Juggling the life of a student in a Nigerian University and an entrepreneur is gradually becoming either a necessity, a choice or an opportunity that presented itself too juicy to ignore.
Irrespective of the initial drive, starting a business is now at a closer reach to students, due to the low-cost nature of the starting capital needed for most businesses. However, this advantage doesn’t invalidate the amount of hard work, resilience and sacrifice it would require to be successful as a student entrepreneur.
Rachel Ojapinwa, the Creative Director of Da’bella creations and a final year student, shares with us her experience with managing both lives. As a recent winner of the Entrepreneur Cash Grant by the Ondo State Government, she shares with us how her brand, Da’bella intends to turn the global spotlight on African indigneous crafts. Let’s hear from her!
Hello Racheal, nice to meet you. First congratulations on your Entrepreneur Cash Grant by the Ondo State Government! Can you tell us about that journey
Hi, thank you so much! Winning the grant is a dream come true for me. I heard about the “ONDEA MY IDEA” competition through some friends and I decided to apply. During the first stage of the pitch, I was so nervous. I mean, thousands of amazing businesses in Ondo state participated in this competition but after getting the mail for the next stage, I became a lot more confident.
Getting selected as one of the 10 most innovative businesses in Ondo state is life changing and very encouraging. It has opened several doors and given my business a lot more exposure. It still feels surreal sometimes. I am grateful to God, to my team, Ondea and to the Ondo state government. I am determined to do much more now than ever before.
You’re a final year student of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, an entrepreneur, and the creative Founder of De’bella creation. Wow! How has the combination been, an entrepreneur, and a student?
It has been both challenging and interesting. I started De’bella creation in my third year in school with just #2500 and my mother’s sewing machine. De’bella creation basically is a fashion brand that helps men, women and children carry their everyday essentials from place to place in style by producing highly fashionable and durable leather and fabric bags. We have produced and sold over 1200 bags to customers across Nigeria and in the United state.
Interestingly, my grades got better after I started managing my business. I currently have a CGPA of 4.08 on a 5.00 grading system which is proof that running a business while in school is not an excuse for failure.
The truth is that it took a while for me to adjust but with God’s help I found a way around it. Combining business with school has taught me to be more disciplined,to manage my time properly and to set my priorities right. Although sometimes I sacrifice my beauty sleep, hangouts and some activities, it’s all worth it in the end.
What vacuum in the national or global context influenced the creation of the brand De’bella creation?
Over the years, the demand for locally made bags increased significantly especially with the constant rise in exchange rate and this demand has only been met by about 10% supply. Our goal is to bridge this demand/supply gap and to take our beautifully crafted bags from Nigeria to the rest of the world.
We are on a mission to change the negative perspective that people have towards Nigerian made bags and help them embrace local fashion. Which is why, in the next 5 years, we plan to increase our production by 300%, train at least a thousand youths in this skill and employ 20-50 more workers. I currently have a team of 4 and 7 part time workers.
It’s obvious that you’ve chosen a more indigenous path to your creations. How do you stay true to this core in your creations?
Well, there are several factors that influence our designs and one of the most important is the environment. The things I see everyday, the culture, experiences, relationships and how I feel from day to day. These factors have helped to shape and will continue shaping our designs for years to come.
5 years down the line, would you still want to maintain De’bella’s indigenous core while competing on an international scale?
Of course! Our goal is to take the uniqueness of Nigerian designs to the rest of the world. We want the world to see, appreciate and embrace our locally made bags. We have what it takes and we will do it. It’s what makes us stand out and it will be what will take us to the global stage. We will maintain our indigenous core, 10, 50 years down the line.
With the Entrepreneur Cash Grant in the bag, what would change in De’bella’s process and output?
The grant would majorly be invested towards getting specialized industrial machines, branding and advertising.
Thank you so much