Mayowa Folami is a woman of many talents and interests. She is the founder of Ziza, a beloved bag and footwear shop. She is also a baker and the head of a brand that makes high heel shoes. In a recent conversation, she told us about the origins of her business and her plans for the future.
You are still in school. How did you start?
I was a fashion blogger when I started, and I was very interested in DIY (Do it yourself) fashion. But it was after I moved to UNILAG from Yabatech to study Law that I got into the business of footwear.
Tell me about it. But, first, why “Ziza”?
[Laughs] Azeezat is my middle name. About how I started, I made a shoe for myself and many people seemed to like it; they kept asking that I make something like it for them. I asked them to pay now and I’d deliver later, and they did. That is how it started. That was in my first year studying Law.
[Laughs] I have a lot of hobbies. I was doing Mass Communication in Yabatech before the change, so let’s just say my mind goes up and down, and my parents are supportive. They liked that I chose Law, though.
How easy has it been?
It gets a bit crazy, but I just try my best to juggle it.
At what stage did it start to seem that the business was going to be successful?
Within a year or two. I realised that anytime private schools resume, students buy a lot of items from me. And then there was a time that someone from Rwanda buzzed me. Apparently, she came to Nigeria and bought footwear from me, but I didn’t know. Then she ordered over a hundred items, and now I sell wholesale outside of Nigeria.
Ha! Big madam!
[Laughs] I sell to customers in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Selling wholesale was a game-changer. It’s good money.
That means Ziza got successful early. Do you know why?
I think people outside of Nigeria like handmade goods. They really appreciate it. Just seeing that someone in Africa can make something this good is exciting for them. And my customers like that I allow them to bring in their own ideas to shape the items that they want to purchase.
Giving them the power to decide what they get to see is attractive. I was one of the first people who maybe took to social media with handmade shoes and many people were excited that it was a girl behind the brand.
You were at a culinary school recently, right?
[Laughs] Yes. I like cooking, and as I said: I have many hobbies. I was bored at some point and I decided to go learn how to bake. And now I have a baking business. Recently I was bored again, and I went back to the school and learnt how to make continental dishes and cocktails.
Ha! You do everything. Maybe your next stop is politics?
[Laughs] I don’t know. But I definitely want my business to expand. I would like to have more presence outside of the country. I want the brand to be known worldwide. Because some of my customers are sellers themselves, not everyone who has an item from Ziza outside Nigeria knows it is from me. I would like more people to know the brand.
How did you come up with capital initially?
To be honest, I can’t say I started with “real” capital. As I mentioned earlier, when people said they wanted an item, they paid and then I took that money and made what they wanted. I made some bad decisions at the time because I was a JJC. I had to cover some costs I probably shouldn’t have.
Could you tell me what some of these decisions were?
There was a time that deliveries were taking too long and I decided to buy a bike.
That didn’t help?
Nope [Laughs]. I even had a delivery business. I thought that I could make up to ₦100k in a week from it, but it didn’t go as I thought. I had to pay the bike guys a salary of around ₦50k each month, and then the papers! I spent so much to get the papers required. It also didn’t help that they arrested the guys almost every single day.
The amount spent on petrol, on maintenance. To even get up to ₦10k in a week was a struggle! At one point, it wasn’t even the delivery business that was paying the riders, it was Ziza. I had to put a stop to it. So, yeah, there was a lot of trial and error.
Whew. What has made you happy about the business?
My customers. Right from the start, I had people who encouraged me to try things without punishment. I would say that I don’t know how to do something and they would tell me not to worry. “Just try to do it with me.”
That’s what Christians call favour.
Sometimes they will tell me, “This is good. Next time adjust this, next time add this.” That’s kind of how certain things happened for me. That’s how some designs were born. We have had delivery issues but people that love us love us.
What’s a good month these days?
That would be a month in which I make around ₦1m a day because a customer has ordered items wholesale. Usually February (because of Valentine’s Day) and December are great months. But, of course, during the peak of the pandemic, everything was dry. [Laughs]
I can imagine.
Sales can be random. Sometimes I can be broke in the morning and before evening, something great happens.
It seems you think about the financial situation of your business in days.
[Laughs] You noticed. I should start thinking about it in months, too.
You should. Free PiggyVest financial advice.
Haha. Thank you! There have been times when people order after making enquiries years before. It can be frustrating for some vendors, but I try to keep an open mind, even though it can be frustrating sometimes.
Tell me about your business making heels.
I make them outside Nigeria, which is very hard now, given the dollar rate hike. The initial idea came because I wanted to advance into making heels. I found that we couldn’t really make heels in Nigeria. I found a factory with low MOQ (minimum order quantity) and got about 60 items delivered.
They came in two designs, which I didn’t like but people did and bought them. I thought it wasn’t comfortable, so I came up with another design. I got feedback that people wanted big sizes, so I did that as well. I also wanted something that was unique. That led to a design that used detachable heels, so that women could take it out and wear it flat. When it arrived, it sold faster.
That was brave. You were doing one thing well and then got into another. You were willing to fail?
It’s how I am. I am always willing to fail. I was begging God that I should not be disgraced. I was silent about it because I wouldn’t be able to tell anybody about it if it goes south. In the end, I just trusted my gut.
Thank you! Ziza was a buffer, I must say. I figured I would survive if it didn’t go well.
So, if I wanted to order wholesale, how much would I need to order?
For people abroad, ten items at $200. From there, people go higher. I have an order of about 200 items from Kenya at the moment. Locally, same minimum number but at ₦5,000 per bag and ₦4,000 per shoe. You can mix designs and colours.
Any plans to bring on investors?
I have tried but it hasn’t worked out for me, so I will stick to using my profits. I know I need to get used to investors for my business to grow. The time will come.
Any tips for people looking to emulate Ziza’s success?
First, save your money well and make wise financial decisions. Second, be open to taking risks, even if it looks contradictory to my first point. Three, make use of social media well. You can’t rely on your friends and family. Don’t be embarrassed to post your business constantly. Sometimes I am embarrassed about posting my business because I worry people are tired of me, but I do it anyway. Na money I dey find. [Laughs]
Patronize @theofficialziza on the Pocket app now.