Adedayo Mebude, 25, is living her dream. Unlike most Nigerian youth her age, the Nasarawa State University graduate has created a niche for herself with Dharyour Leather brand of premium quality leather accessories for men and women of class, taste and style.
Although the venture was tough and challenging initially, Ms. Mebude told PREMIUM TIMES’, Idris Ibrahim and Omono Okonkwo, in an exclusive interview recently that what gives her the greatest satisfaction has been that the quality of hand bags and other leather accessories manufactured for women and men who care for them could rival known designs like Prada, Louis Vuitton and others. Excerpts:
PT: Tell us a bit about what you are into right now?
Adedayo: I am into making of premium quality luxury leather accessories like handbags, purses, suitcases, duffel bags, backpacks, briefcases, fez caps, wallets and others for men and women.
PT: What is your educational background?
Adedayo: I had my primary and secondary education in Agege, Lagos State. After graduating from secondary school in 2007, I didn’t get admission into tertiary institution till 2010 when I was admitted to study Home Economics and Management at Nassarawa State University, Keffi.
My course opened me up to all aspects of craft making. In fact, I learnt a lot about pattern drafting and using a sewing machine, which is related to what I do now.
In November 2014, I was posted to Abuja to undertake my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme under Batch C. It was during the service year the idea of starting my own accessories line of business came to mind. I talked to a few friends about my dream and they encouraged and supported me.
PT: What’s your registered brand name and how did you start it off?
Adedayo: When I spoke with one of my cousins about my business idea, he was very excited about it. He was the one who helped me handle my company’s brand registration protocols at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). By October 2015, Dharyour Leather was established as a registered company. That was when the seed of my life’s humble aspirations was sown.
PT: Was making bags part of your original dream? What were the initial challenges like?
Adedayo: No, I only branched into it. When I began, there were so many challenges, including the investment capital. There were times I thought I may not be able to keep the dream.
The major challenge I faced was getting the materials required for the work. Most of the time, the bulk of the materials were sourced from tandyleather.com, and sometimes, aliexpress.com, depending on what I was looking for at that particular time. Getting materials here in Nigeria was not really encouraging, because the quality of such materials, including accessories, is very poor.
The market here for leather and accessories is not very encouraging, because merchants are cutting corners. Again, the materials available for the business are never exclusive to one company. They are mass produced for profit making.
At the end of the day, one cannot get exclusive leather and accessories. This tends to remove the unique nature of products. The most important material however is the leather. If it is readily available everywhere, it takes away the value and quality of the product.
PT: How did you raise the seed capital for the business? Did you have to take loans to kick start?
Adedayo: (laughs) If one had taken loans, probably one would have shut down the business by now. I didn’t take any loan. My family was a tremendous support from the very beginning till today. They always encouraged the use of talents and skills. So, I had their help in acquiring the necessary tools and materials needed to set up the business.
PT: What are the basic tools you need to start up this business?
Adedayo: The first thing I got were two sewing machines, one to sew the leather, the other to sew the lining of the bag, which was the interior part. Then, scissors, skeevers, mallet, rollers, carving tools, stamping tools, sets of needles, accessories, bag base, etc. tools differ when working with either natural or synthetic leather.
PT: Tell us about your staff strength
Adedayo: For the first collection I made, I worked with ten staff, five of who were basically for sewing the bags and the other five were into finishing, packaging and distribution of the bags.
After the first production, I had to let five staff, who were sewing, to go, because I wasn’t working on anything at the time. My focus was to see how well people receive the products we put out in the market for sale. It turned out pretty good and I hope to work with more people going forward.
My staff are very experienced in bag making. Right now, I have a team of five, including myself, and we are taking orders based on requests. There is also a new collection of orders coming up. Work is in progress. We are coming out with something fresh for our customers.
PT: Are you planning to get more staff here in Abuja in view of the growing orders?
Adedayo: I have been going round the markets here in Abuja to find passionate people who are willing to work. I need people who are committed to giving their best. That way, Dharyour Leather will continue to produce great products. I am also looking at the prospects of requesting people from other states, especially Lagos, to come on board.
Soon, we will set up a cottage factory here in Abuja. So, we can always have production here in Abuja, month in and month out.
PT: In terms of staff strength, are you looking for those you can train or just specialized workers?
Adedayo: For now, I am looking for already specialized people, because I am also learning in the process. I want a scenario where everyone brings some level of specialization to the table. Later on, I can consider bringing learners on board, but not right now.
PT: Could you lead us briefly into the process of making Dharyour Leather bag?
Adedayo: First step is to have your design ready. Next step is to put the design out on brown paper or cardboard. Then, use the stencil to cut out the shape of the bag. After that, add the leather at the edges of the bag lining to give it a perfect finishing. Then, you sew the body of the bag together. The sewing is the most important thing. It cannot be rushed. The sewing and stitching has to be perfect, because that is the first thing people notice.
PT: How do you deal with leather being contraband in the country?
Adedayo: It is a major constraint to the business, because leather is the major material I use. So, I make use of other sources that have as much quality as what I used. Since I source my leather from tandyleather.com, it’s very expensive, especially with the current foreign exchange rate crisis. I found another website that I can get quality leather from aliexpress.com. They have companies online that produce leather in all variations.
I found a company through Aliexpress, which produces leather for me and is not as expensive as tandyleather.com. What I did afterwards was to let my clients know my challenges which would no doubt increase the price of the finished products they were paying for. For those that can afford it, they buy at the high price. For those who cannot, we still find a middle ground for them.
PT: Where are tandyleather and the recent discovery, ali express, located?
Adedayo: Tandi leather is available in the United Kingdom and also the United States of America, California to be precise. I speak to their agent online, place my orders in large quantities and they deliver everything to Nigeria and the Nigerian Customs Service lets me know they have arrived.
The other is Ali Express, they make it easier. It comes through the Post Office, then they alert me whether it’s being seized by Customs or not. If it’s seized, I have to pay a certain fee to Customs before it gets cleared and I get access to my leather. The last time my goods were seized, I had to pay as much as N125,000 to clear them.
PT: Where do you have your largest customer base?
Adedayo: My largest customer bases are in Abuja, then Lagos, Akwa Ibom and Delta States. After Abuja, I will pick Akwa Ibom and then Lagos, in that order. The turnout has been great so far. I had to use jiji.com.ng as a platform to market my bags at first, pending the time my website would be ready.
PT: How do you deliver finished products to those outside Abuja?
Adedayo: At first, we used DHL, but it was very expensive, sometimes even costing more than the price of the bags. So, we worked out another strategy, making use of less expensive platforms, like Tranex or Errand boy.
Within Abuja, I like to deliver myself, so as to get direct feedback from the client. I look forward to having my own delivery system with a request form for feedback from the customer to help me with more ideas.
PT: Are you satisfied with the business turnover so far?
Adedayo: Yes, I am. It’s been a new experience for me altogether. It has helped me overcome shyness by interacting with more people than I would have done in the past.
PT: Aside jiji.com.ng, how else do you market your products?
Adedayo: Of course, through clients and even my family members, they take the bags places and people ask and they tell them. I have received calls so many times from prospective clients placing orders, because they got my contact from an already existing customer.
PT: On an average, how long does it take to make a handbag?
Adedayo: If it is natural leather, it would take me five days, because I prefer to use my hands to stitch the natural leather. But, synthetic leather would take a day and half to do everything depending on the available power supply at the time.
PT: How do you hope to sustain this business and take it to the next level?
Adedayo: I am gradually looking for investors to come into the business. I am also looking forward to raising money myself as well as looking to my family’s support.
As for sustainability, it will be training other young people, so they can develop passion for this business. Having more people will bring new ideas, and this makes the business sustainable. I do not look forward to getting a loan. I am also looking forward to getting a grant from the Bank of Industry (BOI) grant for fashion outlets.
PT: Thank you for your time. We wish you good luck.
Adedayo: Thank you.