It’s difficult to follow your dream. It’s a tragedy not to. ~Ralph Martson
N10,000. That’s all the start-up capital Eseoghene Odiete (aka Ese) had to launch her fashion brand, Hesey Designs, in 2013. Don’t let the zeros fool you though. At that time, it converted to approximately $60. Ese was a new Mass Communication graduate from the University of Covenant with no formal fashion training to speak of. Yet, today, Ese is an award winning fashion and social entrepreneur who just so happened to have made a pair of kicks for British Billionaire Entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson! So how did she turn the $60 to a Fashion front-runner?
“Don’t wait for a perfect moment because there is nothing like that. Start with what you have and as you move everything will fall into place.”
~ Ese in an interview with Daily Trust Nigeria
Two things Ese was sure about. That home-grown business and trade would help develop Africa and that she was very intrigued by the fashion industry. So, she took the initial capital to buy her first set of accessories, materials and buckles to make her first products. From the sales, she used the money to produce more which got the Hesey Designs train running. But it was going to take more to keep it on track.
“The Internet doesn’t know my age or my gender so I was able to use that to my benefit”
~ Ese in an interview with Pulse Nigeria
That’s where the internet came in. Firstly, she needed to understand the industry she was branching into. Thus, Ese self-taught herself skills and techniques through platforms we use every day, such as Google search and YouTube. She also immersed herself in online articles and books on business management as well as stories of entrepreneurs who had come before her. The internet came in handy when it was time to get the products to the masses. Ese located contacts for magazines and blogs to feature her products through some nifty online investigations. And since she lacked the capital to set up a physical store, she opted to sell her handcrafted Afrocentric fashion accessories online too.
Additionally, the internet played a major role in setting up what has become Hesey Designs most memorable moment. An online, Apprentice-style competition called the Enterprise Challenge encouraged young Nigerian entrepreneurs to pitch their entrepreneurial journeys and business ideas to Virgin. From 1000 entrants, Ese and Nasir Abdulqadir Yammama were awarded a £5000 grant and a scholarship to the Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship in South Africa. In addition, they received a mentoring session with Branson himself. Ese had the honour of designing Ankara sneakers for Branson that he wore during the launch of Virgin Atlantic’s new uniforms and 30th Anniversary celebration in London.
“I want young women to look up to me and say: if Ese can do this, then I can do it.”
~ Ese in an interview with Google
Ese is a firm believer that in empowering women, you can empower the community around her. Accordingly, she has been the Key note Speaker at events such as the Diamond bank Business Enterprise conference, the Connect ZA/British Council on the business of fashion in South Africa, the British Council Mind the gap conference, the Future Awards enterprise program, and the Blank White sheet event at University of Nairobi, to mention a few.
Furthermore, she runs the Hesey Designs Empowerment Centre that has helped over 50 of Nigeria’s Small and Medium scale Business owners. This program offers training classes to help women and marginalized youth to learn the trade and build a business of their own. The course tackles elements both on the design process and the business side. For example the former teaches material sourcing and selection, learning basic pattern cutting techniques, industrial sewing machine skills and shoe production. While the latter takes on business registration, developing business plans, product branding, website development, securing capital strategies and overall business management.
Being a young entrepreneur isn’t easy; especially if you don’t have the financial backing to begin with. But Ese’s sheer determination to learn and her ability to cease opportunities has helped her grow Hesey Designs to what it is today. These custom-made apparels and accessories has named her one of Africa’s 25 best entrepreneurs under 25 in 2015. She has also been brand influencer for Sprout by HP and was also part of the Coca Cola a billion reason to believe in Africa Campaign. But most notably, she has taken her experience and aims to make the fashion entrepreneurial journey a little easier for the women to come.