Allure Cover: FUNMI OLORINOLA : – Redefining The Art Of Gele…
The heart of a successful business lies an innovative mind which continually wants to disrupt the norm, deform the usual to reform and create something new and extraordinary, and it is on this foundation Funmi Olorinola of Abeke Makeover has created her Avante Garde headpieces popularly known as, the auto-gentle.
Starting her business with the makeup part of beauty, Funmi Olorinola has evolved into an innovator in the beauty sector, through her innovation of the ‘auto gentle.’
This innovation was born out of the need to create variety for African women in every part of the world, who want to look African, yet chic. Who wants to make a statement without going through the stress of time the traditional gele would take.
This creation has gone on to be her signature in the beauty and millinery industry. In this interview, she talks about the inspiration behind every autogele, and how she can differentiate her creation to the copycats in the market.
So, tell us about your journey and how you started the auto gele…
It wasn’t that I specifically came up with the idea of auto gele out of the blues. I have been a makeup artist & I’ve been offering gele services for a while, but at a point, I got fed up of seeing the same gele style used irrespective of the occasions. For instance, imagine the generational gap between a 22-year-old bride and a 70-year-old Grandma, we usually end up tying the same styles due to lack of variations. Being the proactive person I am, I started thinking of what I could do that is different from the usual, but still appear stylish, unique and beautiful. To begin with, I started switching up the styles of my more matured clients, by tilting it to the side or moving it forward a bit, all the while working with the same common gentle pattern. I made finding a solution to the lack of gele variations my intention; after I watched a TV programme. Soon enough, the opportunity to showcase what I created, came in the form of a call from a wedding magazine. They wanted me to make up and tie gele for a celebrity they were featuring on their cover on the occasion of their 10th Anniversary.
I saw this as a challenge, which I readily took up. On the D-day, we did the whole shoot, and everything went very well. Once the shoot was over, I asked the celebrity in question if I could try a new gele style on her. She readily agreed. I tied what later became known as the “Abeke Gele” on her head. Everyone loved it, but I knew I had not finished. I wanted the gele to be durable and stay perfect throughout the whole day. I had to go back to the basics and come up with a way to make it better. Later on, when orders started coming in from abroad and knowing I have no control over how the outcome will be when it is not done correctly, especially when tied, I knew I had to come up with something better- like a hat, that you use over and over again. So, I came up with the idea of using a Velcro strap in the gele. Velcro look took us about four months of going back and forth, and some extra fine tuning, before we finally got it right. It is not to say; we are resting on our oars. We will continually look for ways to still make the auto gele the best there is anywhere.
What sets us apart is our Innovativeness. We always show our clients that: whenever they hire us, we always go out of our way to make sure that we make everything work; this includes providing quick solutions to any issues or challenges that may arise. All these boils down to us giving our clients the very best value for what he/she paid.
What were some of the challenges you faced, in the beginning, trying to make people believe in your brand as a makeup artist and also as an auto gele producer, considering the auto gele was new to the scene?
Initially, when the autogele was first rolled out, Bellanaija did a post about us. We got great reviews from clients who loved the idea of having their gele ready to wear, and we also got critics who tried all they could to deride the autogele and what it stands for.
In the midst of all these, I decided to ignore all adverse reactions surrounding my autogele brand, and instead focus on being the best Makeup artist I could be and perfect my autogele until it becomes a MUST-HAVE item in the wardrobe of every lady, who is fashion forward. This mindset helped me, and now, almost every female celebrity is a proud owner of one or two Abeke Autogele.
How has the experience so far been having a business like yours in Nigeria and how do you think it would’ve been different in other countries?
In Nigeria, the challenges facing businesses like mine are just too numerous to mention. However, I have always been a firm believer in the fact that anything that happens to anyone of us is pre-destined and happened that way for a reason.
Funding is a preeminent challenge affecting business in Nigeria. Because the hope of every business owner is to run the company to a level that it can take off on its own and start generating significant profit after a period of time, but when the market is affected by a lot of many other factors like lack of government’s support, inefficient logistics, lack of raw materials; running the business becomes a herculean task.
Whereas if one were to run the same business in a western country, one would have easy access to grants and other support the company may need.
Despite all these, however, I knew that God who gave me the idea of the autogele did so, knowing He will equip me with every strength and resources to surmount all obstacles that will arise in the course of running the brand.
What are some of the challenges you’re still facing?
We still have challenges with government’s support via loans /grants, easy access to raw materials for the autogele production, epileptic power supply- we run output of the autogele on gele for the significant part of the time. We also have other factors that involve clients. Some are indecisive, some no matter what you do, you can’t seem to satisfy them, in the end, there will be a lot of back and forth before the business concludes. It is what sets us apart. However; we have to meet our customer’s expectations before we can find that the business transaction between them and us is complete.
What inspires the different kind of gele you create?
The inspiration for me usually comes when I’m working. Most of the styles that we eventually end up making into autogeles are styles that come about while tying a gele style on someone’s head; taking my cue from the kind of makeup on her face and the outfit she had on at the time. Whenever this happens, the styles come out fantastic, and everyone around usually wants the styles recreated.
This demand is what prompts my team and me to make that particular style into an autogele; from there, we can come up with variations of the gele techniques.
Who was your first celebrity client in both makeup and auto gele and how did that happen?
My first Celebrity in makeup is Mrs Yemisi Suswam, wife of the then Benue State Governor, that was in 2008. For Autogele; specifically, the Icon Gele, my first celebrity client was Temi Dollface; she was the reason I created the icon Gele, before any other gele style.
What’s your greatest achievement so far since starting this business?
I feel my greatest achievement is still way ahead of me. I’m forever grateful though for all what I’ve achieved so far like the Innovation & creation of Autogele and opening the first online Autogele School.
These achievements have earned us public recognition and awards like the ‘Hottest Makeup Artist in Nigeria’ at the City People Awards (2010) as well as the ‘Best Makeup Artist’ at the Glam & Essence Awards in 2015.
What do you think of the Nigerian creative industry compared to creative industries in other parts of the world?
We are amazingly creative & talented in Nigeria despite our limitations, and when compared to other countries worldwide, I think we hold our own fantastically well. And by God’s Grace, when we have a better structure in place, there will certainly be room for better improvement and a broader avenue for us to unleash our full potential. Right now, the future creatives are the accountants, the bankers, the customer representatives who for lack of funding to start their businesses have to make do with whatever they can find.
I, however, have faith that very soon Nigeria will get to the same level as other developed countries.
Your creation of auto gele has made the craft famous in the market. How can one differentiate your piece from other copies of auto geles in the market?
My creation of auto gele has made the craft famous in the market because through it we have brought about numerous job opportunities, to previously unemployed graduates out there. Some of these graduates now have their autogele brands and staff who work for them.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to have made such a positive impact on people and by extension the world at large. In regards to copycats, there will always be one of these, however, what sets Abeke autogeles apart is our signature styling of the geles. We make sure our autogeles, irrespective of the style always sit effortlessly on the wearer’s head, like a perfectly tied gele, such that, people who see you won’t get to know, unless you tell them; unlike other ones out there, that resembles a cap and it’s quite apparent it is an autogele.
How can you compare the beauty industry in Nigeria then and now, what are some of the things you think have changed and things to improve?
The difference between the beauty industry of then and now, is that we have significantly evolved, unlike before when we import practically all our makeup products and encountered difficulties in finding suitable ones for specific skin types. Now, with innovations, some of our makeup industry pioneers like House of Tara, Zaron, BMPro etc. have taken steps to produce beauty products that match all skin types, caters to all our needs, suits our weather and colouring as well.
Today, there is also the fact that creativity is very much alive. We are beginning to step out of our comfort zones and willing to explore the makeup and the beauty industry in general. Every lady irrespective of status wants to look beautiful, so basically, we have a larger client base of clients, who appreciate makeup and are willing to pay for it.
Who are some of the women that inspire you from beginning to date?
Some of the women that inspired me are: Tara Fela Durotoye, Mrs Bukky George, Mrs Oluwole, who, although not a very popular name, has been a great inspiration. Women who are doing great stuff and who refuse to let circumstances define or stop them; these set of people are my inspiration.
How do you find time to balance family and work with your businesses?
Balance for me is permanently a work in progress, but it’s certainly much better than before.
When I initially started, I missed out on a lot of together time with my family. I barely saw them; I was asleep when they were up, or they had slept before I returned. It was a learning curve for me, I knew I couldn’t go on like this, and I have to find a balance between my business and my family, not allow one to suffer at the expense of the other, so I moved my business closer to my home.
Right now, although still a work in progress, I feel like I have things fairly balanced out. I’m the one who decides where I want to be, or what I want to do and at what time in particular, and my business, family life is all the better for it.
Do you have a skincare/beauty routine? Please tell us about it.
When it comes to taking care of my skin, I’m cautious with whatever I eat, or anything at all that I bring into my body. I believe that whatever I consume, excellent or bad has a way of reflecting on my skin; so I try to eat healthy and well. I always make sure I exfoliate regularly and use tons of moisturizer to lubricate my skin.
What’s that makeup product you’ll always have in your purse and why?
No matter where I go, it’s a must I have my powder, my Lipgloss and maybe some tissue to dab at my face whenever it’s feeling oily.
How would you describe your eating habit?
Due to the nature of my work as a makeup artist, my eating habits can sometimes be erratic especially when I’m on the go. I, however, ensure that I detox with warm water & Lemon first thing very early in the morning. I then have my first meal of the day around 11 am, which will hold me till approximately 5 or 6 pm before I have my final meal of the day.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received while running your business?
“In any business transaction, the client is supposed to win, and you as the vendors feel good”. As a result, I always try to ensure that everyone involved in our transaction wins and is satisfied. For instance, I often come across people who can’t afford to buy my products & services, rather than just let them go, I try to suggest an alternative that they will be happy with and which will suit what they need.
It’s this “extra care” that we show that has helped us with our brand as some of them end up becoming our clients.
What are some of the things you’ve learned over the years as a businesswoman?
I’ve learned to always aim for the sky instead of a tree because if at all I’m to fall from the sky, I can still land on the tree, but if I choose the tree to aim at, I’ll end up on the ground while falling.
For me, IT means that with my brand, I aim for the highest standard I can achieve; I strive for excellence and ensure I create value.
What’s the grand plan for your brand?
My Grand plan is to be the best go-to brand when it comes to making up and autogele Production, to raise the bar in terms of innovations in the beauty Industry and become a known name in every household.