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Eclectic Chique: Building Sustainability into a Brand's Ethos

November 19, 2021 22 min read

Any mistakes are the result of the transcription software

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION:

Michaela from Ocelot Market:

Today I’m speaking with Teni Majekodunmi with Eclectic Chique founded in 2012. And first off I wanted to start with thanking you for being with us today, Teni, and definitely happy to have you guys join us on Ocelot Market. I love the textiles. Absolutely gorgeous.Very colorful. And I'm definitely looking forward to being able to promote you guys more too. And just wanted to start out with asking you for a general introduction Teni, how'd you get into this line of work and what's your role in Eclectic Chique these days?

Teni from Eclectic Chique:

Great. Well, thank you so much for having me Michaela. I am super pleased and excited to be on this podcast with you as well as to get Eclectic Chique on Ocelot Market.

My name is Teni Majekodunmi. I'm the founder and CEO of Eclectic Chique, an African-inspired accessories brand. Now an award-winning accessories brand, and we've now widened our range to produce sustainably sourced artisan made lifestyle and fashion products. And our products range from unique fashion and home accessories to now we've just widened to caftans and kimonos. 

Why did I start Eclectic Chique? Well a couple of things, but the main one was a family tragedy and it was quite painful. I lost my sister in a plane crash. It really just devastated my whole family and then started out, as a therapy for me, you know, cause I wasn't sleeping.

But I always had like an interest and love for designing and putting things together. My background is law. And I know a lot of lawyers have attention to detail [as] one of our [skills] and critical analysis, but we also like art. That's pretty much where this passion came from as well as the grief. So what started out as my therapy then turned into a hobby, a passion, and then it turned into a fully fledged business and it was just amazing to be able to record so many milestones. I really believe that my sister was different. Shining her light on this business and still is, because whenever I would go to talk about the brand and what we're trying to do. So many doors just kept opening and that literally is what kind of spurred me on. A lot of people do see that as my passion, to be honest, that, you know, encourages people, that makes people love the brand so much.

And I'm thankful for that passion, but there's also like an innate interest in wanting to create something unique and ticks so many boxes with just one main with a business particularly. So the other main part of the business is the sustainable angle, which has been able to create jobs for Nigerian and youth and the women. And just to be able to create a unique product, a finished product out of Africa, which is very rare because Africa is known for unfinished products and taking them out for exporting, cuckoo and all these other unfinished products. But really the value you decide who you as the designer can decide what the value of the product is and so to be able to generate more revenue for the business and also the artisans and create more jobs and tick a lot of the SDG goals. It was a no-brainer and it was something that I had interest in. So it was a multi-pronged approach, but all in one, and it's just remarkable to be able to see how [far] we've been able to take the business, grow it so quickly and it's going to be 10 years now. And time has really flown, but we have shown so much progression and recorded so many amazing milestones and it's been wonderful to be able to see the journey. And we're still evolving as time goes on.

Michaela from Ocelot Market:

Wow, that's an amazing reason why an amazing story. I’m very sorry to hear that.

Teni from Eclectic Chique:

Yeah. It's really interesting to see how it's grown so quickly and to be able to start. I mean, when we first started, I was the main and only staff for a very long time and then I got the design right and then I started working with artisans. I started working with one artisan. And then now we have 77 artisans. A lot are on a contract basis, but we always have ruling contracts because the way Nigeria is, I mean, 200 million people, there's always a market for whatever it is that you're trying to do. So we've just increased our sales channels to be able to have work for the artisans or around whereby it's producing wholesale for the international markets too through the trade shows that we go to or whether it's the local wholesale market whereby we have a lot of parties and souvenirs to always have work for the artisans.

And that in return makes them more organized. It makes them more sustainable for their businesses and their lifestyle. And they're able to also save, because that's one thing that really is important to me as a business owner, for them also to be able to see some kind of growth in our artisans, there must be a change. You can't be where you were five years ago. That's what I always tell them. And so it's so important that the sales channels of how we are generating revenue for the business is something that I focus on every single day. Absolutely it's been very difficult to still carry all the other aspects of the business in terms of the aesthetics, in terms of the, the comms departments, the fundraising, and also, you know, the design still having a trendy unique design and staying on trend.

So having to manage all of these hats and balance them well is a skill that I have developed and am kind of good at, or not bad at over the years. And I'm quite happy that I've been able to change that, but it is pressure. I must say, it's not, it's not been easy. It hasn't been a straightforward journey. It's a lot of pressure, especially during the pandemic, that was something that really shook us. And we were so fortunate that masks was something that fell under our ambit as an accessories brand. And so we just hit the ground running as soon as masks were approved by the WHO, we literally just started moving really quickly. And we had to do a lot of work during the lockdown. And it was so strange because the government only accredited certain businesses to continue doing the work of the production of the masks.

And so we had to go and get a pass. We had to get a bus to hire to bring all the artisans together. We had to convert a pocket of the factory to accommodation, but maintaining all the protocols, making sure social distance, we created beds out of foams and we had to sew them ourselves because we had all the machinery. We had all the materials for it, which was very fortuitous, but we had to just create that avenue and doing all that in a lockdown was not easy at all. But I must say I was super proud of the way my supervisor, production manager, and the artisans themselves rallied around me and they really just made it happen. And they all wore their masks and they made it happen and we did the job. So it really helped us because we were able to at least pay off a lot of our debt from 2020, 2019, because 2020 was a big year for us. We had gone to a trade show and we had gotten for the first time our biggest ever job. But unfortunately, even after signing the contract, getting the LPO, the purchase order written, the buyers had to come back and cancel the job because of the pandemic, and the way things were going. So it was a real disappointment for us at the beginning of 2020. But when this opportunity came, we literally had to just run with it. And that's pretty much what saved our business from going under in 2020.

Michaela from Ocelot Market:

That's amazing. Have you found that some of the buyers have come back and things have gotten a little more normal to where people are purchasing wholesale?

Teni from Eclectic Chique:

So we had our first wholesale order in October, which was last month. And that was the first in almost two years now. Masks were pretty much what wholesale orders we had been getting as well from 2020 to now. But for the first time products that were not masks, it only just happened last month. It was a small order, but at least it's a wholesale order. So we're hoping that things will pick up a little bit, a lot more of those cause we're ready.

Michaela from Ocelot Market:

Absolutely.

Teni from Eclectic Chique:

Even the parties stopped. So we couldn't do any favors. So all of our sales channels, which really reduced, but we were so thankful that at least we had our six sales channels going on. So even if there's only two or one that's working each month, at least they would always be a way we can pay salaries to all the artisans and sustain the business and pay our working capital.

Michaela from Ocelot Market:

Yeah, absolutely. What's the current situation like in Nigeria related to the pandemic, you said of course no parties, which has of course been an international sort of feeling with the pandemic, but have you guys gotten a little bit back to the way things were or…? This is feels like a very naive question.

Teni from Eclectic Chique:

No, at all. Absolutely not. It's been so interesting because it was a lot of stop and start from 2021. As you may know the numbers in Nigeria were not really as high as they were in Europe and America. A lot of people are still on shore. I mean, it wasn't like people were dropping dead on the road because we didn't test as many definitely as the US and Europe did, but we didn't really have as high a number of cases. We still don't know why that is. A lot of people say the population of Africa is young. Old age rate is quite low. So there aren’t that many, a lot of people also say the weather, we still don't know what exactly it was, but we're very thankful because we're very disadvantaged already with not as good healthcare as the rest of the world.

And so we really could not afford to have high cases, to be honest, but we were still very careful. Our government worked extremely hard to make sure that people conformed, because they knew the risks. They couldn't even afford the risk of not doing it. And so it wasn't until...I know September was a terrible month for us because nothing really happened. And then October first everything just picked up. It was so weird. It was almost like everyone was tired of staying in. Things had opened up, but people were still very unsure about coming out. Parties had began, but smaller numbers, 50 and lower, I think I would say that Nigeria is definitely back now, the last six weeks, eight weeks of properly back, I knew there was a curfew for a very long time, but the curfew has been lifted [...] getting ready for the Christmas holiday. Cause Christmas is a big time and they are lots of parties or events that happen where people are still being safe, wearing a mask. Life is back--almost back.

Michaela from Ocelot Market:

That's good. And out of curiosity, did you, so I know you're in England right now, did you move to Nigeria for this business or were you living in Nigeria?

Teni from Eclectic Chique:

Oh no. I was living in Nigeria. My children are in school in Nigeria. But because of the way that business is, we do have to conduct distribution here in the UK. So we have a big market here in the UK because I went to school here, my husband and I went to school here, and we have very close ties with the UK. So do a lot of Nigerian families. So that's what always gets me back here.

Michaela from Ocelot Market:

No, that's great. And so out of curiosity, do you still do anything in law?

Teni from Eclectic Chique:

Very good question. I still use a lot of my law to do a lot of other businesses that I do and trade. I now do a lot of consulting, especially for the United Nations on trade, and women and trade, to women accessing international markets. And the position with the UN has to be for someone who's a lawyer. And so it was a perfect fit for me. So that I still get to use that side of my brain, which is really refreshing because sometimes you need a change and you also need to mix it up a bit. So I'm quite happy that I am able to still use that. The other aspects that I'm very passionate about and that I've always worked in before I started my business was in climate change and the legal issues that have to do with renewable energy projects in particular and I used to specialize in and I still do, and I wear a separate hat for that. And that's why I was at COP26.

Michaela from Ocelot Market:

Yes. I thought that's what we were going to start out with. It was definitely fascinating that you were like “I'm I'm in Glasgow”. So please tell us--please tell me a little bit about your experience there. How did you end up going?

Teni from Eclectic Chique:

I used to work with the Nigerian government and funny enough, I'll go back a bit about Eclectic Chique. It still stems from the whole sustainability angle, which is still very important and it's still relevant and using sustainable textiles and trying to be more eco-friendly. And so I guess, subconsciously I've just always been still mixing it up with climate change just from a textile perspective. But before I did start Eclectic Chique my other hat was working in renewable and finding cleaner ways to basically live our lives better. And also looking at the legal issues involved in [inaudible] projects and also climate finance, because as much as we are looking to get a sustainable world, there needs to be some kind of either an incentive or a target that needs to be put in place to be able to encourage more people to do more of this.

And that's where climate finance really comes in to be able to generate some kind of tax break or revenue or a carbon credit of some sort to the government, that is country or individuals who are actually taking--painstakingly making an effort to reduce their GHG emissions or their carbon emissions and to live in a cleaner manner. And so that's where my climate finance background comes in. So I used to work with the Nigerian government, a lot of consulting for the Ministry of Environment in particular. And that is why I was part of the delegation to go to the COP26 Glasgow. So in the past I used to actually do a lot of the negotiations for the Nigerian government before I started my business Eclectic Chique. And I did the negotiations for COP16 that was in Cancún, Mexico.

And the negotiations I actually have handled are the issues related to the clean development in Canada, which is carbon credit. And that was my area of expertise. And so this year my delegation reached out, and invited me to be part of the delegation from Nigeria going. And it was something that I was so happy about. It's a pivotal time, especially after the pandemic, we need to build back better. And I was so happy that everybody was thinking that way at COP in Glasgow and because of the social injustice, which, is very unfortunate because the social injustice is that the people, the countries that are disadvantaged the most from climate change did not actually add to the climate change. They were not even part of the countries that created the excessive GHG because we were not industrialized. And so because of that, it worked out that countries will be accountable and we'll be able to develop or pledge to keeping the climate levels below 1.5 and also developed countries who actually participated or who were industrialized would be pledging a certain amount of money to developing countries each year. And I think the amount is a hundred billion dollars of what has been said. Will be pledged, kind of agreed on that. So hopefully it would make the countries that are suffering the most from climate change would be able to have some form of [inaudible] approach whereby they would hopefully be able to reduce GHG emissions and, and not necessarily have to go through the industrialized process that maybe other countries would be able to live better and have a less effect of climate change on their location. And so that's pretty much what really happened. There's so much technology. What I love the most about this particular COP was the fact that everyone is a lot more serious about it because of the pandemic. It kind of made everyone stop and learn to build back better, but also to realize that we can all just take it one little chunk at a time, we all don't have to be doing the same thing.

In the days of the COP meeting is broken into thematic areas, which is what pretty much happened in the last couple of COPs, but it was nicer this time around cause everyone could really see what the thematic areas they wanted to work in and how everyone can put in their own 2 cents to make this a personal action towards a global effort. And I think that that's the best way to go about it. My thematic areas are climate finance and also energy. And I'm interested in gender and transport. And I choose transport because Nigeria is a country of 200 million people and getting people in cars is not really the best way to reduce emissions, but putting them in trains and finding easier ways to move people around with less fuels or cleaner fuels. It's something that is of interest to me. And it's so refreshing to see the change from when I was at the last COP 10 years ago to this COP.

And also to even seeing how much has changed and things have gotten a lot less expensive, like 10 years ago. There's a lot more solar panels being used in our countries like Nigeria. And also the electric cars are becoming a lot more efficient and there's a lot more collaboration happening with--Mercedes is having their own renewable hybrid system everyone is using. It's not just Tesla working on cleaner or electric cars, even electricity to now there's something in Sweden. Sweden has found a way to create steel in a cleaner method which is going to reduce GHGs by a significant amount. It's just the technology and the research and development that has not stopped. That is what I think it makes me so excited that it's going to come; it made the journey--I've been in this space for now about 15 years and it’s made the journey worth it and made those nights, blood, sweat, and tears of sadness of not reaching a decision or, you know, at the end of the 14-day conference, nothing happened. But this time around it feels different, and we'll see that there has been evolution, there has been progression in the last 10 years when it comes to renewables.

Michaela from Ocelot Market:

That's amazing. I'm trying to think of what the right question to ask you is for a response to sort of the work you're doing. And it's almost like I want to ask you, and this may be a little bit vague, but how do you see sort of the work at COP26 in the work that Nigeria needs as a response from other nations for progressing some of these goals? How do you see that sort of happening and overlaying with the work that you do with Eclectic Chique, like the artisan work and why is it important and how does it all interact together? That feels like a very complicated question.

Teni from Eclectic Chique:

No, not really. It's still about creating sustainability for future generations. And we work mainly with a lot of youth and young people getting them off the streets. So it's really all about Sustainable Development Goals. And that's one thing that Nigeria has really strengthened and worked so much with that aspect of those United Nations’ goals, because it's, we can literally do so much for that generation. Then we're already on the right path. I know that particularly in terms of what Nigeria is doing, when I used to do, but there are loads of renewable projects that we do to get people off the streets, or there's like a program whereby we're cleaning up spaces, or loads more--cleaning up trees then cleaning up the areas, cleaning up the environment. But now all this waste can turn to wealth. And there are lots of waste to energy types of projects going around.

And a lot of these youths and artisans are being, or the youth that are, are jobless, jobless youths or don’t have any work, they are being used in this way to be able to, I mean, I use the word “use” loosely, but to be able to at least solve a problem and bigger change. So they're creating jobs to be honest. And that is one way that I really like the fact that Nigeria has 200 million people or less than plus or minus 200 million people living in the country. Labor is not a problem. It's something that we can actually use to our own benefit, and it’s something that will favor everyone because at least some we’re creating jobs, there’s sustainable development going on and it will be better for us in the long run.

Michaela from Ocelot Market:

Do you see any key takeaways from COP26, for retailers and really anybody working in the fashion industry? I mean, we definitely see a lot of media about the fast fashion industry needing to change.

Teni from Eclectic Chique:

Definitely. I mean, I know Stella McCartney, a few other fashion brands came to COP. There were quite a bit, but I think that the way it would happen will just be buy sustainable, be more ethical, finding out where our clothing is made and also just by buying smaller, shopping cleaner, shopping smaller. And I am realizing that I'm doing a lot more of that now. I'm not really shopping as much as I used to sort of subconsciously I guess it is happening. And I think that's what that mindset shift needs to come. And I think it is coming to a lot more people. And also designers are realizing that you have to also produce smaller so that you don't over produce. And we have that issue at Eclectic Chique because in March of this year, we actually moved to creating certain lines and a new production line, or we changed things around and we created the nostalgia collection, which is all of the products that we had in stock. And that's what we're selling off. Now, once it's gone, it's gone. We're not producing it again. Cause we're trying to avoid overproduction and we're trying to be a lot more sustainable. So if people really want the product, then they can place an order. They have to be willing to wait a bit longer than before, which was two days, three days. Now they have to wait a bit longer because now we have to produce it based on what is demanded. And that in a way has kind of helped us to be more sustainable in the long run, a shorter way of saying it. But overproduction is a problem because being a manufacturer as well or a light manufacturer as I like to call it, it is one of the challenges because we don't know if it's going to sell. So you do end up producing so much. And the ones that you sometimes don’t expect to sell, are the ones that sell. With data, it has helped us to be able to select the ones that we just want to keep producing, our evergreens. Try and reduce what is not really wanted. I think that's how the fashion industry is going to have to probably tap into that. And I think there's been like a trickle down effect on all areas, all sectors. And I think that's what it's going to come to.

Michaela from Ocelot Market:

Do you see us moving into more of a made to order world? That's always been hard for me to picture in the US because people are just so used to this instant gratification.

Teni from Eclectic Chique:

I think for some things there will be, but we can't be 100% made to measure or made to order. I don't think that can ever happen because we still want things immediately. And I don't see us willing to wait. I'm not sure, but I think it's going to be a half and half because even when we had the pandemic and we were all in lock down and we all relied on retail online shopping, a lot of people still missed going in to feel brick and mortar and everybody at the beginning said this is the end of brick and mortar, but I don't think that can happen. People still want to go in and buy it immediately and get it immediately. I think it would be a hybrid. Yeah.

Michaela from Ocelot Market:

No, completely understand it. We opened our first brick and mortar this year and I've just, I've been very proud to see how many people really do want to come in. And also just from the sizing perspective, I think people really prefer it. They can try on shirts. They can try on shoes. It makes our lives a lot easier because it lessens returns.

Teni from Eclectic Chique:

Exactly. And that's one of the reasons why I was so worried about clothing because we’ve always been an accessories brand. And so even our clothing is one size fits all. So I would only do that just because of that return issue. And we've been very lucky. We've had a very low return rate and it's always because you can see a lot of it and once it’s not a size issue then it's going to fit. And so when we then opened up our own flagship store in Lagos, Nigeria, everyone was like, “finally”. Oh, okay. I was just literally giving myself a six month period. Let's see whether it would work. And it worked so well. So we still have our store since 2017. So I guess that's five years. We've had the store now and we're not looking back, but that is pretty much what saved us in the pandemic. So after the lockdown came down in Nigeria, we started doing a WhatsApp order service and picking from the shop was one of the ways that we were able to then attend to a lot of our customers. So brick and mortar definitely will be staying, but in a different way. And it’ll just be different I think.

Michaela from Ocelot Market:

Yeah, no, that's great. And it definitely helps people interact. And I also personally love the brick and mortar just cause you get sort of instant feedback too.

Teni from Eclectic Chique:

Yeah right away you know what works, what people like, and how they feel. And it's so nice to be able to converse with other people and listen to how they wore it. Like a hair accessory especially. Some people are like, “oh, I don't wear mine that way. I wear mine this way.” And I'm like, oh, okay. So now we started doing a lot more styling videos that they share their comments with us online and on social just tell us how they wore things just so that we can learn from it as well. And it's nice to be able to get that feedback.

Michaela from Ocelot Market:

No, that's great. And actually the sort of a good pivot, because one of the questions I wanted to ask you was something you alluded to before. I'm picturing you building very much a global brand. And I, I very much see that happening over the years is that we'll see more and more of Eclectic Chique popping up all over the world. How do you sort of get the word out there now about Eclectic Chique in so many different locations and even just spreading the word across Europe? I'm definitely curious about some of the ways that you guys have sort of gotten the word out there.

Teni from Eclectic Chique:

Honestly, me too. And I think that I’m not doing enough, and why I’m constantly pushing myself.

Michaela from Ocelot Market:

We always feel that way. And you, you give me the feeling that you're someone who is very, very determined and keeps very busy. I can relate to that.

Teni from Eclectic Chique:

Yeah, absolutely. And we've also just leveraged and been more intentional, especially after the pandemic. I think before the pandemic, we weren't necessarily being as intentional, but we just kind of happened and we're just going with the wind. But I must say it's just like a combined approach using as much of our networking and as much partying, having like a trickle down effect from our customers as well. Cause they have really been our rock. They have literally been the ones that have gone on and been ambassadors for us. And that has created another effect--snowball effect to an extent, of the product. But you know, all these would not be possible if we didn't focus as much on the design and the functionality, as well as the durability of the product to make customers come back. And I think that's pretty much what we have made our ethos. Part of our ethos is a unique quality, good quality product for the price. And now we're starting to be akin to disruptors or challengers or nuances that have not come about whereby we're trying to reduce the middle man, be more sustainable and give people better products, buy better, bring back better. And because we were, I was just trying to create a product that I liked and I call it “impulse buys” for the days when you're feeling so low, you just want something to pick you up a little bit, but still stays in your closet and kind of works with everything you have. And that's how I started it because I wanted that little impulse buy to go around the globe and we're seeing it happen. We want it to just be a lot faster. As you know, as we said, we're both very determined and passionate people. But yeah I think that's pretty much it. So the vision, the quality, the attention to detail and the ethos of the brand. And then obviously getting great ambassadors as customers to just keep talking about us even when we're not there has just been one of the ways.

Michaela from Ocelot Market:

That's great. Have you found that getting the word out there across the globe has been heavily reliant on social media and marketplaces or other methods too?

Teni from Eclectic Chique:

No, definitely social media has been amazing. When I first started, there was no Instagram per se, so it was very difficult to get the word out there, but we just leveraged traditional moods of PR and getting good PR [inaudible]. But we do a lot of wholesale products and you do that at the beginning and that's pretty much pushed the brand. And then someone told me about Instagram. It was amazing when I first started putting products on and then I'd see likes immediately. And you can check where the likes are from and you can see who the people are. “Wow, we see places all over the world.” And then we'll go back to our website and see the analytics and see where the people are the most where they like it and you know what? We're going to start doing pop ups. Pop ups in all these countries, wherever there’s an analytic we're going to start doing pop ups.

And that was so exhausting. But we started finding partners, working with people, the right crowd, marketplaces and it’s amazing to start seeing that result. And that's pretty much how we just kept going. And now we're just fine tuning things as we go along. But that's pretty much it. Our international partners have also been a big source of help us to be able to help improve a lot of our processes. It takes a lot to have a business solving so many value chain issues on so many levels cause like we’re the manufacturer. We also really do everything in house, from the photography to the manufacturing, everything is done in house to even just selling it ourselves, having a store. So it's a lot to manage. But I'm glad that we rolled into each space gradually and not started out with so many channels.

Michaela from Ocelot Market:

No, that's amazing. And honestly, I could ask you a thousand questions, where else can people find out more about you Teni and about Eclectic Chique?

Teni from Eclectic Chique:

Our social channels are Instagram @eclecticchique, our website (myeclecticchique.com). We also have a stockists page on our website. You can find out about us on Ocelot Market of course.

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