EMLADIES WHO INSPIRE – HAOUWA BELLO(Madame Coquette)

Madame Coquette (MC) is a line of meticulously handcrafted handbags made in Nigeria. With minimal use of machinery, local artisans use traditional tools and techniques to produce a variety of high quality bags and purses. In addition to producing locally, MC is committed to promoting artisanship and skill development in the community. Each piece is hand cut and carefully put together with superb craftsmanship and attention to detail. The brand’s bold choices in colors and rich textures have become a signature aesthetic. The label has recorded sales not only in Nigeria, but in North America and Europe.

Awarded best accessories designer in 2013 (Exquisite Magazine), MC’s work has been recognized by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and Africa Development Bank. The brand was featured on CNN’s African Voices in November 2015, giving it international exposure. Enjoy the interview with EM’s DAMILOLA SHOTE:

1) PLEASE INTRODUCE YOURSELF BRIEFLY TO EM...

My name is Haowa Bello. I’m a bag enthusiast by nature and handbag designer/producer by profession. I have a background in economics, fashion marketing and handbag construction. I’ve spent the last nine years building my business and learning many valuable lessons along the way. When I’m not producing bags, I enjoy spending time on my farm.

2) YOU HAVE BEEN IN YOUR FIELD FOR HOW LONG?

I set up Madame Coquette nine years ago.

3) WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO GO INTO THIS FIELD?

As mentioned above, I’ve always been a bag enthusiast. I was always fascinated by the art of bag making. I love the process of creating something so beautiful from an idea or inspiration that can be used practically in our daily lives.

4) TIPS ON HOW YOU STARTED?

I didn’t start with a lot of capital. I got a N30,000 loan from my sister to start my business. Passion is strong motivator in business. When things get difficult, you will find your passion will be your reminder on why you chose this path and why it’s worth sticking to it. It’s ok to start small as long as you start right. It’s important to set milestones when you start a business as this can act as a yardstick used to measure your growth.

5) YOU ARE A FORCE TO RECKON WITH IN THE SOCIETY, HOW DID YOU GROW TO THIS LEVEL?

I’ve come to the conclusion that growth is a journey, not a destination as I once thought when I started business. It’s not how fast you grow but how consistent your growth is. For my business, I would definitely say growth was organic. I started small and didn’t have a lot of experience or funding. It took a lot of patience, discipline, persistence and hard work. I have a strong support system (family and friends) that always remind me why I should never give up when I lose hope. I learned a lot of things on the job and made my own mistakes. Growth is realizing what you are doing wrong and knowing the steps you need to take to make things right. I concentrated on creating the best possible product with the resources and raw materials available to me.

6) EVERY BUSINESS MINDED SUCCESSFUL PERSON HAS A STORY, WHAT CHALLENGES DID YOU FACE?

When I started nine years ago, a lot people were unsure of buying made in Nigeria goods, especially handbags. The market was flooded with a variety of imported products most of which were designer replicas. The concept of locally produced bags was not a concept that was widely known or accepted. I had to work twice as hard and charge half as much to get customers to give the products a chance. A few people were skeptical about buying made in Nigeria handbags as they prefer to carry big names, known foreign brands or even replicas. A lot of Nigerians weren’t aware that locally produced bags could be an option for them. The ones that were aware had little faith in the products. Over the years, I’ve established a strong relationship with MC customers and have built strong brand loyalty. Consumers see the value in the products and are excited to be part of the revolution. It’s my responsibility to ensure that the brand is constantly raising its standards and giving consumers world class products.

7) WHAT SETS YOU APART?

I’m a hands-on business owner. I love working in the factory alongside my team. Most business, if not all, have a certain uniqueness to them. I push my team to be the best at what they do. I can’t take credit for the success of MC. It takes a team of skilled workers (artisans and admin staff) to create the magic. We are our best when we work as a team. As a business owner, it’s imperative to wear the hat of a consumer. You can only fully understand your customer when you wear his/her shoes. Thinking like a consumer has helped me design, produce, and sell to other consumers. I wear the two hats interchangeably.

8) YOU ARE AN INSPIRATION TO MANY, WHO/WHAT INSPIRES YOU? Hard work and focus inspire me. People with the ability to put in work and make sacrifices for the pursuit of something greater are those I look up to. It’s easy to be good, but it takes a lot more to be great.

9) WHAT MOTIVATES YOU?

Be true to yourself

10) WHAT ADVICE WILL YOU GIVE TO MODERN DAY LADIES AND YOUTHS WITH THE ZEAL TO GROW?

To all the young women out there, I encourage you to dream. No dream is too big if you have a plan of execution. It’s ok to fail at the first or second attempt. Learn from the mistakes so you can avoid them in the future. There’s no short cut. Every successful person has paid their dues. Celebrate the small victories, but don’t let them make you complacent. Seek knowledge, for it will always come in handy!

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