‘No matter your educational qualification, learn a skill’

Mrs. Hamsatu Afegbua has an MSc in Architecture from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. She has over 10 years’ experience in the field of interior architecture and has worked in that capacity for various companies in Africa. But she acquired the skill of weaving and handcraft. This has earned her recognition and money. In this interview, the CEO of Yasmin Crafts who has trained many women in handmade crafts tells us the importance of learning a skill.

Why did you choose to go into this business?

I wanted to promote our Nigerian culture to the world and educate people on the benefits of opting for natural handmade products.

How did you get funds to start the business?

My start-up funds came from my personal savings and contributions from a few family members.

Did you receive any formal training for this?

No, I am a self-taught weaver and crafter. I learnt by watching videos on YouTube and downloading information from Google.

What is the process of making these baskets?

Our baskets are produced by hand, using a simple technique known as coiling. We start by preparing the raw materials (palm fronds, grasses and reeds) which we source locally. The palm fronds are soaked in water to make them flexible, after which we strip them down into thin pieces that we can coil around a lump of grass or reed. We create a distinct pattern by continuously coiling the fronds and shaping the baskets as we go along.

How long does it take make one?

A round flat table mat, known as faifai in Hausa, takes less than a day to weave. However, there are various products that can take from three days to a week; like our laundry or hamper baskets.

How is the patronage for your products?

The patronage from Nigerians is good, and I am grateful for it. However, about 60 per cent of patronage comes from expatriates and tourists who tend to appreciate handmade products more. Our target customers are the embassies staff here in Nigeria, tourists, gift service businesses who need hamper baskets, and individuals, mostly women, who are looking for affordable and unique gifts.

How many people have you trained on this?

I have trained five people so far due to limited funds. However, I have three full-time staff: one each for operations, sales and marketing, and I have seven local women weavers who do the bulk of the weaving based on the orders we get from customers, making 10 persons in total. Nine of them are women, as I am a firm believer that we need to empower more women in Nigeria.

How has technology enhanced your business idea?

Technology has greatly advanced my business idea as most of the skills I have acquired are from the internet. Through a lot of research and connecting with other skilled artisans through social media, I have also improved on what I already know. I can honestly say my business depends largely on technology as new designs and trends have helped Yasmin Crafts evolve into what it is today.

What do you think is the secret of a successful business?

Passion and hard work in the right direction. After that, for a business to succeed, it must meet a need or solve an existing problem or gap in the market.

What key things have you learned in business?

I have learnt that money should not be the motivating factor for you to start a business. Instead, do what you love and eventually you will start to grow; financially. Also, it takes time and patience to build a profitable business, so if you are looking for immediate results, then business is not for you.

How can we support and improve innovation in Nigeria?

We should catch them young. Most youths believe the norm in Nigeria is to go to school, graduate and get a good job. Unfortunately, it is not so in real life. I suggest that our educational curriculum be revised and courses like entrepreneurship and product innovation should be introduced at some point so that youths can have access to the building blocks of creating a business and providing jobs for themselves and others.

What five things do start-ups need to know?

Starting a business is a very hard work because unlike a 9-to-5 job in an office, you will have to work overtime to build from the scratch.

Secondly, do not assume you have all it takes. Combine your passion and hard work with mentorship; whether directly or indirectly, from others who are succeeding at what you want to venture in.

The third thing I will say is, do not sell your products or services on credit because you want to make sales; that is one of the fastest ways to kill a new business. Every kobo is vital to the growth of a start-up.

Also, do not be content with what you already know. Keep educating yourself in that particular field you have chosen because new trends are always on the rise.

The final thing is, go and research on what an elevator pitch is and always have it handy because you never know when you may be opportune to meet someone that can invest in your business idea. All it takes is one person to believe in your dream.

Where do you see your business in the next five years?

Hopefully by God’s grace, I intend to train and empower at least 100 unemployed, unskilled women with lifetime skills that they will in turn use to impact the lives of other women.

Also, I believe that Yasmin Crafts will gain recognition as an international brand known for its durable, eco-friendly and natural home and lifestyle products. We already have an invitation from a private company in the United States later this year to showcase our African basketry products at a trade fair.

What advice do you have for women?

It does not matter what your educational qualification is, learn a skill or craft because if all else fails, you can sustain yourself and your family with your handwork and you can even build a successful business from that skill you have. No formal education is required to learn basket weaving.

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