How granddad inspired my love for fashion — Ben

Sonia Ben is a fashion designer, and the founder of Shop Stab. She tells MOTUNRAYO AKINRUN about her business

What is your educational background?

For my elementary education, I attended Thescol Private School. I also attended Thescol College, located off CMD Road, Magodo, Lagos.

I later studied Medical Laboratory Science, with a major in Chemical Pathology from Babcock University in Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State.

I also have some certifications in Fashion and Business administration, and I plan to get more certificates moving forward.

Do you have any corporate work experience?

Yes, I do. I worked for a while at Ogun State Government Hospital, Ota, Ogun State.

You once mentioned that you discovered your love for fashion under the tutelage of your grandfather. In what ways did he influence you?

My grandfather was a fashionable man. He loved good clothes, and he also encouraged me to always look good. He always took me window shopping in the evenings. When I was deciding on a career path and it looked like I was going to drop fashion to go the medical route, he encouraged me to keep both.

What’s the idea behind the name of your business, ‘Shop Stab’?

It is actually a funny story. When I was in secondary school, I had a sketch book where I used to sketch dresses for ‘Sonia Tessy Adaobi Ben House of Fahion’, as I used to call it then. But, one day, a friend saw it and she called it STAB (my initials), and from there, it stuck. To make it easier, I added ‘shop’ to the name.

Is your company registered?

Yes, the business is registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission.

What motivated you to start your own business?

Even though it was always clear that it was going to happen, what motivated me was how I never found my dress size whenever I went shopping. I am a size four by the way, so I discovered that there was a market and an untapped niche there, and I opted to fill that vacuum.

How much was your initial capital, and how did you raise it?

My initial capital was N73,000. I had N43,000 in savings, and my grandmother supported me with N30,000.

What major challenges have you faced in the course of running the business?

The major challenge I have encountered was when I could no longer pay for social media advertisements with my naira debit card due to some limitations placed by the Central Bank of Nigeria last year. I then had to resort to other means. It was a really difficult time for the business, but I was able to find a way around it.

What do you consider to be the highlights of the business?

There have been so many of them, but I would say getting recognitions tops the list. It is really encouraging to be appreciated for what one does.

What’s the toughest job you’ve ever handled?

That would be a bespoke dress I was making before I had a minor accident, and I could not use my legs, which left me with one night to finish the dress. But, at the end of the day, it came out really beautifully.

Who are the people you admire in this line of business?

There are a lot of people I admire. They include Gbemi Okunlola of Alonuko,  Andrea Iyamah and Deola Sagoe, who are all fashion designers that have made their marks in different ways.

 There are lots of fashion designers out there. What sets you apart from others?

One thing that sets me apart is the niche I cater to, which is majorly petite women.

How do you advertise the business?

I advertise my business using Facebook Marketplace. However, about 50 per cent of my customers come from referrals.

What kind of support did you receive from your family and friends when you started the business?

I always say that I have the best people around me. My family members were very warm and supportive. They really encouraged me. My friends were there for me too. As a matter of fact, they were my first customers. My best friend has been super supportive of everything I do.

How do you deal with difficult customers?

I have an interesting experience in this regard. I once had a pricing error on my website. A dress of N14,000 was wrongly advertised for N14, and a customer ordered it. I reached out to her, explaining to her that there was an error, but she insisted that I should deliver the dress for that price.

What are the personal qualities you have that help your business?

The major one is creativity. Also, I have good communication and negotiation skills. I can be meticulous, and I always demand perfection in every aspect.

Nigeria is experiencing huge brain drain, with many professionals travelling out of the country to seek greener pastures. What do you think about that, vis-a-vis staying in the country and running a business?

People have their reasons to seek better opportunities outside the country, although sometimes, it might or might not work out for them as they envisaged.

Personally, I believe it depends on what drives one as a person, and what one’s life goals are. Running a business in Nigeria comes with many challenges, such as infrastructure limitations, and economic fluctuations. However, with the right vision, creativity and business acumen, these challenges can be navigated to create a successful and fulfilling enterprise.

What are your short-term and long-term goals for your career?

My short-term goals for my career would be to participate in more fashion exhibitions, collaborate with influencers, get published and improve my technical skills.

As regards my long-term goals, I am working to make my brand a household name. I also want to become a sought after global talent, and win awards in my field, while promoting sustainable fashion.

What advice do you have for other young entrepreneurs, who want to start a fashion designing business?

The advice I can give to them is— start, and be true to yourself. Whatever you think makes sense, believe it does. Also, don’t be discouraged. There are millions of birds in the sky, and they all have space to fly without colliding. The world is big enough for you for to spread your wings and fly.

Do you make your own clothes? If yes, how do you like to dress?

Yes, I make my own clothes. I like a sophisticated but minimal look.

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