Fabriscphere.com is an online fabric store providing a new shopping experience for fabrics, prints and textile lovers around Nigeria. Founder/CEO Ijomah Venn Oputa, a petroleum engineering graduate of the University of Lagos, talks to Connect Nigeria about the joys of selling eye-popping, high-quality fabric, and the challenges of doing business online.
CN: What were you doing prior to this?
Prior to Fabricsphere I interned as a reservoir engineer at Integrated Data Services Limited (an NNPC subsidiary) and founded a company called Venn Labs: a web development company.
CN: What inspired you to set up Fabricsphere; why fabrics and why online?
It’s a very relatable story. When you were much younger, did you ever find yourself constantly being forced to go to the market with your mum to buy items? Well, for me it was the norm and I dreaded it all the time. My mother had sisters who weren’t in the country always asking her to help them get fabrics for one event or the other. The market can be tiring especially for those of us with busy schedules. Trying to slot in market time into our impossible schedules, then when you do find the time you’re moving up and down with the sun beating down on you, strangers touching you and asking you to buy things you are not really interested in, trying to bargain for a great price on a particular fabric, all these problems can be very discouraging. So I noticed a gap and on further thinking I asked myself, wouldn’t it be better to provide not just mothers but also fashion designers and people that deal with fabrics a direct and convenient medium to find and shop for whatever fabrics they desired? That’s really why Fabricsphere was created and it’s online because I also began to notice fabric retailers and wholesalers use Instagram a lot, meaning this was the perfect time to create a platform to increase their reach and hence their sales since the internet has no geographical limitation in comparison to brick and mortar stores.
CN: Is Fabricsphere solely focused on African fabrics?
Not entirely, we prioritise African prints and fabrics but we also try to meet the demand for other types of fabrics that we can make available to our customers.
CN: How did you raise capital for the business?
All capital that has been raised so far, has come from web development jobs and every partner’s pocket.
CN: What are the challenges of doing business online?
Trust; it’s very difficult building trust with potential customers when you run an online business, especially one that deals with products. Customers find it difficult to trust online retailers because of known cases of counterfeit items being sold as authentic ones. So we try to design for trust, as well as quality check and assure all items before they are dispatched in an attempt at guaranteeing customer satisfaction.
CN: What are the advantages of doing business online?
Automation; the whole point of the use of technology, be it online or offline is to automate processes that would have been difficult if done manually. The value-chain system of every industry can be better improved on with the right technology.
Also it’s cheaper to start up an online business, especially if you have a team with the right set of skills.
CN: What is your unique selling point and why should Nigerians choose Fabricsphere over competitors?
Firstly, I think the competition is doing a great job and we take pride in knowing that we learn from them as well. What probably makes us unique is that we think about the customer first and this is largely evident in our prices and services. For example, we have a service feature that attends to the direct need of a customer enabling the customer to upload a fabric image, type and colour of the kind of fabric they need with their budget and within 24 hrs we respond to their request. We always ensure that the process from enquiry to sale is as easy and as efficient as possible.
CN: How often do you update your website, and how quickly do you tag fabrics that are not available or out of stock?
Our website is being updated regularly to meet our customers’ requirements. Also, because we are a marketplace model similar to the likes of AliExpress and we deal with third party vendors, we ensure that regulatory policies such as “identifying when a product is out of stock” are strictly followed.
CN: Which fabrics are your personal favourites?
Wool and atiku largely because I’m a man. Ankara because of the colours and designs!
CN: What do you enjoy most about your business?
Waking up each day with a purpose and solving a problem. Getting strangers to actually trust and buy products off your platform (we actually celebrate every sale made) and just getting to see so many beautiful prints and fabrics.
CN: What do you consider to be the best career decision you have ever made?
Deciding to follow my dreams regardless of where they will take me, refusing to live in the conformity of our present society.
CN: What is your long-term vision for Fabricsphere?
The long-term plan for Fabricsphere, is to create an online social marketplace that encourages interaction between African cultures in relation to our fabrics and prints as well as simplifying the sales and distribution of every kind of fabric. In summary, the goal is to create a Pan-African brand that makes online fabric shopping a lifestyle.