The Academy for Women Entrepreneurs, AWE is a program supporting the development of women entrepreneurs around the world. AWE’s reach extends across Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and other regions where promoting women’s economic empowerment is a principal U.S policy priority. AWE was developed to support W-GDP, which is designed to empower women worldwide to fulfill their economic potential, creating conditions for increased stability, security, and prosperity for all.
To promote entrepreneurship and economic growth, U.S. Consulate General Lagos, in partnership with Ascend Studios led by Inya Lawal, an alumna of the Fortune-U.S. Department of State Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership program, held its second edition Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) for 120 businesswomen from 23rd November 2020 – 8th March 2021. The Consulate received 6,000+ applications and selected a diverse group of 120 female entrepreneurs to attend the training, ranging from those with well-established businesses to those just starting out.
I remember receiving the phone call congratulating me on my acceptance into the program. It was especially thrilling because that was one of my down moments, overwhelmed with work. I honestly cannot begin to recount how I survived the classes via zoom whilst shuttling our different project sites, but I’ll always stay grateful for the opportunity to network with great minds. The video interview I granted summarizes my experience and it was there I first introduced our new line of product – LISA FABRICS.
According to research, more than 90% of furniture makers in Lagos, Nigeria, procure upholstery fabrics from a single market, Mushin Market, whose location is not easily accessible and the stock offered does not offer a wide range of options. For instance, if you buy a particular fabric this week, there is no guarantee of finding the exact same fabric by the following week. Interior designers, which constitute 85% of women entrepreneurs, work with a particular color scheme per project, and have to physically visit this market to gather fabric samples to choose from. Many times, the fabric needed for the designers color scheme is unavailable, resulting in changing design concepts which leads to protracted timelines on a project.
With the advent of COVID-19, more businesses are going on-line to forestall the effect of future pandemics but till date, there are less than 15% online vendors for sales of upholstery fabric in Lagos, Nigeria. 10 furniture makers across 5 major business districts in Lagos were interviewed and their procurement process still involves going to Mushin market.
My solution witnessed our expansion into E-commerce and as such, digitalize the procurement process.
The time spent in Lagos traffic, as well as the distance covered to choose and buy these fabrics can be eliminated through an effective E-commerce platform. Taking a short survey across the 5 business districts will further identify customers’ expectations from the online platform. E-commerce will allow customers conveniently choose from a wider range of options whilst offering complete information and characteristics of each product. The fabric samples will be available for customers to order online and get delivered to their doorstep, before placing bulk orders. This will address the issues of safety, physical limitations and inconvenience associated with Mushin market and/or future pandemics. With this approach, customers from neighboring cities can also buy, thus serving more people and offering an opportunity for growth and expansion into other states in Nigeria.