest brand.
13. How do you work through times when things are at a low? How do you get back up? How do you deal with criticism and bad feedback?
Criticism makes me feel terrible (because, emotions) but I am always open to it and make changes that are relevant. I also try to respond immediately to bad feedback and offer a solution or compensation. When times are low, I try not get lazy because it is easy to go there in that state. I also make a very conscious effort to do the things I know will make me better, I listen to a lot of podcasts on people’s experiences and feel less lonely or less focused on myself. Sometimes, I just wait the low times out.When times are low, I try not get lazy because it is easy to go there in that state. Click To Tweet
14. What sacrifices have you had to make to grow your business, if any?
Time and money.
15. What has been your proudest business achievement so far & what future goals (that you can share) do you have for your business?
Expanding our product category- we had almost 100 products on the website, that was amazing to me considering it started with probably about 12 pieces of clothing. Bonus- I think our new website is popping, I love it so much. We bought a new machine recently, that felt like progress. I hope to collaborate with more brands and creatives in future, I would like TwentySix to be a channel for self-expression- music, art, film, beautiful products, everything.
16. What do you wish you knew about starting and running a business in Nigeria before you started; what would you do differently? Do you think there’s enough support for small business owners in Nigeria? What is one thing you think would be helpful?
Nigeria is a very hostile environment for a business to thrive in. Systems do not work properly and information is not easily accessible. On the up side, businesses have some access to grants and funds. Lagos state has the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund for SMEs and the Bank of Industry also gives out loans. Few opportunities pop up here and there but they are not enough. It would be helpful to have information about funding more accessible and in one place. Information about registering your business, what type of registration you need, taxes, so that the third party scams can stop. The process needs to be faster and easier too, everything to structure your business properly and legally.Nigeria is a very hostile environment for a business to thrive in. Click To Tweet
17. How did you figure out how best to price your products? That’s something a lot of business owners struggle with.
Our market sometimes determines the price and we do a little survey to get feedback on the perceived value of a product. On a more technical level, for every collection, we calculate our profit margin, and we know what the average cost of a product should be to generate enough revenue.
18. I know that you and ‘Pemi work closely together on a couple of projects. What do you love most about having a business partner? Would you say two heads are truly better than one?
We are also best of friends so that takes a lot of load off work feeling like ‘work’. She picks up my slack and helps me out when I have more than one demanding task and is also a huge part of Twentysix. We are on almost the same creative wavelength , two heads definitely better.
19. What are three things that are part of your morning ritual? (its perfectly okay if you aren’t a morning person, lol, just say so. If you don’t really have any rituals, thats okay)
I am totally a morning person. I am usually up by 4am, set my agenda for the day and try to get as much work done as possible till about 7am, I’d say that is my brain’s most functional period. On a really good day, I will exercise and do some reading. I don’t have a ritual- I would love to.I am totally a morning person. I am usually up by 4am. Click To Tweet
20. What three people in your field or not inspire you the most?
21. What do you love most about yourself as a business owner i.e any personal qualities you feel have helped you excel? What advice would you give to anyone currently struggling to stay afloat/ just starting their business/contemplating starting a business in Nigeria?Don’t quit your day job yet. Save enough to sustain you till business is out of the side-gig phase. Click To Tweet
I am very detailed, because of this I try to present everything in the best possible way. I have nothing fairytale ish- if you just want to start, don’t quit your day job yet. Save enough to sustain you till business is out of the side-gig phase. Please don’t skip the technical stuff- profit margin, sales target, marketing plan, market survey ,etc. Record everything.
Giving advice to someone: Trying to stay afloat is hard, just don’t stay there alone, ask for help.
Desola Falomo is the Creator of the TwentySix brand. She co-hosts Voice Notes Episodes.
Connect with Desola:
Shop Twentysix : Website
Find Twentysix on instagram and when you wear your twentysix, don’t forget to use the hashtag
21 Questions is a biweekly interview series with Nigerian Creative Entrepreneurs. If you enjoyed this, please share with someone you think would too.