Lockdown Economy Nigeria in a Handcraft Business with Onehita Blessing Idonor
The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Timothy Matindi
The Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.
In this interview, we meet Onehita Blessing Idonor, the Lead designer of Onehi Afrique, Ankara Accessory designs in Asaba, Nigeria. We talked about her business, she mentioned that although Nigeria has since lifted its lockdown, she is still affected by the lockdown of other countries since the bulk of her clientele is abroad. She, however, had to sell her expertise teaching her skills to others within her community. She hopes to get some machinery such as electric sewing machines to prepare for the post lockdown economy.
Onehita can you tell us about your business? Can you tell us about what you do?
Onehita: Hi, I am Onehita Blessing Idonor, I am the brain behind Onehi Afrique, and we do basically accessories, interior and ready to wear dresses with African print.
Can you just briefly tell me about your business? Do you have employees? Do you have people you currently employ?
Onehita: Yes, currently we have 2 and one intern.
How many clients you have currently?
Onehita: I could give an estimate, close to 30–50 clients.
What were you doing during the lockdown period? You used to be able to keep in touch with your clients, are you able to service your employees? I understand that the lockdown was like a curfew at some point, nobody was moving anywhere, nobody was sending anything anywhere. So how were you able to manage your employees and also to keep up with your client base?
Onehita: During the lockdown, it was a really different phase in the business, we have never had that at all. For my employees we had to do a reschedule of salaries, and for clients, we were not able to deliver at the time, but for the clients, we already have their measurements, we had to make dresses for them and keep till after the lockdown because we still had items we were supposed to deliver before the commencement of the lockdown, so we had to make them. Employees were not able to come to work. We totally went into lockdown. There was nothing we could do at the time, until the phase where we had curfew where we could come out at a specific time and go back in, then we could do some work at that time.
I’ve followed your business for a while, and most of the things you do are handcraft kind of business- you work with Ankara, you make things like the bonnet, you do a lot of stuff with Ankara, and I also understand that a significant number of your clients are based abroad and not in Nigeria, can you briefly tell us how you have been able to manage this set of clients.
Onehita: Abroad clients were a no-no for us at the time because even if you have got your orders, there is no market open for you to buy and for you got make them, so what we got to do at the time was to check in on them, because as much as it was in Nigeria, it was more severe abroad, so what we could do at that time was to make sure that they are fine, that they are safe, sending that love and light to them was as much as we could do.
Did you try anything different during this period? Your workers/ employees were not coming to work and you were not able to deliver to your customers. Was there anything different that you tried that worked for you, or was there anything that you feel you could have done differently?
Onehita: I was only able to reach out to one person within my community and ask if she was willing to learn the craft. I recall I taught one person Ankara craft within my neighbourhood, and I wish I could have access to other persons to teach, that’s like adding value in the midst of the pandemic.
That’s amazing, you transitioned from just making the handcrafts to teaching people how to make it themselves since it will not always be possible to reach out to them, to make for them and then deliver to them.
So how is your business growing right now? Are you doing better now than you were before the lockdown?
Onehita: Since the beginning of the lockdown in Nigeria, because abroad it’s almost the same, we are gradually coming up, but we still don’t have so much access abroad, because everybody is on lockdown, and whoever who is going to wear these accessories is on lockdown.
I understand that your international access is not as much as it used to be. So what about within Nigeria, are continuing teaching people to make this craft, or what are you currently doing in Nigeria? To your Nigerian client or what are you doing for them.
Onehita: We are open; we are back to business for our clients in Nigeria. We are business as usual
Do you have an idea about your competition? Do you have an idea of them? Those doing the same business you are doing, do you have an idea how they are fairing if they are delivering to the international market or not, or what is it they are doing in Nigeria.
Onehita: I have contact with one or two accessory designers, and it’s almost the same thing as mine, so I guess we are all at the same place at this time.
Is there anything you are expecting within the next few months like you are really optimistic about something about your business?
Onehita: To get back to international ties. One of Onehi as a brand is to spread African products to the whole world, and that would not be possible if we are just left in Nigeria so we have to spread out. I wish the whole lockdown would be out and the whole world would get back to its place, and we all embark to our usual. That’s all I wish for right now.
I think that will be possible with the results we are seeing for the vaccine so maybe let’s say that between now and January you will be able to get your full access to your international clients.
Can you name 3 things that you need help with as regards to your business?
Onehita: We need more machinery to push the work, to up production. Maybe access to a good camera so that we can have a personal photoshoot. That’s basically it for now.
What about the last 2? Are you not thinking about getting into a partnership with a logistics company so that you reduce your cost of sending your goods abroad?
Onehita: Yes, that should be one of them.
About the Guest
Onehi Afrique is No1 Ankara Accessory Plugin Asaba, Nigeria for Bonnet & Scrunchies, we ship worldwide and accept orders in both retail and wholesales.