“When I decided to start making handbags, passion and persistence where the only skills I mastered. In the beginning, all I had were ideas. I had to find a way to translate those ideas into physical products with perceived value; that was the hard part. Finding that balance kept me going and pushed me create my very first product back in 2008.”
- Name: Haowa Bello
- Current title/ company? What’s your motto? CEO Madame Coquette, “Beauty lies in the details”
- Year you launched the company: 2008
My ComeUp Story
- Educational background? Are you self-taught or did you study fashion design? I have a background in economics but my interest in handbags led to acquire skilled knowledge in fashion and handbag construction from Parsons New York and Academia Riacci in Florence respectively.
- What sparked your interest in fashion? Describe the journey of creating your first piece? I’ve always had a love affair with fashion, but was most fascinated with handbags and their construction. The perfect finish of a handbag still gives me goose bumps! When I decided to start making handbags, passion and persistence where the only skills I mastered. In the beginning, all I had were ideas. I had to find a way to translate those ideas into physical products with perceived value; that was the hard part. Finding that balance kept me going and pushed me create my very first product back in 2008. Seeing my work come to life after what seemed like an experiment gave me the courage to continue, never looking back.
- How did you start believing in your own work and talent? What made you take fashion more seriously and make a career out of it? The truth is I love what I do and I’m willing to work as hard as I can to be good at what I do. Believing in yourself is the first up the success ladder. You have to believe in yourself and see value in what you offer. Like everyone, I have goods days when I feel like I can concur the world, and bad days when everything seems to be crashing down. As fun as fashion may be, fashion business is real business! I don’t take that for granted, I never have, and I never will.
- What is the biggest lesson that you have learned since you started your company? Set up proper structures when you start. Don’t wait to be established to put those structures in place.
- Breaking into the fashion industry isn’t an easy feat. What advice would you give to up-and-coming designers? Marketing tips? Fashion is as much a business as any other venture in any other industry. There are no short cuts. It is crucial to know your customers/clients. The more you know them, the easier it will be to create a product that would suit them. After you create the right product, based on how well you understand them, you will have a better idea on how to market the product to them.
- Do you recall any embarrassing moments you had during your come up? My first website has sooooo embarrassing! I’m still recovering from the horror! In my defence, I was only interested in getting the domain name!
- Tell us about a time you were faced with insurmountable odds, yet persevered to overcome? I had my official bag launch in July 2011. It was my first big event and I was expecting over 200 guests. It has rained for days non stop. My workshop was flooded and most of my bags were submerged in rain water! With less than 3 days to go, myself and my team had to work day and night to make new bags to put on display on the day of the show. I almost cancelled the show a day before because we didn’t have enough products to showcase. At the end of day, we managed to produce 12 bags and salvaged a few more from the flood. The event was a success and it launched my career as a handbag designer. If I had let what at the time seemed like a calamity break my spirit, maybe I would’ve given up the business altogether.
My Daily Behind the Scenes
- What is your typical week day and weekend like? What do you do when not working? Most of my days are work days. I try to take one day off a week, not necessarily a weekend. I spent my mornings running errands or in meetings then I spent all afternoon at the workshop. I usually come home around 6, on a good day. Days I’m off work, I spend it with my family. I love food so I catch up with friends over lunch or dinner as often as I can.
- Where do you find your inspiration? As the popular quote reads “your world is your canvas”, so I take that literally. I’m inspired by what is around me and by what is missing around me.
- How did you initially source materials and manufacturers? Madame Coquette products are made in Nigeria, from our workshop in Lagos. We source raw materials from a local leather market, while we import a few.
- How do you produce and distribute your designs? We have set designs we produce. We have modified and improved the designs over the last few years. We introduce new designs once in a while to give our old customers a wider range to choose from. Social media has been a very effective marketing and distribution port for our business in Nigeria. We record large sale of products on instagram from our Nigerian customers. We launched UK based online store three months ago for our UK and European customers. We have just set up a co op store in the San Francisco called VOILA. We are working on setting up an online store for our Nigerian customers to ease the buying process. We do however stock at Fusion Lifestyle Store in Abuja.
- Once you have the product, how do you get the word out? Social media has proved to be an effective tool in our business.
- Do you scope out the competition, or are you so tailored in your aesthetics that it isn’t necessary? There are so many designers out there it would be near impossible to keep an eye on all the things they are working on! Fashion usually follows a trend and most designers move with that trend. Fashion forecast usually gives designers an edge on what’s hot next season before it even comes out! It’s important to pay some attention to trend, but at the end of the day, a designer will stick to his or her aesthetics.
- What songs do you listen to that psyches you up and makes you feel strong? Too many to name! I love music! A good beat always gets my blood pumping! I love opera, classical music, hip hop, and I listen to country music in secret!
What is one thing you do when you’re feeling stuck creatively? Networking always squashes my creative block. I find interaction very educational, in a non-formal way.
My Now, My Future
- What would you like to achieve before the end of 2016? I would like to train at least 20 people under my Handbag Construction for Beginners’ Program that I just launched this month. My target is young men and women who wish to pursue a career in the field.
- What is the most meaningful project you have done? What would your dream project be? Early this year, I was a guest speaker at an event organized by ProtegeProfessional titled “My Passion, My Project”. I was so humbled after the event as so many people from the audience contacted me and shared how much they gained from my experiences. It was a fifteen minute account of my challenges and journey in business. I had no idea it would impact so many people. I still get calls and emails from some of the people that attended the event. It would be great to get to do this more often!
- What’s one dream you’ve achieved that you’re most proud of and why? I’m living my dream everyday. I wake up and I do what I love doing most; that a dream! I’m still growing and working towards the dream of building a brand that is bigger than me. A brand that is recognizable in different corners of the world. Seeing Madame Coquette bags carried by people I don’t know always gives me a sense of accomplishment; a proud moment because I know how far we have come.
- Name a charity you are passionate about & explain why it matters to you. How do you show your support? Any charity that fights for or promotes education of girls and young women is one I support. I understand the importance of educating and empowering young girls, especially orphans in my native Adamawa State. Beyond the basic education they will receive, they need mentoring. It is our responsibility to mentor and encourage them and let them realize their value to society. I have had the privilege to mentor a small group of young women on the importance of skill acquisition as a prerequisite to survival.
- If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your teenage self?I would tell myself to relax and enjoy the moment!