Allure cover interview: Evbade Ohiowele – On Beauty with Compassion
By Yemisi Suleiman
Evbade Ohiowele is a serial entrepreneur whose urge to satisfy the average family’s needs, led to the founding of the Vadas Unisex Salon and Spa, located in the Lekki axis of Lagos.
More than just an entrepreneur, this leading hair stylist and CEO of Vader’s, with three branches all on the Island, has created a one-stop beauty centre for grooming and spa solutions for every member of the family: from the kids to grandparents.
Also, Evade who studied Microbiology at the University of Benin, is poised to building future entrepreneurs by empowering young, deserving men and women with beauty skills, through her salon. In this interview, the young Edo born CEO, wife and mother sheds more light on her career, entrepreneurial journey, her vision 2020 for the 40s and above, and much more.
Tell us about Vedas. What is it all about and what inspired it?
I have always had a passion for everything fashion and beauty. I have four sisters, and I used to play with their hair while growing up, and while at the University of Benin I had a small saloon, where I used to make hair. It has always been something I have been doing. So before Vader’s, I have always been an entrepreneur, but when I got married and started having children, I noticed my Saturdays were idle. I have two boys and a little girl, I used to take my boys a barbing salon to make their hair, and my little daughter goes somewhere else to do hers, while I make my hair elsewhere. So at a point, I was wondering why we could not get a place where we can make our hair at the same time, which would be more like spending some quality time with my kids. Hence, I kept thinking about the idea of a salon like that. I thought about it, and it occurred to me that I could do it. So, I opened my first salon; I didn’t invest so much in it because I just wanted to learn the process if it was a good deal; it was an eye-opener, and we grew from there. The business came from the need to find a solution, where you can have a full-service salon, where you meet your family need at a pocket-friendly price. So, that is why Vader’s came to fill in that gap. I felt that there must be mothers here that want to look good, at the same time with their kids by their side, that was how it all started.
How was your first outing?
The first salon opened on June 15, 2014. It was a very memorable day; we were stepping into the unknown; it was a bit scary, but it was worth it. It is my third branch now; we are huge on customer satisfaction; no client of mine is too small. From the baby’s first haircut- because I always tell my staff that these kids will grow and still come back here- I still want them to patronise us even as adults. It was part of my business strategy because I concentrated a lot on the kids. Kids were my main niche; I am very particular about them because when the kids are happy, it shows. We provide services for the baby, child, young adults, father, mother, and grandparents. The first branch was just a salon business; I know as women we are so busy- taking care of everyone else, it is tough for us to take care of ourselves. So the new saloon, in-house, we call it Veder’s 3, is more about where a woman can relax as she is taking care of her hair or her baby’s hair. There is an in-house bar; she can have a glass of wine, have tea and can also relate with other people. So if you are spending two or three hours in the salon, it has to be a pleasant experience, which is what we try to achieve at Veder’s.
How has it been these past four years? How has evolution been?
It has been exciting, there are so many people I look up to, who don’t know that I even exist, that I take inspiration. I read a lot; I try to motivate myself, because it is so hard to be an entrepreneur in Nigeria, and dealing with staff issues, infrastructural issues and the rest, is not easy, but because I am so passionate about what I do and the feeling my customers get when their hair is beautiful, is the best feeling. The way they come in is different from the way they go, for me that is my payment. Of course, I want money to continue to run my business, but the satisfaction and glow on my customers face the best thing for me. It has been tough, but it is doable as well, and God has been wonderful to me.
You moved from Microbiology to being a hair entrepreneur, what initiated it?
I did microbiology because I was very active in school. I wanted to be a painter, but my father will not have any of it.
My service year I was attached to one hospital in Abuja, and I realised that that was not my life, that was how I stopped.
I had a boutique and travel agency before then; I still have my travel agency. I had to shut down the clothing side because people were bringing in cheaper clothes, so it was hard breaking even. I am pleased how my life gravitated towards the salon. It was the first business I did.
Did you get any training in hair styling?
Not exactly, but I do train with professionals all around the world. I went to Sterling Style Academy New York, and also the London school of fashion where I did short courses on styling. I am very particular about what I do; I want to know the proper way to do things and in turn, train my staff. So I am always teaching. Currently, I am in training for hair colouring, I love the colouring and want to take it a step further, and I get people to train my staff, as well.
So how do you stay above board in the face of competition?
I have always said this business is like a bartender’s job; people want to know you care. So we do our best to keep our customers. We have a system in place where we reach out to clients that we haven’t seen in a long time. I reach out to them, to be sure all is fine and if there is a problem, they share, and I try to solve them. Again I try to treat my staff as best as possible because they are an essential part of my business when you treat them right, they, in turn, put in their best to keep your clients. In all, it is a very tough business to be in because you have to be very disciplined and keep account of every single kobo. And I am very grateful for my team; they have been accommodating in every way. Like I said the ones that have been with me are not there because they don’t have anywhere to go, but because they see the passion I have for the business and how I push them. It is not just about what I am getting but also how are you as my staff is growing, so I use my business as a means to empower young people.
Yes, for me it is a means of giving back to society. For instance, there is a boy that came in as a cleaner, but today he is a braider, and he is training to be a proper stylist, all for free. There is also a girl I helped the same way, but she is learning pedicure today. So that is my way of giving back. I don’t like to take interns, I would instead employ, pay you, and you can still train. I give them options to learn anything they choose, either, barbing, braiding manicure, styling, it’s up to them to decide.
Do you intend to take this further? Like maybe setting up a beauty school for proper training of desiring individuals?
Yes, it is part of my long term goals to set up a beauty school, where we can train deserving individuals because I believe I would instead teach you to fish than to give you fish. That is my own vision 2020, to kick off the NGO fully. It is something my siblings, and I learnt from our mother; she was always giving and taking care of people. So for me, by God’s grace, vision 2020 is the year of my NGO, I am going to call it Rosegold,
after my mother. It is going to be about empowering people, a lot of people concentrate on young people, but I will enable people in their 40s and above.
Why is there a particular reason for that?
Yes, because life has a way of excluding these age grades for specific opportunities. For instance, there is a competition going on, or a job opportunity comes up; applicants are usually placed at the 30s and below.
I keep wondering people that for whatever reason couldn’t do all the things they wanted to do; maybe they had kids to take care of, perhaps aged parents they had to take care of, perhaps they sacrificed their whole time to do something else, why do we cut off such people. People say life begins at 40 anyways, so people deserve second, third, fourth, fifth chances, that is what I think. I think even if someone misuses their time or let’s say for whatsoever reason, the person made some wrong choice, what if at that forty, the person realises this is an opportunity, ‘I need to sit up now.’ ‘I have made mistakes in the past; life is not over.’ It is always tough to find help because who will want to help a forty or forty five-year-old.
Do you have a beauty routine?
What I know works for me is when I eat healthily- a lot of fruits and vegetables, it helps; I do not do much. But body scrubs are a must for me, and I recommend it to everyone on the planet. Our skin is the most sensitive organ of the body, and it takes everything life throws at it, so we need to take care of it. In as must as we try to do it from the inside, we should also take care if it from the outside. So body scrubs are a must at least, once, in a month. It makes a lot of difference and gives you the feeling of being taken care of; for me, it is more of the feeling it gives me. It offers me the opportunity to sit down, do my thinking, grab a glass of wine, it takes five years stress out of life because Lagos is so stressful. So, sometimes you sit down and give your self that gift of being pampered, that is why we try to make the environment very conducive and very pleasant,
What is fashion like for you? How would you describe your style?
Fashion for me is a sense of expression, and I have always been very particular about how I like to present myself when it comes to clothes. I am not that type that would do a simple skirt or top; I love to do the extra stuff. It might be a simple skirt or headscarf, but I will want to tweak it in a certain way, to look different, like the colour my hair differently. I could wear a brooch on my neck, put it on my collar, I want to do something different like colouring my hair a weird colour. Depending on my mood, I can be everything, from the loudest to the mildest. For me, fashion is just something to play.
What is your dream for Vader’s?
I want to be at Times Square; I want to be known for quality within and outside Nigeria. The biggest dream is that I want to empower a lot of people that will go on and do great things. To put my mark in peoples hearts, because I have had help from unlikely places in my life. Anything you do to help others is not too small or too big. I gravitate towards people who love to help others genuinely. I believe we are on earth to make heaven.
Away from work stress, how do you take time out for yourself?
I love to go to the Beach, the sound of the waves; there is nothing like it in this world. I read a lot as well. I could lock myself in, tell everybody that I am busy and sit down and read a book; it could be anything, from frictional novel to motivational books and the Bible even. For me, reading takes you to another world. Some times I chill and relax with my friends or kids and the spa, massages help me relax, I love to de-stress myself a lot. I go to the dance studio three times a week. At the studio, we dance with heels. I find it very helpful not to take the stress of my daily work to the house. So by the time I get home my brain resets.
Do you have a signature fragrance?
Yes, I do, it is called ‘Juliet has a Gun’, it is cool. I wear others, but that is my favourite, so when I travel I buy two, just in case it breaks or something happens. I am a perfume person, as well. My husband is a perfume freak; maybe it’s because of him.
What is the best advice you have received as an entrepreneur?
I have received lots of advice, but the one that is always at the back of my mind whenever I am terrified or scared of something is ‘just do it’. And it came from my sister- in- law. No matter how much I doubt myself, or how afraid of the dreams I have, I take a step in and ‘do it.’ I am very competitive with myself. Once I have started I can’t fail, either way, I must finish it.
Now I have trained myself not to check my phone till I am in my car, on my way out, because once you open that phone two hours will pass by and you don’t know. No matter how important it is, I won’t check my phone, if it is important to call me, then call back. I have learned something from social media,
so I try to save my social media time for traffic or just before I go to bed. So that advise has taken me so far, and I try to encourage people to ‘do it’ if that is what they want to do because you only get to live this one life once.