In continuation of it’s celebration of the women’s month through the Women of Guinness campaign, this week, Guinness Nigeria features another set of five amazing women, who shared their distinct stories starting from the scratch and rising steadily, amid societal, cultural and economic bias against women.
The brand recognizes the impact these women have played to improve the society; from the food entrepreneur, to the hospitality enthusiast who is making a living from her skills. There is also the woman who earns a living from baking; a fashion designer, and an Operations Director in a thriving major distributorship business in South East Nigeria.
In is interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, they share their inspiring journey while ‘breaking the biases.’
‘I Have Maintained Being A Disciplined And Kind Leader’
Carol Okwara is the Managing Director of Delicious Treats, a business she started with her husband because they were looking for a business that would not allow people to owe them like in their previous businesses venture.
“In the drink sales industry, you must be disciplined first; I have been able to maintain being disciplined and still be a kind leader,” she hinted.
The business they started in 2001 now has two branches; one in Lagos and another in Owerri, which her husband manages.
“Twenty-one years later, we have had challenges, but we are doing marvelously well. We have developed a business that people can call their safe space and have a great time. The goal is to expand even more.”
On the challenges of running the business as a woman, Madam Okwara said, “In my job, I have faced many difficulties. For one, people see me and still then request to speak to the owner of the shop; they expect to see someone completely different. But that is the least of my worries; when I address them, they see from my years of experience that I know my onions, and I am just as good as anyone in the business.”
However, the biggest challenge is human resources. “When you have as much experience as I do and you are very hands-on, people find it hard to cope, because I leave no room for mediocrity. Over the years, I have been able to use the knowledge gained from when I was a teacher to relate with my staff.”
She continued: “I correct them with one hand and pull them in with the other. My staff find inspiration in this approach to put in their best, because of our earn as you work approach, which allows them to earn twice the average rates in the industry.”
For young women who want to follow the entrepreneurial path, she said, “My advice would be to make sure you are aware of yourself and your innate strengths first. Make sure you know what you sure are capable of. Put education first and allow it to serve as the foundation for whatever business you are better suited for; it gives you an edge.”
‘Keep Your Head Up And Keep Trying’
Stella Onifade’s only regret is not studying Hospitality Management back in school. “I think there is so much untapped knowledge in that field,” she observed.
Today, Onifade is a manager in the hospitality industry and her path into the industry was inspired by an aunt’s relationship with staff and customers in her restaurant.
Onifade considers herself a people person, because engaging with people is something she enjoys. Her love for teaching was inspired by her sister’s relationship with students when she was a teacher
“I also have a passion for teaching and served as a teacher in a secondary school during my NYSC year. I believe I left a positive impact on the lives of my students.”
She said the strong women around her greatly inspire her. She believes in the concept of relating nicely with people at work and not necessarily adopting an uptight approach.
To all the women who aspire to end up in the hospitality sector, she said, “Keep your head up and keep trying, because you will get it one day.”
‘Sacrifice Is Critical For Anyone Who Wants To Build A Business In Nigeria’
“Interestingly, I never had a passion for baking. The realization that I had bills to pay was the motivating factor for picking up baking as a skill,” Enwerem Ogochukwu recalled.
Ogochukwu owns an online bakeshop called Platinum Bakery in Anambra state. The bakery provides cakes and pastries to clients who have come to trust the baker for her skills and service excellence.
She started her business in 2018 when she felt the need to acquire a new skill and something that could sustain her. Now, Platinum Bakery provides bakery services and offers training for women who want to set up their baking businesses.
When asked about the stereotype of women living a ‘soft’ life and being able to ask men for money, she said, “everyone has a need; why would I want to bother someone with my own needs?”
Ogochukwu believes sacrifice is critical for anyone who wants to build a business in Nigeria today, but said being determined and focused will make the best stand out.
“I cannot promise that it will be easy, but if you set your mind to it, somehow, things get better.”
‘I Became Infamous In My House For Turning Clothes Into Fashion Experiments’
IF you see a Janore store on a London high street one day, don’t be surprised. Oyinda Akinfenwa, the brain behind the brand, had that dream years ago and is working earnestly towards achieving it.
A designer by heart, Akinfenwa began her fashion journey by making a dress from her mother’s scarf during school break. Her brand name, Janore, is a mix of Oreoluwa and Janet’s names, and Janore’s unique offering is that her works can be styled in at least two other ways.
Originally a designer who would put out designs on social media, she soon got recognition, causing her to take her passion more seriously.
“My mum found out I used her scarf to make my first dress. She was not the only person whose dress I used to experiment; I became infamous in my house for turning people’s clothes into fashion experiments.”
Growing up, Akinfenwa wanted to become a lawyer and pursued a law degree at Afe Babalola University. However, her pull to fashion remained strong, and without getting any formal fashion training, she began to make stylish pieces.
The lockdown period provided her with enough time to work on her designs and learn the basics of designing.
“It was during this period that I started selling my products. I became designer, tailor, and model,” she noted.
She hopes to own a brand store in London in the next couple of years and believes in the importance of surrounding herself with supportive people who believe in the brand and the vision.
“I won’t say I am worried about the future. I am focused on making the best of right now, and I believe I will do just fine.”
Lady Anthonia Okeke:
‘We Started Business With Guinness In 1989’
Anthonia Okeke got married just right after spending five years in primary school and started business as a distributor with her husband.
“When the business started thriving, I went back to school because I always had a goal to acquire knowledge and gain skills necessary to be a successful businesswoman,” the 65-year-old mother of five, recalled.
Her business became Celestine Okeke and Sons, a major distributor in Aba, South East, where she now sits as Operations Director.
“We have grown a lot since we started, to God be the glory. We started small and have been expanding ever since; now we are here.”
She continued: “The business is a family business; we collaborate and play our parts. My eldest son handles the business in Uyo, while my husband and I manage Aba. We have been in the business together since 1984; we started the business with Guinness in 1989.”
Asked how lucrative the business has been, she said, “I’ve been able to send my kids to the best schools. To me, I have barely started, there is a long way to go, and I am excited to see the future.”
To young women in business, she said, “Don’t stop trying; there is nothing you cannot achieve if you work hard and stay genuine. I believe a woman can have it all, don’t wait for anyone to do things for you. My advice to women in this industry is to bring God into everything you do; be honest. That way, you build trust, which is very important in this line of work.”
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