The pandemic and following lockdown saw many fashion businesses suffer greatly. With everyone staying indoors and all physical events cancelled, people didn’t have to dress up to go out anymore. This, in itself, saw many fashion entrepreneurs scrambling to survive. However, in the midst of all these, some fashion brands stood out strong and excelled.
Earlier, we saw how the lockdown helped Toluwaleye Odunsi start a casual wear line. This week, we had the pleasure of speaking with Ifeanyi Emilia Ogwuazor of The Leather Girl, a brand that started in the heart of the lockdown, on what the lockdown taught her. Here it goes!
The Leather Girl Brand and the Woman behind It
A graduate of Linguistics and Communication Studies from the University of Port Harcourt, Ifeanyi Ogwuazor started her brand in 2020. Alongside running her fashion business, the 25-year-old fashion entrepreneur also works as a Research Analyst for a stockbroking firm. Growing up, she never saw herself as an entrepreneur until finding herself constantly broke woke up the entrepreneur in her.
When the pandemic hit, Ogwuazor was one of those that found themselves affected with a pay cut from work. Seeing as her previous salary wasn’t enough for her, the pay cut made matters worse. With her new reality, she knew she had to find a way to make extra money – an alternative source of income.
It was in the midst of this that she found her old journal and in it, she had written her vision to start a fashion business. The goal of the business was to sell shoes and bags and she had written out a name for it – Just Shoes and Bags Ng. So, straddled with this discovery, she started the business with that name, buying and reselling bags.
“At that time, I was buying bags from someone I knew that made bags and reselling them just to get by. I was making some profit from it but it wasn’t much. Because the bags I got were not exactly what I wanted, I asked if she could make custom bags for me but she said she was too busy to. So, I had to do some research to know where to source materials and workers.”Ifeanyi Emilia Ogwuazor
Along with her business idea, she had drawn out various bag designs in 2019 and they just lay there dormant. Towards the end of 2020, she had all her materials together and by January 2021, she started making bags for her brand.
The Leather Girl Started During the Lockdown
Determined to take her finances into her hands, Ogwuazor shut down every doubt that came to her mind. She decided not to look at the fact that no one was going anywhere and just go ahead. After talking to her circle of friends, with motivation and encouragement from them, she pushed the business on.
“I’m not sure what I was thinking starting a business during the lockdown, to be honest. I’m a spontaneous person and if I sit to start thinking about something, I wouldn’t do it. Starting this business was somewhat of a challenge to myself to just do something.”Ifeanyi Emilia Ogwuazor
Imagining the lockdown will last only 3 months and people would be up and about again, she marketed her bags. And with this, she found customers to buy her bags.
The Leather Girl is targeted at working-class ladies that like fashion. The brand seeks to attract “women in positions of power, strong women, and those women that exude power.” This informs the types of bags she designs. In the next 5 to 10 years, she hopes to take The Leather Girl from just a handbag brand to a fashion empire. She plans to improve on the brand and its materials and dive into making clothes, shoes, and other accessories.
Starting The Leather Girl in the Heart of the Pandemic came with New Fears
Starting a business comes with its fears and Ogwuazor experienced some of them. Asides from the worry that came with the news of close family members contracting the virus, she also had fears over starting a business.
She had the fear of messing up everything and struggled with keeping up with what she was doing. She was also afraid that at some point she would get tired and give up. But, instead of letting the fears eat her up, she took them back to her circle.
“My best friend would always tell me, ‘Do it afraid’, so anytime I am afraid to do something I remember those words. Once I do it, that fear of failure makes me do better. Now, regardless of what happens to me, I’m on the move. That advice will stick with me for life.”Ifeanyi Emilia Ogwuazor
All of her family members recovered perfectly with prayers and proper care and her business picked up speed as well.
The Lockdown Informed New Ways of Doing Business for The Leather Girl
As an entrepreneur that started her business in the heart of the pandemic, she had to rely heavily on social media. At that time, everybody was home and on social media so she saw it as the right platform for her business.
“Social media was the biggest platform I used to get customers. I leveraged social media promotions to get a wide reach. I realised that I needed to gain high visibility online to become and stay relevant.”Ifeanyi Emilia Ogwuazor
One who was not social media savvy pre-lockdown, she struggled with understanding how to use those platforms. She had to learn things she wasn’t familiar with normally. As she expanded her knowledge of social media platforms, she also started to learn to connect with her customers online.
“I had to learn how to use hashtags, reels, and stories. I also discovered that I had to post every day to get high visibility because the more you keep posting, the more engagement and views your posts will get. So, I started creating engaging posts and asking how my customers were doing to forge a connection between The Leather Girl and them.Ifeanyi Emilia Ogwuazor
Along with social media marketing, she also depended on word-of-mouth referrals to spread the news of her business.
Social Media Played a Major Role in Getting and Retaining Customers in the Brand
To get customers for The Leather Girl brand, she told all her friends about it and made sure they followed her social media page. Next, she started promoting her posts to get a wider reach and with this came new customers. These new and prospective customers started engaging more with her posts and even ordering custom-made bags for themselves.
In building a relationship with current and prospective customers, she interacts on her page with them. This looks like checking up on them at intervals, throwing questions at them and never remaining far from them. For her, it’s about showing care and concern for them and building a safe community.
Also, to keep her customers happy, she pledged to give premium customer service always. Since customers are the lifeblood of any business, she always makes them feel welcome when they come to buy something. From speaking politely to them to suggesting alternatives to designs she does not have, she shows warmth and empathy.
The Lockdown Taught Various Lessons on Consistency and Community
As an entrepreneur that launched during the lockdown, Ogwuazor learnt various lessons about building a fashion business. With the peculiarities surrounding the start of her business, she has learnt to keep at it and never give up. Even when things get rough, for her, the key is to remain consistent and maintain a community to stay relevant.
“The important thing is to keep at it and never give up. The country is hard, everything seems to be going south, but I keep telling myself not to give up and to be persistent. It’s about doing something every day to remain relevant. So, on the good days and bad days, I’ve learnt that consistency pays.”Ifeanyi Emilia Ogwuazor
She has seen the importance of “doing it afraid” and not letting fear get in the way. Also, as a fashion accessories brand, she’s seen how important it is to follow trends to appeal to customers.
The pandemic was a period of change for many lives and businesses. For Ifeanyi Ogwuazor, it taught her the lesson of going for what she wanted even amid fear. Have you also taken steps to face your entrepreneurial fears because of the lockdown? Do let us know in the comments below.
This is a topic which is near to my heart…
Many thanks! Where are your contact details though?
Congratulations Ify, so proud of you. I can attest to the quality of leather girl product as I am proud owner of one of this high class and fashionable bag. It attract attention from people when I carry it. The best thing about this bag for me is that they are unusual and unique, it also comes with a beautiful dust cover velvet pouch like a Prada or Fendi designer bag. Well done ify.