Temituokpe Esisi, from Professional Lawyer to Tailor to Fashion Business
When Temituokpe Esisi appeared on the same stage with some of the most famous, powerful and influential women in the world, including Hillary Clinton, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and a galaxy of other celebrities, in Washington DC in 2009, to receive the coveted Vital Voices Entrepreneurship Award, it marked a turning point in the life of the lawyer who traded her wig for the scissors and tape of a tailor.
"It was a humbling experience," according to Temituokpe… "I was decked out in my own contemporary African fashion creation, to the admiration of all present."
Although she studied Law and attended the mandatory one-year Law School Programme, Temituokpe only practiced law for nine months. Her passion and dream were somewhere else. The Law firm she joined was starting a new office in Lagos and as the pioneer staff, the job of setting up the office - furniture, office design and layout, partitioning, painting, etc. fell to her. She thoroughly enjoyed the work so much so that when the real business of law commenced, she discovered that she actually had more fun setting up the office than handling clients' briefs.
Nine months after she started her legal career, she left to pursue her passion - having fun, creating stuff. And she chose to become a tailor. A tailor? You mean fashion designer? "No, I called myself a Tailor, because that was what I was." She retorted. "I didn't see what I was doing in the early days as different from what a regular tailor did; I was actually cutting and making clothes."
How did it all start? Where did the interest or skill come from?
Temituokpe has always made things. She has always been the creative type, and always sought opportunities to express her creativity. As a young girl, growing up, she always made her own dolls and other toys. While in the university, she baked cakes and made valentine fabric flowers which she sold to other students. And she made enough money while in school to live comfortably, while having fun at the same time.
So it was easy to understand why she didn't have the heart and passion for wading through case files in the office.
Although she started out and operated for a while as a tailor, it took her attending the Goldman Sachs-sponsored 10,000 Women Entrepreneurship programme at the Enterprise Development School of the Lagos Business School for her to truly appreciate the potential of her business.
At the programme, she was introduced to the concepts of business strategy, strategic business plans, target marketing, etc, and participated in business simulation classes. "This was a transformational experience for me, because prior to this, I knew the technical aspects of what I was doing, but was yet to fully appreciate the depth and breadth of the business side."
It was after this Goldman Sachs programme that I realized I was more than a tailor. I was in the fashion business; because there were opportunities in my business that I was not focusing on such as purchasing, production, design, marketing, exports, etc.
Her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs:
1. Start your business as a hobby, to gauge the level of interest in what you are doing and whether it would have commercial value. Offer your products to people in your Internal cycle - friends, family members, colleagues, etc and then gradually broaden the base.
2. Take some lessons. Before she ventured out fully, she engaged someone to give her a three-month intensive training in pattern making the technical aspect of her business. She also continues to conduct research as well as formal and informal interviews of stakeholders in the chosen line of business.
For some weeks (from 16th March, 2009), Temituokpe Esisi, graced the Home Page of Goldman Sachs, courtesy of the 2009 Vital Voices Entrepreneurship Award. This is no mean achievement.
Goldman Sachs is the world's most powerful financial institution with a balance sheet size of over $currency_symbol$51bn, a workforce of about 30,500 people worldwide and several offices in 43 countries. Kudos to Temituokpe for bringing inestimable pride to our beloved country.