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‘I started with zero capital from the floor of my living room’

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Ifedolapo Olayemi-Okewole is the CEO of Hadassah Bridals, a complete bridal outfit based in Lagos. A graduate of Microbiology from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and a World Bank Scholar, she relocated from England back to Nigeria to start her business, a journey she describes as tough. Recently opening a mega bridal showroom in Gbagada, she talks about her journey to the top, rising from running the business out of her living room with practically no capital and the use of the internet and sheer will to succeed.

Tell us a bit about yourself and background?
I am the CEO of Hadassah Bridal House, one of the fastest growing bridal houses in Nigeria. The business started as a strictly online home-based business but it has grown and opened its first showroom in Gbagada, Lagos. I have maximised the use of the Internet and social media in growing my businesses. I am a World Bank Scholar having completed the Certificate In Entrepreneurial Management at Enterprise Development Centre, Pan African University under the Women X program. I am a graduate of Microbiology from Obafemi Awolowo University and I have professional experience in banking, HR and customer service both in Nigeria and the U.K.

You recently opened a new mega showroom, how did that make you feel?
Wow, a sense of relief and fulfillment. Taking a step that is higher than the last usually requires a lot of determination and energy. I am glad that this has finally become a reality. We have created a strong online presence for the brand and a lot of people want a total, satisfying bridal experience from us; this is what we are hoping to create with our flagship store in Gbagada. This business has really evolved. It has grown from our living room to this showroom that we are currently using. I remember our first bride vividly and we have since inception, attended to different brides from all over the country. Our first shop was in a shopping complex and I struggled with myself before getting there and I had less than five wedding dresses to keep on the rack. I tell you, the journey to growth can be a big stretch.

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Why bridal fashion, how did you get into it and which field were you in before?
Well, the business started as a result of the experience I had when I was shopping for my own wedding. I was a young busy executive and my career at that time didn’t afford me the luxury of moving around shops for my wedding gown. I was working in a bank in Abuja and shopping in Abuja is quite different from Lagos where you can walk into Lagos Island market to shop for everything; moreover, I didn’t really have the time to do so. I bought virtually everything online. I knew at that time that there would be other people in my shoes as well. I wanted to help people shop for their bridal needs irrespective of their location. I used to work in banking, HR and customer service and I did these both in Nigeria and England.

What are some of the challenges you have faced and how did you overcome?
One of the first challenges I faced was getting customers but the Internet came to my rescue. We’ve been able to attend to different customers from different parts of the world from our little corner in Lagos. Understanding what brides wanted was also a challenge but with careful study, we gradually got around it.

What has been the highlight for you so far?
My highlight is basically the reach that we have. I am very excited every time a new customer calls or sends us a message that she found us online especially those from outside Nigeria. I have seen our products travel to different countries in the world. This year alone, I’ve had brides from Germany and the USA who came to get married in Nigeria and they got wedding gowns from us. It’s really a beautiful and humbling experience. At a point, our international logistics partners were asking us how come we were shipping wedding gowns from Nigeria to places like Switzerland and so on. This shows me the power of the Internet and how far we can reach the world.

What makes Hadassah stand out from other bridal houses?
I will say our reach. We want potential brides from everywhere find affordability at their fingertips. We have a Live chat system on our website which runs 24 hours a day. This helps us promptly attend to and process inquiries from our potential customers. We also ensure that our business has a presence on so many platforms online and this helps to boost our visibility. I’ve heard customers say they keep seeing our name everywhere; we want to be the first and most lasting impression on the minds of potential brides searching for their dream wedding gowns.

How did you raise capital to start out?
This business started with near-zero capital. Our first sets of transactions were basically pre-orders. Clients paid and we got their wedding gowns for them. We gradually grew from this till we started having wedding gowns and accessories on demand.
The Nigerian bridal business is quite saturated with a lot of substandard goods, how do you intend to maintain standards?
We always ensure quality checks on our products before they are sent to our customers. Also, we have worked with credible suppliers over the years in order to ensure a consistency in the quality of our product offerings. Even though the market might become compromised because of the economic conditions, we have decided to keep serving our customers without bias.

What should we expect from you in the next couple of years?
We are looking at the brand growing and expanding to major cities in Nigeria and across Africa. We are also looking at a boost in our supplier base so we can attend to a wider section of the market. I also see myself empowering more women to start up their own businesses and leverage the power of social media and the Internet for this. I currently do this on a low scale but I’ll be doing more. It can be a lonely road running a business especially if you are starting from home, but I want to show other women that it is possible and achievable to not only do so but scale up from there.


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