The covid-19 lockdown shook the fashion industry to its core. All over the world, fashion shows had to be cancelled and many fashion brands shut down operations. Every fashion business felt the heat of the pandemic. But, through it all, many fashion entrepreneurs still stood strong and learnt a lot from it.
Earlier, we learnt how the lockdown showed Chiamaka Obiefuna the importance of building a relationship with her clients. This week, we had the pleasure of hearing from Toluwaleye Odunsi on what she learned from the lockdown experience. Let’s get into it!
The Woman behind the Folabomi Brand and the Brand
A lover of always looking good, Toluwaleye Odunsi loved to dress up and look her best right from childhood. She realised from her early years that looking good always boosted her confidence. She stood taller and spoke more eloquently when she knew she was looking good and this made a mark on her. One who values integrity, empathy, confidence, and professionalism, through her work, she wants to live a life of impact. This birthed the Folabomi brand.
The Folabomi brand is made up of the Folabomi House of Fashion and the Folabomi Foundation. Being one that has consistently drawn confidence from looking good, Odunsi set up the Folabomi House of Fashion as a clothing brand that makes women look and feel like the most comfortable and confident version of themselves. With its outfits, the brand hopes to help women achieve their goals while being draped in the wealth of its pieces.
“Not only did I start Folabomi to ensure that women have access to clothing pieces that will help them achieve their goals but also to create job opportunities for hardworking people and to leave a long-lasting legacy.”Toluwaleye Odunsi
The brand targets women between ages 16 and 45, who have professional or corporate jobs and can also be students or businesswomen. It seeks to attract women who are working towards being confident, empowered, and having a source of strength and influence while looking their best.
In 5 years from now, she hopes for Folabomi to be the city’s favourite go-to place for decent, classy and high quality corporate and casual pieces of clothing. She believes that the business will greatly contribute to retaining funds in the Nigerian economy to create less reliance on imported clothing and fabrics. Instead, there will be a rise in the exportation of their products to various countries. She also hopes to be well-empowered to employ at least 30 supporting services obtained nationally in each Folabomi outlet.
The Scares of the Covid-19 Pandemic
Like for many others, the coronavirus hit close to home for Odunsi. While neither she nor her employees caught the virus, a few of her close family members did. Thankfully, though, they all got well in due time.
In addition to the scare and worry that came with the news of the virus infecting loved ones, her business also suffered greatly from the pandemic. Firstly, her business was shut down for over a month. There was no production, no sales, no customers, everything was at a standstill.
After the lockdown was lifted, the business remained at a standstill. Many corporate women had started working from home and were not going to work at all. Since the Folabomi brand concentrated mostly on creating corporate clothes, it suffered greatly from this new development.
“It was a period I would never forget. The pandemic happened and corporate women did not need corporate clothing pieces anymore.”Toluwaleye Odunsi.
At that moment, lots of fears crept into her mind. The business’ financials were suffering greatly and her greatest fear was that her business would close down permanently. She wondered if she would ever sell another piece of clothing again. They had to put on pause all the plans they had to create many more corporate pieces their women started going back to work.
The Lockdown Made Way for New Opportunities for Folabomi
New Product Lines were Birthed
Amid all this, she knew she had to make a move or have her business shut down. Firstly, she went to her God, her source of power, with her fears and uncertainties to help her out of her predicament.
Next, she took action. She went back to the drawing board to re-strategise. She realised that to be in the business of fashion, she had to keep solving problems. The covid-19 pandemic came with a beautiful business opportunity and she tapped into it – selling nose masks. Folabomi started selling comfortable and chic nose masks to its clients and prospective clients. Its audience needed them so much and the brand made a huge profit from it. For her, it was a reminder that the business mattered and they could get through the pandemic.
Also, the brand started making casual clothing pieces for its corporate clients that were working from home. This arm was a welcome addition to the brand and one they didn’t know they needed. This move helped the brand establish its ready-to-wear arm.
“My fear was valid, but thank God I didn’t dwell on it for too long. We went back to the drawing board and highlighted the new problem that existed and the solutions we could develop. This helped us reinvent our processes and systems and helped us stretch out and try new things. In the long run, I’ll say that the pandemic was a blessing in disguise, as it made us come out of our comfort zone. Nothing grows in its comfort zone”Toluwaleye Odunsi
The ready-to-wear line picked up since people needed casual and comfortable pieces as they were now working from home.
New Projects also Sprang to Life
She also set out to show her customers that the brand cared for them by sending out messages to check on them during the pandemic. That way, they knew they were still here. They also created a pack named the “Friend-in-me” pack which had some essentials to get their customers through the lockdown period.
In June, shortly after the lockdown, the Folabomi House of Fashion organised a 2-week project called The Folabomi Experience. They used this to ensure that over a thousand of their professional audience benefited from free and impactful Instagram-live sessions. These sessions were built to helping them survive the impact of the pandemic on various fields and areas in entrepreneurship and corporate life. They were handled by experts.
The Lockdown Came with Lessons for Folabomi
The brand is now reinventing and adjusting where, what, and how its consumers buy. It is creating more useful products for its clients, even if they have to work from home. The team is also working on their digital platforms to make it easier for clients to purchase items online.
“I have also learnt to actively grow our online platform.”Toluwaleye Odunsi
Now, she has learnt to diversify and create more products and services for her clients. She has also learnt to communicate frequently and clearly with her employees. She is now setting expectations about the new working norms and safety precautions being taken in the brand. Building her staffs’ morale by creating informal opportunities for connectivity and by being open about challenges and, when possible, making empathetic offers of assistance or time off to support their well-being is now also a big part of the brand.