Olabanke Subair: The Tyre Up-cycler
By – Josephine Agbonkhese
Her sheer love for everything artistic led her into an enterprise that, in less than four years, earned her both local and international recognition as one of the most creative in the Nigerian furniture-making industry.
The CEO of Cyrus45 Factory, an art-inclined home decor company, passionate about up-cycling waste items like tyres into bespoke, ultramodern furniture pieces and home-wares, Olabanke Subair has been recognised by the BBC, Financial Times UK and Aljazera among many other international and local media organisations.
In 2018, she was chosen to speak at the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for her innovativeness.
The Obafemi Awolowo University graduate of French who, in 2019, got selected by Nestle Nigeria to represent the carpentry industry in its International Women’s Day Campaign, speaks on her passion, business and more in this interview.
Your creativity is amazing. What inspired the establishment of Cyrus45 Factory?
Cyrus45 was inspired by a pile of 20 abandoned tyres which my sister’s neighbour wanted to throw away in 2016. Before I got married, I was living with my sister and working in the advertising and media space from home. I’ve actually always been an advocate of revamping old items. So, I told the neighbour to give me the tyres and with the help of Google and my very creative mind, I was able to make my first furniture piece which was a coffee table. That was how Cyrus45 was born. We however opened officially in 2017 as Revamp Limited before renaming as Cyrus45 Factory.
Do you have a background in furniture making or in art?
I didn’t have a background in furniture-making. My background was in content development, creative writing, social media and digital marketing. I also have flair and a natural passion for the arts. I’ve always been artistic as a child; I used to draw and paint. I think that was why I was able to venture into the up-cycling industry seamlessly.
Who produces the pieces; you or artisans?
I design the pieces and carpenters produce them. I actually didn’t want to do this as a business when I first started. So, when I made my first table, the aim was just to create something with those tyres for myself.
At what point did you decide to turn this into a business?
I was using the table at home for myself when a friend of mine visited, found the tables fascinating and told me to come showcase it at an upcoming Made-in-Nigeria Fair which she was organising. So, I showcased just that one piece at the fair and that was when I decided I was going to turn it into a business. People thronged to my stand to make enquiries about how they could visit my store to get some of my pieces. I got their contacts for follow-ups and that was how I was able to produce and sell more pieces with the remaining 19 tyres. From there, I continued the business.
After that fair, how easy was it selling your products? What was the reaction?
It was easy selling the furniture pieces afterward because of their uniqueness. A lot of people were really fascinated by them. I’m however really grateful for social media and how Instagram, in particular, has been able to help businesses market and sell. A lot of people just see them online and desire to have them in their homes. I don’t see my pieces as simply furniture but as artworks; that’s why I call them artistic.
Who was your first celebrity client?
My first ever celebrity client was prolific filmmaker, Kemi Adetiba. I remember when she reached out to me; I was so ecstatic! She ordered four pieces of furniture from us. It was a great moment.
You are said to be the first in Nigeria to up-cycle tyres into furniture pieces; did you ever sight something of that nature anywhere, maybe internationally?
Yes, I did see something similar on Google. Immediately, I had the idea of putting wood pieces under tyres to make a table, I knew I had to do my research. I saw, on Google, that in countries like Germany, America, etc., a lot of people do up-cycling but on a very DIY bases. But I am doing mine with professionals to make sure the finished products are of good quality and high standards.
From your experience, what would you say is the place of “skill” in starting and growing a business?
I will say that having a set of skills; either soft, people, technical, business skill, or any type of skill, is very important because it will help you to have less room for errors, help you to make better decisions and good negotiations which will enhance your profit. You can be very talented but if you’ve not honed your skill in that talent, you won’t be considered an expert in that field. So, it’s one thing to be talented and it’s another thing to be very skilled in that talent. You should also be open to building new talents. For instance, I am inherently a creative person; not really a business person. That was why, when I first started my business, I made a lot of errors because I didn’t really see it as a business. Thus, I had to sign-up for programmes to help build my skill.
Should people venture into businesses they have passion for or simply capital for?
I don’t think people should randomly venture into businesses they think they have passion for. You need to really do your research to be sure that the business is viable. Entrepreneurs are called ‘Solution Providers’, so, aside having a business idea, you need to be sure your business is solving a problem. Otherwise, you might end up frustrated that it isn’t profitable.
What strategies and principles have worked for you?
First is having a vision and real passion for what I do. I must say that when I first started, I wasn’t really passionate about the environmental space; I am more of a creative. I was just passionate about creating pieces that are artistic. But when I found out I am not just creating but solving an environmental problem of improper waste management, I needed to develop that passion and skill for the environmental space. Developing that for the environment has also helped. My creativity too has also helped; I don’t joke with creativity and innovation. In fact, I always like to produce pieces that will keep people talking. Tenacity and perseverance have also been of help. I’ve also continued to build relationships. Above all, I always involve God in all I do; in fact, I have meetings with him at every point in my business.
There are waste materials everywhere. How easy is it to spot one with potential value?
It’s not as easy to spot one with potential value. I am in the up-cycling space and waste materials used in up-cycling need to be in better shape than those used in recycling. So sometimes, we scout for these waste materials for a while before calling it a day.
You are causing a revolution as far as up-cycling is concerned; have you noticed others taking a cue in any way?
I might be one of the first people, but I’m not the only one. I’m however really happy seeing others take a cue that means, we will have less waste to worry about in Nigeria.
You are also CEO of Scentsational.ng; is there a nexus between the two businesses?
I started that last year officially because I’ve always been a lover of scents and fragrances, as well as homes and people smelling good. To your question, in a way, I would say yes because what I do is furniture interiors and home essentials are part of interior decor. Initially, I wanted to integrate Scentsational into Cyrus45.ng but after a meeting with God, I decided to make it a business of its own.
How are you able to run two businesses and still be successful when many coaches have always emphasised on “Niche”?
I’m not of that school of thought which believes in having just one business. In fact, the recent lockdown validated my view because even though Cyrus45 was not really selling during that period, Scentsational was booming because it is a household essential service provider. So, having multiple streams of income is very important. Funny enough, Scensational and Cyrus45 are not the only things I do; I also do content development on the side for organisations.
So, how do you relax?
I love watching movies a lot. I also like to dance and draw. I used to be in a dance group. I also doodle. At a time, I would frame the doodles and give to friends. I also love to sleep (laughs).
Most young people are looking to graduate and join the job market. What would you advise?
My first advice would be: invest in yourself so you become invaluable. Most Nigerian graduates come out of school with lack of experience because our educational system is more theoretical than practical. This is why you’d find a first class student who lands a job with a good company struggling because of lack of other skills. So, invest in yourself and pursue your passions so you live a fulfilled life. Also, have a vision that you can ultimately run with; and the world would be your oyster.
Does a furniture maker find time to be glamorous?
I do from time to time. At the initial stage of my business, it was a bit difficult because I was always 100% hands on. But thank God for getting the right people to work with.
What won’t you ever be caught wearing?
Any outfit with an extreme décolletage and pink lipstick.
Describe your style in three words?
Comfortable, simple and chic.