When Yomi’s daughter was a small child, finding the right shoes for her was a struggle because of the size of her feet. So Yomi decided to make a pair of shoes for her daughter. She designed the shoes on cardboard, went to the market at Mushin, Lagos, to source shoemaking items and created a pair of sandals for her daughter.
Doing this filled her with so much joy so Yomi took it a step further and enrolled in a shoemaking and pattern cutting course in the UK. That desire to cater to her daughter’s shoe needs inspired what is known today as Joela Leather – a premium leatherworks store in Lagos, Nigeria. The name Joela is coined from one of her daughter’s names and what solidified Yomi’s choice is the Hebrew meaning – “The Lord is God”.
This article is about Yomi’s inspiring journey with Joela Leather and lessons you can take away from her well of experience.
You used to work in the corporate world, what made you decide to switch that for entrepreneurship?
When my daughter was born, I wanted to be present. I had a very strong support system but I wanted to be there for her while she was growing up so I stopped working. Once I left the corporate world, I thought of all the possible businesses I could start. Growing up, my daughter had big feet and I could hardly find her size in shoes. At some point, I thought, it can’t be that difficult to make children’s shoes. So I started cutting cardboard and paper and putting them together to look like a pair of sandals.
After that, I asked for where I could find shoemaking items on a budget in Lagos and everyone was like, “Go to Mushin.” So I went to Mushin with about 5,000 Naira. I came back from Mushin that day with a pair of sandals and a pair of slippers and my husband was stunned. That experience taught me that when you are moved to do something, you should do it immediately. You do not need anyone’s permission.
Why did you decide to centre Joela around making ladies’ handbags?
Like I said, I have always been in the leather industry. I simply moved from making children’s shoes to making ladies’ handbags. My knowledge of the leatherworks industry just made it easy for me to transition from one section to another.
Joela itself started from requests. I had a leather shoe shop and we would make shoes and bags for little girls and then the moms would come and request me to make bags for them as well.
They started putting in orders for bags and sometime after that I had to close my shops. I had three shops in Lagos and after I closed them all, the next thought was “what business can I do?” Since the request for ladies handbags was still coming in, I decided to give it a try. Once I put out my first set of handbags and the feedback and responses were really great.
What do you think makes Joela stand out as a brand?
The philosophy behind Joela is to make classy bags affordable and readily available. We are consistently crafting beautiful, well-made handbags. I want people to see our customers carrying Joela bags and say, “wow, where is that bag from?” I have had that reaction a couple of times and it brings me immense satisfaction. Most importantly, we do not want to burn a hole in your pocket.
Joela partners with Footfarm– a charity that gives free school shoes to children in underprivileged communities. Joela also teams up with HR professionals for Work Wear Edit, an outreach program that provides women with employability skills such as HR/interview tips as well as coordinated outfits to gear them up for success.
What is your big vision for Joela?
My vision is to see African women carry beautiful and affordable bags. I am particular about the African woman because we go through a lot and we need beautiful things that will constantly bring us joy. When you carry a great bag and you are well dressed, nobody can talk to you anyhow. For me, it is not just about carrying a bag, it is about making us feel beautiful and confident. When women feel beautiful and confident, we get a lot done and positively impact the people around us.
What advice will you give to someone who wants to start a business?
You need structure. Structure and discipline go hand in hand. Don’t think because you are the one running the business, you can do it from your bed. While you can work from bed, have working hours, have structure, have guidance otherwise you will not be productive. Have a to-do list otherwise, your day will pass you by because you will not achieve anything.
How can you help? What can you do to solve a problem? When you actually solve problems, the money will come. Fish and pepper sellers solve the problem of making food items available. We need to eat and we need to get the fish out of the sea, we need to get the peppers as closeby as we can. So look around you, look at the problems that around you and see how you can use your skills to solve them
You need to be patient. Many of us are in a hurry to make money and this mindset can be costly. If you have structure and you are solving a problem, the money will come.
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This spotlight feature on Yomi Odutola is powered by Visa. Visa’s ‘Where you Shop Matters’ initiative aims to champion entrepreneurs across Africa while encouraging consumers to support small businesses by shopping local. Visa’s initiative is supporting small businesses through the Visa Small Business Hub, a merchant platform providing tools and information on how to start, run and grow small businesses.