Oluyemisi Oyelola is an aesthetician and a fashion designer. She is the Chief Executive Officer of ‘Stylebydelmit’ and ‘Elle Pairer’, a fashion line and a premium spa, respectively. She speaks to WILLIAMS BABALOLA on how she built her businesses
When did you begin your spa business and fashion line?
I started the fashion line a long time ago. As a matter of fact, I have been in this business for more than 20 years, when fashion was not as huge. I was running just the fashion business at the time. What informed my interest is my love for good clothing. I love to dress well and wear beautiful things. I love the detail of sewing and finishing and how the silk rests on your body. When I see good clothes on people, I really admire them; those are the things that led me to float my own fashion line. Starting the business came from the urge to get more done whenever I go to make clothes because very few dressmakers will do proper work. Most fashion designers don’t pay attention to details and the finishing of sewing. This lack of satisfaction was one of the reasons I told myself I can learn to sew for others and myself. I started the spa business in 2016 when I relocated from Canada. Even before I left for Canada, I liked to look good and glow. No one wants to have wrinkles and lose skin elasticity while growing old. We don’t want to look ten times older than we are, instead, we want to look 10 times younger than our real ages. That is what I call aging gracefully. When I had the opportunity to relocate, the first thing I did was to learn everything concerning the skin. Even with makeup; I learned when to wear, why to wear and how to wear. All those things took me back to school. The first school I attended was Glow Academy where I learned all about makeup. After leaving Glow Academy, I went to Chelsea Institute of Aesthetics. It was at the institute I learned everything concerning the body; how it’s wired, the intricacies of it, what to do and what not do, what to eat and what not eat, how to take care of the body to be sickness free. It’s not like you won’t fall ill at all, but it’s not something you are causing for yourself. So, when I came back, I started the premium spa. We consult to know how to carry out our services because it is not ‘one service fix all’. We ask questions, not with the intention of keeping track of what is happening in your life or to keep track of what you are doing, but just to do our work properly. We don’t keep records, the questions are meant for professional guidance.
How did you start your businesses?
I am very artistic by nature. I love to draw generally. When I see a painting, I can stand and gaze at it for a very long time. And because I’m artistic, I love to draw and I love to paint. Not so much now, but when I was younger. It gives me peace and I derive satisfaction from it. So, finding people to make clothes for me and getting the fabric damaged was one thing that I believed there could be a way out of. I knew I could do it and be happy doing it. One thing about designing is that the more you do it, the more you know. If you sketch all the time, your sketches get better. Aside that, you should know what you want to do. What would make your own designs stand out? Where do you want to lay emphasis? These are questions you have to answer and things to keep in mind as a designer. It comes from pencil and paper to the final outcome. Fashion is wide, so you must not ignore any aspect. Fashion is something that comes in seasons. We have winter, spring, fall, and summer. Fashion is something you must know what to do with when it is summer or when it is spring, that is for those outside Nigeria. Also, you must understand the trend of fashion, which is sometimes a particular style, and at other times it could be a colour that is trending. Although, for me, I don’t move with trends. I wear things that suit me and I love. The business is not where I want it to be yet though, I want it to be a household name and I’m working towards it. In addition, for my fashion line, I was trained. I believe in training in anything I want to do. I was trained by a Ghanaian in 1993 in a proper school. I learned the theory and practical aspects. I didn’t start sewing with paper, we bought clothing material and sewed with them for practise.
Did your husband support the spa business?
My husband is one of my greatest fans. He really encouraged me; he reminded me of my artistic prowess and how I can convert it to help me progress. He gave me all the support needed to do the business from scratch. He advises me on how to do things better. I thank God for that because that has given me a lot of relief. I didn’t have to go for a loan anywhere to start my businesses. He comes for facials, massage and all other services. All his clothes are sewn by us. He pays for all the services we render; that is how supportive he has been. I really thank God for him in my life. He has not limited me or ever said I cannot do a certain thing. Any idea I bring, he advises, encourages and helps to finance it. After I told my husband I wanted to do the spa business, he told me to look for a school to learn in Canada. If he doesn’t support it, he won’t come here for his facials, manicure or massage. He told me to get people to work with me and train them the way I was trained to sustain the business.
What are some of the challenges you faced when you started your business and how did you overcome?
When I started the business, I was expecting a huge turnover but I was disappointed because it wasn’t that way. That was a huge disappointment for me. I was wondering if people didn’t see how good my designs were. Unfortunately, I have realised that things don’t work that way. You don’t open in a day and expect to break even that day. It takes time. You have to build on it. I had to let people know my brand, so I began to wear my designs as a way to promote my fashion line. But when they didn’t patronise me even after telling them, I got discouraged. My friends are not my greatest customers because they come once in a while. But I have learned that for your business to be successful, it is not based on friends or what you think. It is based on people out there seeing it, loving it and customers’ testimony. I was not patient enough and that was my greatest challenge. At a point, I had to tell myself that it is a new business. Nobody grows a business overnight. No business thrives in one day, it takes stages and steps. I can’t climb a ladder by jumping to the highest step from the first step. I starting building on the first step and seeking knowledge on what to do. After a while, when people see you wear something, they call for the same style. I overcame the challenge by making myself the billboard. When I travel, I don’t buy clothes, I believe in myself and tell myself I can do it. The ones there were not made by spirits. I encouraged myself and told myself I am good at what I do.
What are the present challenges you face in your business?
Presently, we are still trying to get more people to come. It is not easy to tell people, ‘I’m doing this’ and they just jump at it. So we are still trying to market the spa and the fashion line. It is ongoing, but we are overcoming that. I said to myself, ‘in 2019, I must do what it takes to make people patronise us.’ The reality is, when people like your work, your product will move like wildfire. I amworking on other platforms and I’m improving my social media pages. For example, my Instagram pages are Stylebydelmit for my fashion line then ellepairer for my spa.
What is the benefit of a spa to the society?
The spa is for people that truly appreciate and know the worth of their skin. The skin is this vast covering that covers our entire body. In school, we were taught that there are three layers of the skin – the epidermis layer, the dermis, and the hypodermis layer. But the thing about it that we were not taught is that the epidermis has five other layers before you get to the dermis. And those layers do specific things to keep the body together. There is a layer that gives us our skin colour, where the melanin is produced. When you have more melanin, you will be darker. The white people have little or no melanin. The people who really lack melanin are the albinos, which is why they are whiter. There is a layer that gives us elasticity and we can easily lose it by not taking proper care of the skin. So, learning to wash your face properly, learning to know your skin type, learning to know what to nourish your skin with and how to do it, and knowing the right diet is paramount. We have to listen to what the body is saying. When you understand everything about your body and what to do, then you will live a healthy life.
How do you handle both businesses together?
Handling both businesses is quite tedious. In the spa, we ask people to call in for appointments. We welcome walk-ins too, but we ask people to book an appointment. When we have an appointment, we already know we are engaged for that particular time. For our fashion line, we have our work ready and properly laid out to avoid distraction. I go back and forth to ensure that everything is done properly. It is something I have decided to do and I believe I have to put myself into it. I love what I do and when you love something, you want to see it flourish. For the fashion side, I take more time to ensure we get a good result. We have to understand so many things before sewing a material. For instance, we have to understand the fabric we are using, we must note the fiber the fabric comes with. You have to know the advantage and disadvantage of every fabric. Even when the customer insists, tell them that for it to come out well, that is not how to do it.
What are the distinguishing features in your businesses?
For the spa, we use high-quality products. We do not try to juggle things around. For pedicures, we basically use ‘footlogix,’ it treats whatever skin problem anyone has. You can come in with just a cracked heel, and we address it particularly. We give out a form to fill before every pedicure that enquires what the problem is. When you tell us you have dry skin, we get rid of the dead layer so that the new cells can come out. Exfoliation is necessary, you have to take care of your skin and put everything in order. If you have dry skin and you go to a spa that uses salt and antiseptics like Dettol, you are just going there for cleansing. We address specific problems. For instance, we don’t use the product for sweaty feet for someone that has peeling skin. That differentiates us. We also consult before we do anything, we ask questions that will guide us in our work. Most places do not do it. People who have been here said it and they love the treatment we gave them. These products are not harmful to the body in any way, they are basically fruit extracts. They are not chemically processed and don’t destroy the skin or age the skin. We even teach people how to wash their faces. A lot of people just wash it and drag down, it is wrong. Wash the face upward and make it brisk. If customers insist we use their own products for them, we will use it but inform them of the advantages and disadvantages. For the fashion line, I personally sketch my designs from the paper to the final product. If you share an idea with me, I find it easy to sketch it and sew it perfectly. When I intend to produce something, I ask myself what I want people to see in the product. The key to all these is creativity; when you can really put your ideas together for perfection. When sourcing for fabrics, you have to get the right fabrics. Our work is unique and our finishing is beautiful. You can’t see loose threads hanging anywhere. We don’t deal in only native attires, we also design and make English attires. Our styles are unique.
Where do you see your businesses in the next five years?
In the next five years, I should be able to have a training school. My fashion class is going to be a master class; there won’t be a space for people that have no idea of sewing. The school is targeted at spicing your strength in sewing. For the spa, I want to teach people who are ready to work on how to take care of their body and their customers’ bodies.
What is your take on the spa industry in Nigeria?
Like any other industry, the spa business in Nigeria is coming up rapidly. But this doesn’t mean that every spa is doing what they should be doing. People are beginning to have that awareness about the spa business in Nigeria and a lot of people are embracing it. More people will embrace it when they eventually understand its benefits. When you come to a spa, for instance, you are relieving yourself of tension and stress. A massage also relieves pain in all body parts and also ease depression. Massages help with blood circulation and it will help your skin to breathe and come alive again. It relieves you of all the worries you are carrying. After a well-done massage, you are lightheaded. Once a month for a pedicure is not bad, your leg will thank you for pampering it.
Is there an association for spa business owners in Nigeria?
I spoke to some people and we are trying to strengthen the existing one. There is an association, but it is not as formal as needed. But it will be good if all spa owners can all come out and be fully registered. Apart from that, we can come out to discuss rules and regulations with each other. There must be criteria to follow, you don’t just wake up one day and say you are opening a spa. But it is difficult in Nigeria, a lot of people will tell you it is their money so they are not obligated to be under any association. A lot of people in the spa business don’t have any knowledge about it. They set up and employ people with little or no knowledge of how to run a spa. I have spoken to two people that I know in spa business. If anyone needs to visit a spa, before you are treated, it is essential to ask for certification. Is the person certified? If the person is not, you have to ask yourself if you are willing to put yourself in the person’s hands. You must be conscious of the reality that your body covers your entire internal organs, and you don’t want it damaged. It is easy to get any of the body parts damaged, but fixing it is difficult depending on the extent of the damage.
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