"You must have confidence to make people believe in your product"
Deborah from Nigeria took part in The Next Economy Program, which supports young people in setting up a successful start-up. For 27-year-old Deborah, it meant creating her business model and gaining confidence to build a future.
Laughing proudly, Deborah smiles radiantly towards us from behind her knitting machine. Producing knitwear in a climate like Nigeria’s is probably not the first thing people think of as a possible business. But Deborah believes she will make it in this niche market.
“You have to make it attractive to people. I have confidence I will succeed,” she says.
After the 27-year-old graduated from university in 2014, she was required to join the National Youth Service Corps for one year. After that, she had several temporary jobs. Over the course of two years, she worked as a teacher at two schools, at a bank and in a hospital.
“I was not dissatisfied with my last job in the hospital; I had nice colleagues and was treated well. I also had ideas about what the hospital could do to advance their processes. But I felt that it was not my place, that I had something bigger to do.”
A passion for crocheting and knitting
“I've been crocheting since I was six, mostly for leisure and sometimes making gifts for friends and family. Then, in 2016, an expectant mother paid me to create a four-piece baby set. In retrospect, that was the start of Faidez Wears. Besides my various jobs, I started making crochet lapel pins, mufflers and so on. Crocheting is an intensive process. Everything is done by hand, and therefore, slowly. As demand rose, I knew it was time to take the next step so I could produce products faster and reach more people. A friend pointed me to The Next Economy Program, and I registered immediately. At the same time, I started a six-month machine knitting course.”
The Next Economy Program, led by SOS Children’s Villages Netherlands, is an established youth employment and entrepreneurship program that creates jobs and opportunities for young people in challenging and fragile contexts. It enables partners in Nigeria, Mali and Somalia to create opportunities for youth. By working with young people, business incubation hubs, employability organizations, the private sector and government, it matches youth ambitions and career goals with needs and opportunities in the labour market. It allows youth to transition from school to decent work.
Gaining skills for a successful start-up
The project gave Deborah the knowledge she needed to launch Faidez Wears. “I learned the necessary skills to start a business properly,” explains Deborah. “Setting up a business model, gaining financial skills, the importance of knowledge about the industry and the market, how to market your company, and also about the important soft skills, such as business ethics, communication, building a network and, perhaps most importantly, building confidence. Because you can't build a business without confidence, you have to be confident to make people believe in your product.”
It is this confidence that led to the growth of Faidez Wears. “Knitwear is not the clothing people normally wear in this climate. You have to make it attractive to them. Show them and let them feel that wool is also comfortable when it is warm, that it is fashionable. It also challenges me to come up with new ideas such as hair bands, scarves and accessories. You have to create a need.”
Deborah took part in The Next Economy Program for two years. She not only learned a lot, but also made good contacts. Together with other participants, they set up a platform to stay in touch, to share business opportunities with each other, to refer their businesses to prospective clients and to exchange feedback. Deborah also regularly attends workshops and network events. Due to the pandemic, these events took place online in recent months.
"The Next Economy has provided me with the right knowledge and base to set up Faidez Wears in a good way," says Deborah. She has a clear vision of her goals: “I want to build an eco-friendly brand that uses recycled waste products and other sustainable options leveraging technology. I want to create awareness for the knitwear industry in Nigeria and make knitwear fashionable not just in Nigeria, but for all of Africa. With my company, I want to contribute to the GDP increase in my country and represent my country worldwide.
“Faidez Wears is not about me,” she adds. “It is an entity on its own. We are building an environmentally friendly brand that offers class, comfort, warmth and quality to consumers, while at the same time contributing to Sustainable Development Goals 11 on making cities inclusive and 12 on ensuring sustainable consumption and production.”
Being open to learning
The world is at her feet. Deborah concludes with some advice: “To be successful, you have to be open minded to learn, to seize opportunities that create an environment in which you can learn, grow and make the right decisions. It's okay to be insecure at first, but be willing to gain clarity while you're learning. And have confidence!”