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Lydia Akinfemiwa is the brain behind sketchbook.ng, a fashion brand that provides “practical resources for easy fashion illustration”. In this interview, Lydia reveals how she created a fashion solution that changed the face of fashion illustration in Nigeria.
Let’s start with a quick backstory, how did the brand sketchbook.ng come to be?
We started in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. One day, the idea came to me when I saw a very impressive fashion sketch. It made me realize that my fashion illustration game wasn’t solid and I knew I was not alone on that train.
I know so many people that are fresh out of fashion school but still have problems bringing their sketches to life. So basically, I found a problem that needed to be solved and I created a sketchbook with a readily drawn fashion croquis as the perfect solution.
Talk about a smart businesswoman!
Thank you (laughs). It’s funny that you mentioned it because when I started off, I wasn't really thinking about how much I could make, I was more concerned about solving the problem that affects the creative process of many fashion designers.
Interesting. So where did you go to school and what did you study?
I attended Babcock university where I studied mass communication but I would not attribute my success in life to what I studied in school. I’ve always known that I was going to be a fashion designer but when I was in school, I thought maybe I could do fashion marketing or fashion communication but those kinds of things don’t work in Nigeria.
Haha. Is it safe to say the 9-5 lifestyle was out of it for you?
Oh definitely. I started attending fashion school when I was in 200 level. So I guess I’ve always known that I would never use my degree for anything. I never even imagined myself doing a 9-5 job. The only reason why I will ever consider getting a 9-5 job is if my business ever folds up financially and I need a way out. But God forbid sha (laughs)
Ha, God forbid o. So tell us, as a small business owner in Nigeria, what are your biggest challenges?
Running a business in Nigeria is very difficult because something must frustrate you. Sometimes, my suppliers will act like my village people. There are a couple of times when they’ve made sketchbooks that are not up to the quality I want and that's usually a loss on my part.
Sometimes, it's the machine for customization that will start acting up. You obviously can’t tell your customers that it's your machine or suppliers that have decided to act like the weapon that was fashioned against you. I always make sure that my customers get exactly what they pay for because the last thing anybody wants is to not get value for their money.
Another problem I had when I was starting off was the issue of trust because it is hard for people to drop their money for one random stranger on Instagram. So I had to offer discounted prices, free gifts, and even pay-on-delivery methods. But when I started getting reviews from those customers, it became easier to win people’s trust without trying.
We love that for you. So how have all these impacted the brand’s finances?
Our first year was actually our best year and it still feels like a dream. To think that I didn’t have any special marketing plan. I ran an Instagram ad and that was it. During the first two days of the ad running, I got my first 5 customers. By the end of the year, I had already sold over 500 copies of the sketchbook.
We see you, money woman!
Abeg (laughs). I like to think that the business is doing so well now because I started something that nobody had ever done, the first of its kind in Nigeria. It was a niche market so it wasn’t hard for me to define my target audience. So far, I’d say we’ve sold over 3,000 copies of journals and sketchbooks.
Even despite the current state of the economy, my customers still come through. I think that’s because what I’m offering is more of a need than a want for many fashion designers.
What’s your earliest memory of making money?
The first time I made my own money was during my NYSC year. I served in Ibadan. I come from an average family so I’ve never really had to worry about money. I guess that’s why I didn’t really think I needed to charge my family and friends for making custom clothes for them. But there’s a sense of independence that comes from moving to a new state.
Luckily for me, people liked me and they knew I could sew. That’s basically how I started sewing for money. In a good month, I made more than I needed to survive. I felt proud to be able to survive without the NYSC allawee. I was staying with a family member so I didn’t really have to spend much and I was able to save a lot.
Please o (laughs)
You’re quite passionate about the fashion industry. If you could change something in the Nigerian fashion scene, what would it be?
I’d love to see the fashion industry in Nigeria grow bigger than it currently is. There are so many fashion lines that cannot live beyond their time. These brands cannot exist after their founders die. There’s a reason why we still know Coco Chanel even though she has been dead for over four decades. I’d like to be a part of something like that. Something that lasts.
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