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Alumni Spotlight: The Unveiling of an Emerging African Fashion Entrepreneur

From sewing clothes in her hostel, to running an apparel production facility in Lagos with nine dedicated staff, CEO of Nouva Couture, Bolaji C. Ayinde, lives her life by design.
Ms. Ayinde graduated from Regent University College in April 2012. As an International Undergraduate student, she read Management with Computing (BSc.)

Below is an excerpt from an interview with Bolaji (BA).

Bolaji Chizoba Ayinde

Q. How would you describe yourself?
: I describe myself as a young hardworking lady with a focus.

Q. How was life growing up? 
BA:  Well, I remember being brought up in a God-fearing home by God-fearing parents and a strict and disciplined mother. I grew up together with my two other siblings: Yemisi and Obinna and we all have a close relationship which we cherish so much. 
From childhood, I’ve always been known as a chatterbox. I’ve also always had an interest in singing, acting, leading, and of course what I am doing now which is sewing.

Q. Which schools did you attend?
 My primary school education was at the Command Children School Bonny camp Victoria Island Lagos. I spent three years of my Junior Secondary Education at the Federal Government Girls College, Oyo. I later left to Queens College Lagos, where I finally completed my secondary school education. I then proceeded to pursue my university education at the Regent University College of Science and Technology, the number one institution that molded me and added in making me the woman that I am today.

Q. Which extracurricular activities did you excel in, when growing up?
 (laughter) I was quite a character growing up, excelling in cultural dances, physical education and almost everything I did.

Q. Did you win any awards, recognitions growing up? 
BA: oh yes! Loads of awards.

"…Hold on to God, hold on to your values and pursue your dreams until they become a reality"

Q. Did you always desire to be a fashion entrepreneur?
 Well, it wasn’t until I was in Senior Secondary School, where my mum made sure I learnt about clothing and textile design in School. I never wanted to, but in SS 2, I begun to love it and also enjoyed the feel of my feet on the presser foot of a sewing machine.

Q. Do you have any prior experience in fashion?
BA: Yes, I do. But I believe that experience is never enough. I always try to update my knowledge about patterns in sewing and new ideas.

Q. So how did Nouva Couture all begin?
 Initially, I decided to go into fashion immediately after completing the WASSCE. I wanted to study fashion at the university, but my older brother talked me out of it. In spite of this, I made up my mind that since it was my dream, I would pursue it and see it turn into a reality. I had a burning desire to see it grow to become a global brand. 
I started sewing clothes for people in my first year in university, but did it in moderation, since I did not want to lose focus on my studies. I later on got my first major break in Nigeria in 2009 and from there things kicked off!  I then decided to register the company in July 2010. Within a very short period, Nouva Couture had become a household brand, and it happened faster than I expected.  I am grateful to say that today; Nouva couture has become a well-recognized brand with a running factory in Lagos, with 9 dedicated staff and a ready-to-wear outlet in Victoria Island.

Q. How was your experience starting Nouva Couture?
 Starting Nouva couture was not a joke! It involved a lot, and required a lot of dedication and strong will. There were times I wanted to give up. But I would then sit and remind myself that the higher the risk in any business, the higher the returns. My favourite quote at the time was one by Yogi Berra: "A business has two and only two basic functions: marketing and innovation marketing and innovation produce results: all the rest are cost".

Q. Raising capital to start a business is a major hurdle that most entrepreneurs face. How did you manage to raise the necessary capital to start Nouva Couture?
 The issue of financing my business almost ruined my dreams! It was very frustrating.  But then again, it all boils down to determination and strong will. I was determined, so I saved up some money during my university days, but that was not enough. I had to write proposals and handed them to potential investors. On the other hand, I had the support of my brother all the way. I thank God for that.

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Q. From whom do you draw inspiration?
 My late mum is my inspiration all the way! She was the perfect example of an iroko tree and taught me in that light. She was a hard working woman. Nothing beats that.

Q. What values do you live by?
 Integrity, loyalty, commitment, hard work, dedication, transparency, excellence and entrepreneurship. These are the core values I live by.

Q. Life as an entrepreneur is full of “ups” and “downs”.  How do you manage to keep yourself going during the tough times?
  (sighs) Keeping myself during tough times is just through the almighty God’s help!

Q. What products does Nouva Couture specialize in?
 Nouva couture specializes in female clothing. We design our clothes to suit our tropical African climate. Our target countries are mostly West African countries, like Nigeria and Ghana.

Q. What milestones or achievements has your fashion label chalked so far? 
BA: It’s amazing how much we have achieved so far. I am grateful to God. We launched our label, on the 26th of December last year. We also had another major exhibition. We entered into an affiliation with the Lagos Polo Club to exhibit our products during their President’s Cup Competition. we have a couple of exhibitions as well as an up-coming show this February.

Q. Has your label being featured in any magazines, blogs?
 Yes about five major blogs.

Q. How do interested buyers purchase your products?
 They reach us through our twitter, Facebook page or our hotlines.

Q. Nouva Couture is indeed an international company as it has outlets in two major west African countries - Nigeria as well as Ghana. How would you compare doing business in both countries?
 Its not easy, but its rewarding.

Q. What’s your success secret? 
BA: Hardwork, dedication and determination.

Q. Can you recall any major event in your life that had a profound influence in shaping you into who you are now?
BA: Yes. The death of my mum changed my person, my personality and gave me a reason to work hard and mature into a woman at a very young age. It has molded me and shaped every aspect of my business life, day-to-day life and even my spiritual life.

Q. What aspect of your work brings you satisfaction/fulfillment?
 Customer satisfaction. Once my customers are satisfied it only means they would come back and that means, with God’s grace, I would keep adding value and of course make some profit!

Q. What makes Nouva Couture unique/ stand out from other fashion labels?
 That’s a good one. Our resources and our capabilities, that is, our rare materials, valuable clients, vintage exclusive designs that are costly to imitate and our non-substitutional capabilities. All these and more give us a competitive advantage over other fashion houses.

Q. Many companies take pride in the positive impact achieved through their Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives.  Has Nouva Couture embarked on any community-oriented initiatives so far? 
BA: Well, not yet. However, we are working towards embarking on a major project in the near future. Nouva couture plans on supporting the fight against breast cancer campaign in west-africa. To achieve this, we plan on partnering with the UNDP, to offer support to women suffering from the illness by providing them with free chemotherapy treatment.

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Q. Where does Nouva Couture stand now, and where do you see yourself taking the company in the future? 
BA: We are just about to take off! Really, a lot of people think we are doing well, but to us, based on our expansion plans, we are just beginning. Nouva couture is going to be a worldwide brand sooner than you think!

Q. Are there any world-renowned fashion brands that Nouva Couture draws inspiration from?
 oh yes! Alexander McQueen, and Yves Saint Laurent

Q. How would you describe your leadership style?
I am a task-oriented as well as people oriented person so I guess that influences the way and manner in which I lead. When it comes to planning, and getting the job done I am very focused. On the other hand as a people-oriented person, I am generally interested in the personal welfare of my staff.  I am also a firm believer in creative collaboration.

Q. How is a typical day like for you?
 (laughter) My typical day is really hectic!

Q. What do you do during your spare time?
 I make jewelry. We actually have a product line under Nouva Couture called "phusah by Nouva" that’s our jewelry line.

Q. Do you work full time at Nouva Couture or is it a part-time commitment?
 It is full-time. It’s even more hectic than a 9-5 job.

Q. What one thing do you hope to be remembered for?
 I would like to be remembered for impacting my generation by the kind of clothing we produce at Nouva Couture and positively affecting the lives of women suffering from breast cancer today.

Q. What one invaluable lesson have you learnt so far as a young entrepreneur?
 Ideas without implementation is worthless!

Q. What is the most hilarious or memorable moment that you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur? 
BA: During our launch, I was shocked at the high attendance rate and also how much sales we made.

Q. How has your Regent education contributed to your work?
BA: I can go on and on about the impact Regent has made on me! But in short, Regent has given me something money cannot buy which is knowledge. My degree combination, BSc. Management with computing, a priceless combination, has enabled me acquire knowledge and skills to thrive in both fields: management and Information Technology. I’ve realized how hard it is to find people proficient in both fields. I bring my education to bear in every aspect of my work.

Q. What piece of advice would you give to upcoming fashion entrepreneurs?
 Hold on to God, hold on to your values and pursue your dreams until they become a reality.