Bolatito Bayo-Puddicombe is the CEO of The Bolakoka Textile Company which specializes in using African textiles to provide aso ebi services, empowerment for others, and Afrocentrics: Ready To Wear, Bags & Purses, Souvenirs and Jewelry and more. A graduate of Chemical Engineering from the University of Lagos, she worked as a Customer Service/Sales Officer for an Electronic and Mobile Phones Chain Store, a school teacher during her National Youth Service, and an admin manager for several platforms including one for well-rounded young people and another for a New Nigeria, before deciding to fully embrace the business of textiles.
CN: What inspired you to set up The Bolakoka Textile Company?
In 2009, as a youth corps member in Jigawa state, Nigeria, I really wanted to make the best of my service year and I felt a bank would be the best place to serve. I started prepping for an interview that my Uncle helped me set up at the regional office of his new generation bank located in Kano. Even after I had received my posting as a Mathematics teacher and agreed to teach only two days a week, I was still sure that my bank arrangement would work. In my mind, I felt it was a done deal and the interview was just a formality; however on the fateful morning of the interview I received a huge shock… I would not be getting a job with the bank… not even for my service year! Tears welled up in my eyes and I just wanted to get out and chill for a bit before heading back to Dutse, Jigawa, a 45-minute drive from Kano.
As I walked down the bank’s staircase, suddenly I remembered that during one of my Lagos-Jigawa trips I had heard someone say that Kano had a huge fabric market. I asked the bank’s security personnel who showed me the market, a 5-minute walk from where I was standing. For real? I was happy. I forgot about going to chill out and I bought two pieces of 6-yards African print fabrics with the ₦3,000 transport compensation I had received from the kind interviewer. Before I knew what was happening, I ended up travelling to Kano from Dutse, my place of primary assignment, at least thrice every two weeks, each time to buy different kinds of fabrics with the NYSC allowance I had saved up. I sold fabrics to fellow corps members, government officials and bank workers back in Dutse. After 8 months in Jigawa, I recorded over ₦300, 000 in profit from selling fabrics!
Back in Lagos, while I worked with several organisations, I continued my fabric business as a side hustle. In fact, it got to a point where I negotiated for off-days from my employers in exchange for a pay cut. I used my free time to continue my fabric business. I attended the Fate Foundation Aspiring Entrepreneurs Program (AEP) where I developed a business plan for the Aso Ebi market after identifying the love for partying in Lagos. I streamlined to the ‘Aso Ebi- Group Cloth’ aspect of the Nigerian Textile Industry, started customized supplies along that line and the Aso Ebi service of Bolakoka was born.
CN: Who is your ideal customer?
I work with upwardly mobile individuals who need to sort out fabrics for their events and outings and do not have the time and/or want to avoid the stress that comes with searching for durable and affordable fabrics. Our customers trust us enough to purchase fabrics online through our online channels even though they usually would not have seen the goods physically; they are assured of the quality because of the brand we’ve built. With the growth of the events industry where fabrics play a major part, Bolakoka has been able to position its brand as the on-the-go fabric provider for all kinds of celebrations for groups and personal purposes (Aso Ebi).
CN: What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
Most people tend to want to feel the fabric they want to buy before they go ahead with purchasing. Sometimes it is tough convincing a customer who has not experienced the brand before.
My fantastic husband is my number one fan and he convinced me to get my business online. I was confused as to how to start selling Aso Ebi online. “How does someone sell Aso Ebi online?” I asked. “I don’t think it can work o, besides I am not a techy person.” So I thought of getting a shop and stocking it up with fabrics which was capital intensive for an industry that is constantly evolving. I went back to my business model back in 2014 and realized I did not need a shop. I decided to develop all the basic skills I needed to run the business online, with the help of my number one fan, Bayo Puddicombe.
CN: What is your unique selling point? What makes Bolakoka stand out from the crowd?
Bolakoka has been able to position itself appropriately as an indigenous textile company that constantly evolves with the solutions it provides in the textile space. We are not a fabric shop, we go beyond transaction to create an experience for our clients from start to finish, when they eventually receive a package from The Bolakoka Textile Company.
Apart from the Aso Ebi service, we have developed an Afrocentric product line (FABRIKANA) where we provide finished products with fabrics, such as ready to wear, stationery, jewelry and accessories.
With my journey into this space, I have encountered people who wanted me to point them in the right direction in the industry and also be a support for them. The Bolakoka Textile Company went ahead in March 2018 to launch an initiative to help people start a side hustle through our drop shipping program called Start Ankara Business Initiative (SABI) by Bolakoka where all the hurdles that anyone could encounter have been solved and the support needed is provided. The program currently runs with over 20 people now.
CN: What do you consider to be the best career decision you have ever made?
I never thought creating Aso Ebi solutions would be worth my while, after training as a Chemical Engineer, but I was really wrong. My decision to fully embrace my textile business was the best decision I took on this journey; more importantly that I deliberately focused on building it. I only wish I started doing this since!
CN: What have been your biggest milestones since you started?
That other people can now become empowered because of the work we do is so humbling. Since we started our drop shipping initiative we have seen people, from medical doctors to stay-at-home mums, begin from point zero to significant progress in the fabric business and they do it so excellently with the support we provide them.
CN: Which entrepreneurs inspire you, and why?
Tara Fela-Durotoye. She turned the art of makeup into a very viable business and empowerment venture.
CN: How would you advise an aspiring entrepreneur who is wondering where and how to start their business?
Any aspiring entrepreneur should understand that business is a journey and they should have a plan for that journey. As you move along, don’t despise whatever your hands find to do now; if it is recharge cards you find to sell, sell it very well.
With respect to aspiring entrepreneurs in the textile industry, our drop shipping model answers all these questions perfectly. There is a lot an aspiring entrepreneur will learn from Start Ankara Business Initiative… SABI
CN: What is your long-term vision for Bolakoka?
To take the business of textile to a full-chain manufacturing level where it is significantly contributing to the GDP of our nation and one that Nigeria will be proud of.
Phone: +234 708 489 8780