Allure Cover: Meet the Fabric Merchants- Shakirat Malumi
By Yemisi Suleiman
With the popular ‘aso ebi’ party clothing making waves in Nigeria, we have rounded up four fashion entrepreneurs who are changing the way we shop with their innovative take on fashion, Shakirat Malumi, Kemi Alao, Abisola Adebanjo and Mrs. Adejoke Ogedengbe.
Over the years, they have been discreetly dressing Lagos most stylish women, providing elegant and classy laces and other exclusive fabrics for clients.
Their luxurious fabrics depict elegance that is unrivalled in the fashion industry. They tell us their inspirational story from the beginning, the ups, challenges and more.
Shakirat Malumi: Connecting customers with their needs
Shakirat Malumi is the CEO of Bunnie Bee Fabrics, a reputable fashion store known for its stock of exclusive fabrics for special occasions.
What began as a way of easing boredom and frustrations from trying to secure a corporate position as a Human Resource Associate, has today, developed into one of the most successful business in the fashion industry.
Over the years, Bunnie Bee has grown manifold in terms of its business activities, product portfolio, service networks and of course, gained undisputed trust and confidence from the company’s numerous customers across the country and the globe.
Shakirat who studied International Law and Diplomacy at Babcock University, with a Masters in Human Resources at the University Of Westminster, UK, tells us more about the journey into fabric sale.
What inspired your going into fashion as an entrepreneur? And how did Bunnie Bees Fabrics come to be?
After my study in the UK, I moved back to Nigeria with a plan to get a job in Human Resources at a reputable institution, with structured processes and work streams. All efforts to gain employment seemed abortive, and I was left with no option but to find other alternatives for survival.
So, I grudgingly agreed to follow my lovely mother to her fabric store in Idumota, Lagos Island. I sensed that my mother, being her usual visionary self had started to suspect boredom and depression might be on the horizon for her daughter. Initially, going to the store was a harrowing experience.
I was constantly torn between how I saw myself (the corporate HR employee), and what I was currently doing and experiencing (store sales personnel). But there is something about being around people that I enjoyed so much; excitement and daily interactions with customers started to change my perspective.
I started to see opportunities to apply my formal education to my mother’s business. In my own way, I tried to bring a youthful touch to the business which began to attract more customers.
This led to the conception of Bunnie Bees Fabrics. With every entrepreneurial endeavor, comes reservation and fear, but the experience at mother’s store created a passion in me that burned so strongly, I knew I had to monetize it. In 2010, I decided to take the business out of the market to Lekki Phase I. Before Lekki though, there was this little thing called “selling out of the trunk of your car”, which I did for over a year.
I still consider this one of the most influential periods in my life because it thought me about business and customers.
Luckily for me, demand continued to increase and it became obvious I will need a store to better serve my growing customer base. Opening a store solely for selling fabrics in Lekki, was simply unheard of and it didn’t come without its challenges. I was discouraged on several occasions as to the viability of such a business in that axis of Lagos. But I wasn’t going to back down without a fight.
In March 2012, Bunnie Bees Fabrics became the very first fabric store in the Lekki Axis. Our success thus far has been incomprehensible.
All thanks to God we have grown from a small store with just local customers, to a flagship store with global appeal and customers.
How would you describe the evolution of your brand from when you started till date? How has it been so far?
Even though we have been in the business for a few years, our foundational brand attributes have not changed. Our brand is built on the premise of putting the customer first, being reliable and emotionally intelligent.
This is not to say we haven’t evolved with the needs of our customers; we started as a small shop with local customers, to one with international customers, and from the trunk of a car to a fitted outfit in Lekki, with a brand logo.
To the customer, we are still the same in service but in Infrastructure, we have evolved quite a bit.
As a leading fabric company, in what ways do you influence styles in fashion and the lifestyle industry?
I am not sure I would like to categorize myself as an industry influencer. But, I would say our value to our customers comes from two things: Fabric Design and Customer Service.
Having a keen eye for fabrics and seasonal colours, helps in our designs for our audience. Sometimes, the indecisiveness of our customers, helps us assist them in making optimal decisions in picking their styles. We focus on people with the intention to give them the best.
If this influences the lifestyle industry, then I guess we are doing our part. But but this is not our primary intention, customer satisfaction is, and I guess the rest follows.
Do you produce your own fabrics?
No, we don’t. But we are very much involved in the design of many of our fabrics.
What challenges do people in your line of business face?
Clearing of our fabrics, government levies imposed on the importation of fabrics, and of course, the foreign exchange.
In what ways can the government improve or develop a viable textile industry in Nigeria?
It is common knowledge that West African lace was a collaborative invention between West Africa, particularly Nigeria, and Austria as far back as the 1950s. Fast-forward, 70years on to 2018, and an entire branch of the textile industry in Austria and Switzerland, survive primarily because of the West African Market. Majority of our customers want fabrics produced outside the country. It’s unfortunate that we can’t lay claim to be the manufacturing hub of fabrics for the African Market. The government should create an enabling business environment for the industry to grow: particularly, the manufacturing sector. Power, rail etc, all need to be working at optimum to give us a competitive edge over foreign textile manufacturers both in price and quality.
What stands your brand out from the rest?
First and foremost, the business has been running solely by the grace of God. We care for our customers the best. I personally feel all of their emotions and go to sleep with them in mind, which drives the entire decision making about how to care about them and their big day. So, I’ll go out on a ledge and say we have the best customer service.
What is the biggest lesson that you have learned since you started your company?
That delay is not denial. Often times, we wonder when the break is going to come. We start to juxtapose. It is important to focus on your goals, if it’s not working, then refine it, re-strategize, talk to people, learn more and try to put yourself in the best position for favor and greatness. That energy will take you farther than anything else.
When you are not busy how do you relax?
I spend time with my husband and family. I watch movies; eat good food and just lounge.
What is the best advice you have received as an entrepreneur?
Be the customer. It’s like playing a character in a movie so well, that the audience forgets you have a life outside of that film. Every time I get customers, I immediately become them; put myself in all of the possible shoes they might be wearing, so I can continue to create value for them and the brand. This connection with our customers, has generated so much value for us in this industry.
What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion is now Life. It has fed all of my ambitions and desires and now, the platform by which my life till date has been defined.
How does being a fashion entrepreneur influence your style?
I am not sure which one came first, my fashion style or the business influence on my fashion style. I suspect I was fashionable before the business but, in any eco system, there must be some element of symbiosis. So, I believe learning from my customers has also shaped my fashion sense in a way but, to what degree? I really don’t know..
Where is your best holiday destination?
What would you say is the best lesson life has taught you?
I would say two best lessons. One is to focus on people and the other is to be flexible.
Life is all about your connections with people, whatever ambitions you have, will be created by people and whatever value you want to add to society, will also be for people.
Focus on people and everything else seems to fall into place. Flexibility is about dealing with challenges. I believe one must be malleable enough to deal with whatever challenges life throws at one. This mindset gives one the capacity to deal and not break. As I grow older, I have found it more difficult to take very hard and strong positions on issues.