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Nigerian lawyer saving the planet, one plate at a time

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Adejare Doherty

UK-based Adejare Doherty is a Barrister (England and Wales), entrepreneur, and co-founder and CEO of The Wholeleaf Company, a global sustainable products company. In 2009, Adejare appeared on BBC’s Dragon’s Den, the reality show that gives several entrepreneurs on the programme the opportunity to propose their business plans and ideas to the “Dragons” (a panel of five wealthy investors). He was also the runner-up in a UK business competition run by HSBC, beating thousands of UK businesses. He has appeared in the UK media including The Telegraph business section. Anita Kouassigan invited him for an interview with The Guardian, highlighting him as one of a growing number of Nigerian entrepreneurs committing to scaling sustainable businesses.

What is The Wholeleaf Company all about?
The Wholeleaf Company is a sustainable products brand that was founded in 2007 to make sustainable choices easier for businesses and everyday people, by designing and selling a range of planet-friendly products. We mostly focus on providing a solution for a really large problem, which is, disposable plates, bowls and cutlery. This is one of the most impactful and visible waste streams we create as humans that severely and adversely affect our planet. We are now starting to build something like the “IKEA” of sustainability – a one-stop-shop for everyone’s sustainable lifestyle needs.

What drove you to get into sustainability so early?
I am not entirely sure! I think it was a combination of sheer disgust at the amount of waste I could see around me on a daily basis – whether in Lagos or in London – or anywhere else in the world. Coupled with an understanding that something had to change and that leadership and sacrifice would be the only way to effect some sort of impact. I see social entrepreneurship or ethical entrepreneurship as a form of art -it is a marker of time and culture that through its interaction with consumers can foster thought and ideas thereby shaping the future.

Please can you explain your products and how they are produced?
We make plates and bowls out of naturally shed palm leaves using a low-energy, chemical-free process. They are vastly superior to any other type of disposable tableware item in every way. They are stronger, more versatile, more attractive and yet completely harmless to the environment and the people who make them. Absolute proof that natural products are better than 100 per cent man-made. I also had an overwhelming ambition and urge to demonstrate that a Nigerian could lead the way in something so important, which the world would end up being thankful for.


Who is your target market and what types of clients/customers patronise your business?
We supply our disposable tableware to large wholesalers, caterers, and we also sell direct to consumers online. We are lucky enough to supply people like Soho House as well as some of the largest catering products distributors in Europe.

What does Nigeria have to offer the sustainable future of the planet?
Nigeria, like many developing countries, is blessed with an enormous amount of natural resources- minerals, fuels, land etc., but without a shadow of a doubt our people are the jewel in the crown. We have enormous intellectual power and we have often forgotten traditional wisdom and cultures. I think we have been gifted such endowments that we now owe the world some solutions. It is common to see people in Lagos wheeling massive barrows of plastic and other recyclable materials somewhere to earn money from them. Many people reduce, reuse and recycle due to socio-economic restraints and lack of provision by our government. We would do well not to abandon these things in pursuit of how developed countries live. In some ways, we have always been ahead of the game. If we face our infrastructural and geological problems head on with solutions that are local first, we will undoubtedly create technologies, products and solutions that the world will benefit from.

What is your plan over the next 10 years?
The aim is to build The Wholeleaf Company into the largest supplier of sustainable products for homes and businesses in the world. We will design almost anything anyone might need for their lifestyle- tableware, furniture, kitchens etc., and with a sustainability result in mind from day one. Ethical sourcing is part of our corporate architecture, using only planet-friendly materials as a matter of practice. We will need to raise capital over the next two years and I would really love to get some Nigerian investors on board – maybe even the government!

What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs starting now?
Work hard, don’t give up, learn new things all the time and take breaks to refresh yourself! It’s easy to stop learning new things when you are in the throes of establishing a business, but you have to make time to refresh yourself and learn new things even if they are not directly related to your business. The process itself can give you insight into your business. It took me a long time to realise this. I thought I did not have time to read non-business books or take a break, but actually, every enterprise needs a fully charged and fresh founder at the helm to succeed.

To find out more, and if you would like to support this sustainable business please visit: www.thewholeleafco.com


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