Building a pan-African and global brand relies on appreciating the need for high quality manufacturing combined with a unique selling point, and Nigerian entrepreneur, Oluwatosin Lawson, is building her African Things Lifestyle and Fashion brand by addressing both factors. Her sense of pride for African design shines through all her products, whilst at the same time, recognising the power of mass production to tap into new markets.
LoA spoke to Oluwatosin Lawson, founder of African Things, to find out more about her vision for the company and the brand, and her drive to build a proudly African company with a global reach.
What does your company do?
African Things makes contemporary African inspired lifestyle products that are functional with innovative designs in a manner that empowers Africans. African Things aims to change the negative image associated with African manufacture and be a symbol for high quality products whilst at the same time empowering Africans. So far in our product range, we have produced backpacks, bow ties, earrings and bangles and several other fashion related items. We plan to expand to more lifestyle produces such as plates, towels and kitchen appliances using African fabric and materials. We manufacture from a variety of factories based here in Nigeria and China. Over time, we also aim to set up our own factory here in Nigeria, thereby creating jobs and wealth creation.
"African Things aims to change the negative image associated with African manufacture and be a symbol for high quality products whilst at the same time empowering Africans."
What inspired you to start your company?
The reason I started African Things was to promote African designs and culture in everyday lifestyle. After schooling abroad and seeing how foreigners saw Africans, often as poor and backward, I was very inspired when I returned home and saw that Nigerian fashion design especially in the area of accessories was beginning to boom. But I felt I could push the business further to international standards and include lifestyle items such as plates, household furniture and home accessories.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
Unlike similar African accessory companies, African Things manufactures in large quantities for mass production and retail in standardised units. We do not produce custom made items, rather we produce specific designs in large quantities. We also aim to target Africans in the Diaspora and be the leading exporter of African Lifestyle products.
We distinguish ourselves with multiple, easy to use and durable, functional products. Our designs incorporate African fabrics and imagery in a modern and innovative style. Through our value chain we enable wealth creation for small retail businesses and aim to have our products in every household in Africa.
"The reason I started African Things was to promote African designs and culture in everyday lifestyle."
Tell us a little about your team
My team is small but completely dedicated to realising the African Things dream. We are always striving to improve ourselves and come up with new designs for our products.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
My entrepreneurial journey has been very exciting, mixed in with a lot of stressful moments. Thank God for my Mother who has always been there giving me advice and sharing all her business knowledge with me. When I first started out and was doing a lot of door to door sales, she was the one who told me to sell on a larger scale to stores and I took her advice and did just that. Thanks to that great advice, African Things has expanded faster than I even thought possible.
"Through our value chain we enable wealth creation for small retail businesses and aim to have our products in every household in Africa."
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
I want African Things to grow and become an international brand. I want to build a huge franchise similar to Marks and Spencer's in the UK for African themed lifestyle products.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
I get the most satisfaction from the positive reaction I get from my customers. I love the feeling of making a positive impact in someone else's life.
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
Make sure you can turn your passion into a profitable business. This way you don't get dis-encouraged when things get hard, which they will at some point.
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Why LoA loves it….
At LoA, we love those women entrepreneurs who have a big vision and the drive to realise it, and Oluwatosin Lawson, founder of African Things, is one such entrepreneur. Not content to simply build a brand and product range to tap into pan-African markets, she has her eye on taking her proudly African brand to the world, in particular to the Diaspora who perhaps miss that reminder of home. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief of Lionesses of Africa