Felicia Alegu is the Chief Executive Officer of Feliken Designers, a bag-producing outfit in Alimosho area of Lagos State, Nigeria. In this interview with KEN BELE, the highly talented lady, who uses manual sewing machines in making a variety of very beautiful bags, speaks on why she left the teaching profession for bagproduction. She also shares her joy as an entrepreneur
What about Feliken Designers?
We are into bag production. We produce travel bags, lady’s bags, lunch bags, computer bags, duffle bags among others.
What inspired you into bag production?
My realisation of the need to explore my God-given potential in a manner that will enable me teach others and earn a living.
Was that your plan, initially? If not, what then was your initial plan?
My initial plan was to become a fashion designer, but I hate any environment that is too busy; that industry is saturated. So, I needed something very unique. The opportunity came in 2013 when I met a lady who makes drapes, sheers, quilts, bags, bedsheets, etc. Ikeyed into it with special interest in bag designing and production. She thought me to make school bags, lunch bags and souvenir bags. With that basic knowledge, I started my own outfit and was able to add other types of bag in my collection.
What were you doing before then?
I am a trained teacher. I obtained my National Certificate of Education 15 years ago. I used to teach Mathematics, Biology and Physics, but left teaching because it did not give me the time to engage in other meaningful activities. Again, the remuneration in the private sector of education is too poor, yet it is not pensionable. How can a trained teacher be earning N11,000 monthly for working eight to nine hours daily? It was quite retrogressive and annoying, so I had to leave.
I have no regrets at all. I now run my own business and nothing can be compared with freedom. I am happy to be an entrepreneur rather than labour and earn as little as N132,000 for a whole year.
When was that?
Seven years ago.
Now, tell us more about the types of bag you produce?
Like I stated earlier, we make travel bags, lady’s handbags, computer bags, school bags, lunch bags, shopping bags, beach bags, duffle bags, gym bags,pouches, backpack, etc.
How do you get your design?
Mainly, we pick our designs from catalogues, newspapers and magazines. We also copy those we see with people. We pick from the internet as well as design new ones.
What effort have you made towards passing this your creative knowledge to others?
We have trained five persons; four women and one man. Currently, we have two female trainees.
You train men too?
Why not? Men are even easier to train than women because they concentrate more.
Where do you see this business in the next 10 years?
There are a lot of opportunities in this business. We are just scratching the surface. A lady brought a computer bag she bought abroad for us to copy and when we finished, she was unable to differentiate between the two. Guess what? She said she bought the original one$100 (about N38,000), but the one we copied for her went for N8,000. Imagine if one should be exporting them!
What plans do you have for the business?
Good question. My major plan now is to prepare more for the business. As you can see, there is alot of room for improvement. I intend to go to Aba, Abia State, for further training, after which we shall establish a training centre, where we will be training interested people on bag making.
To what extent do you think the location of a business contributes to its success?
The location of a business contributes much to its success but that is secondary. The major factor in our line is‘quality of work’. Most of our clients are people from Ikoyi, Lekki and Victoria Island, who saw some of our products, picked interest in them and traced us here. So, quality speaks louder than location.
What have been your major challenges and how have you been coping with them?
Ourmajor challenge is finance. We don’t have enough money to acquire most of our shop’s basic needs. Another is inadequate power supply. Electricity supply in this part of the state (Alimosho) is too poor. They supply light three times weekly and that’s mostly in the midnight. I use manual sewing machine. I don’t use generator often because I hate noise. Another challenge is space. This space is not enough for us to admit up to 20 percent of those willing to join us. We are just managing everything.
People always site finance as a major challenge in their businesses, but divert such funds to other needs when they receive them. What is your take?
That is very wrong. It could be one of the reasons the government is not willing to assist Small and Medium-sized Enterprises through grants or even loans, as promised.I hate fund diversion.
What effects do government policies have on your business?
They have very serious negatively effect on us. For instance, a yard of leather we bought N1,350 last year, now sells for N2,100. So do other items. Traders attribute this high rise to increase in tariffs.Worse still, the assistance the Federal Government promised SMEs appears not to be obtainable anymore. With the Coronavirus Disease, nobody is talking about that anymore.
What other businesses do you think you can also do very well?
I can run a restaurant very well, teach, trade, farm, etc. I am only sticking to this one because of the joy I derive from it.I enjoy seeing my own products; it’s so gratifying for me that I could pick up a piece of leather, cut it into pieces and assemble the pieces into a meaningful product that is more beautiful than I expected. Above all, I enjoy my status as an entrepreneur.
What about the monetary incentives?
(Smiles) I also enjoy the fruit of my labour.
How long does it take to learn this trade?
It takes slow learners six months to graduate, while fast learners graduate within four months.
What other information would you like to share with us?
I use this opportunity to advise our youths to learn a trade or two while they are still in the secondary school or upon completion. The world has changed so drastically that the only way forward is self- employment.