Oluwaseun Tayo-Balogun is the Chief Executive Officer of a lingerie and shapewear one-stop shop known as Brief Essentials (BE); a business that was selected to showcase at the prestigious GTBank fashion weekend three times in a row. Aside providing women with the best underwear, swimsuit and shapewear, Tayo-Balogun built a community for women on her social media page where she shared solutions to issues that come from wearing the wrong underwear. In this interview with Ifeoma Ononye, the entrepreneur, who recently celebrated 10 years in business, shares what she tagged ’10 lessons learnt from being an entrepreneur’ among others
Your lingerie company, Brief Essentials recently turned 10, how did you feel waking up that day to see that it’s already a decade?
When running a business, you don’t think about how long you have been in it. You just wake up one day and realize that, wow, it’s 10 years already. How did the time go so quickly? The feeling was interesting and exciting at the same time. I woke up grateful that a journey I started with one step has grown into 10 years of many steps. Despite all the challenges of running a business, we are still here putting all our best.
What was the biggest challenge you faced starting up a lingerie sales shop online?
The fact that people didn’t believe it would be possible at the initial stage we started. It’s still a challenge till today. People didn’t think that selling lingerie online in Nigeria would work because lingeries are too personal to be bought online. Women are used to going to a store, boutique or bend down markets where they strap the bra on their chest before picking what they like if it’s their size. A lot of women do not know their sizes. Most people think it’s all about the cup of the bra, the waist line matters too. If you don’t know your size, then how do you buy a bra or shapewear online. So that was the major challenge. We had to start educating Nigerians that it is possible to know your size without going for a physical fitting. Then Twitter was the in-thing. So, we wrote blog posts on how to know if a bra fits well, how to know the high quality bra and how a good bra should look. We could not do that without videos and employ models to show what we are talking about. Even with all the campaign we did, we always got feedbacks like, ‘How am I sure that what I see is what I get? How am I sure, you guys would deliver? What if you runaway with my money? Especially for people ordering from outside Lagos because the trust was not there yet. It takes a while to build trust. You build trust when you are consistent for a long time. With time, people began to trust us because they were able to get the underwear they needed and not underwear that they can find. Those are two different things. What you need and what you can find. There was a time I just had to settle for what I can find and not what I wanted or needed. So, the goal when we started was to have a website, an online destination where women can visit from the comfort of their home or office to see options of different kind, designs and styles of underwear they want. I am glad that that vision has been in motion since we started. It has really been a journey. Also, the Nigerian economy has been a challenge. The Nigerian currency depreciating every now and then is a big challenge. By the time we started in 2011, the exchange rate was N150. Now, we are hitting N580 and that is terrible for businesses. Even when COVID- 19 came in, it depreciated a little and then stabilized a bit but now it’s back again. This is the worst depreciation of Naira we have seen in a very long time. Whatever business you are running in a place where the economy is not stable, and the economic policies are not clear, the cost of running a business becomes very high.
As an entrepreneur, you must have learned a few lessons in the 10 years you have successfully handled the business. Can you share some of these lessons?
I have learned a lot of lessons but I will try to share them as 10 lessons I have learned. A lot of people ask me, ‘why did I choose to go into lingerie? My answer has always been that even when you did not prepare to be an entrepreneur, the experiences you have gone through will shape the outcome of your decision. These experiences spurs you into becoming an entrepreneur. And this is my first lesson. So, the first lesson is that you have to pay attention to your experiences. When you experience something new, or something different or something you are not used to, if you don’t pay attention, you may miss the lesson in that experience. In my experience, there was a time I was pregnant and needed a certain kind of bra and shapewear but couldn’t get what I wanted. I had to settle for what was available. I had to order some of my postpartum bras and shapewear from abroad because I couldn’t get what I wanted here. I thought to myself that I cannot be the only one in this situation. That experience was the ground that whet the idea of establishing my lingerie brand. So you should also be able to spot the opportunity in that experience. You have to be deliberate about things that are missing, things that people ignore and find a way to fill that gap. The second lesson: You cannot ignore the importance of having people around you that can help you protect that idea. Sharing your idea with the right people is important. Not just Nay Sayers! Let them be people who can help brush up your ideas. The third lesson: Ideas that get implemented are the ideas that make the difference. It’s one thing to understand your experiences, tell someone about an idea you got from your experiences and it’s another thing to implement the idea. If you don’t put the idea into motion, it won’t even show that you had the idea in the first place. It’s only when you implement, that you make a difference. A lot of people do not go past the level of ideas. They keep dreaming and don’t move forward. You need to take that first step. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a simple step. A tiny acorn can produce an oak tree. These are my best quotes I love to share. You just start, you will definitely multiply. Fourth lesson: You must not wait to have everything in place to start. It is absolutely okay for you to start small. Start with what you have, what is in your hands and just keep moving forward. It is not an embarrassment to start small. When we started at Brief Essentials, we didn’t have a store.
When you started the business, did you start by buying and selling bras before designing your own?
Yes! When we started, we buy the bras and sell. We didn’t have all the kind of bra we wanted to sell. We were not even sure people will buy. We started small, and as orders started coming in, it influenced what we are buying next to add to the stock. If you want to move a mountain, you will start with carrying away the small stones first. I didn’t have money to hire the right staff. That is the working hard stage. I was combining every day’s job with the business coupled with children. I kept my focus on where I am going. One thing with starting small is that you cannot predict how it will turn out. Your ideas and business will constantly evolve with time. Economic and technological factors, change what you need to change and move on. There will some parts you would need to fine tune until you get to your final destination.
You said you started small. Like how many bras and panties did you start the business with?
I cannot remember their numbers but they were not much at all. I sold from the comfort of my home. Our goal was to have a website and to sell online. We had a website, Facebook and Twitter accounts in 2011 that we started with. We shared our opening and new products on our website. We created a community with people who live in Nigeria with the website. And when we got our first order, we were over the moon. One order turned to two and two turned to three and here we are.
What is the biggest satisfaction you get from what you do?
Aside selling bras, we have been able to help many women discover their actual sizes which many of them have been making a mistake with for almost all their lives. Many women have so much complains about the wrong bra. Some say they have shoulder pains, some say back ache. Brief Essentials has been able to help solve these problems and that has been my biggest satisfaction doing what I do. Many women believe that bras should not be comfortable but that is not true. You should be able to wear a bra all day without feeling discomfort. You shouldn’t be rushing home to remove your bra because you are uncomfortable. So, we give women their right size and make sure they feel supported and beautiful in their underwear
And the fifth lesson?
Entrepreneurs need to have a global mindset. It’s good to start small like I said in lesson 4, but there are things I didn’t joke with, which is having a name for your brand. We got a logo for our brand which is BE, short form of Brief Essentials. We created delivery bags. We had not gotten to where we want to get to but branding was key. The same name you see on our flyers and shopping bags is what you see on our website. This is how you build trust for your brand. Have that global mindset. You will be competing with other people in the business. So, do things well. Sixth lesson: Do not let the competition scare you. It’s like when you start your business, everybody wants to start the same thing. Some will even copy exactly what you posted on your website just to throw you off. Don’t feel scared. There will always be competition. You will be surprised that those trying to copy you, that you are getting scared of, feeling that they may steal your customers, don’t even have any goods in store to deliver. Abstain from obsessive focus on competition. Rather be the best solution to your customers. Don’t pay too much attention to them. They will take away your focus. You will become reactive instead of proactive. People may try to copy you but they don’t have the vision you have. Seventh lesson: Live by example. You are a leader. Your staff and customers are watching you. If you treat your customers right, your staff will not joke with your customers. You need to be a good role model. Be punctual like you tell your staff to be on time. Eighth lesson: Surround yourself with the right people, people you can get ideas from or run ideas by. Even people that can cheer you on because you can get tired sometimes. You need a great team to work with. You need good and loyal customers to sell to.
These are your tribe. Ninth lesson: Passion is good but you need more than passion to run a successful business. You need patience, discipline. Discipline will make you show up every morning. You need to be consistent. You need courage in all situations because there will be tough situations.
You need patience because if you don’t have patience, you won’t be able to wait 10 years for a seed you sow to become a big tree. Tenth lesson: You have to always remember why you started that business in the first place. By the time you believe you have arrived and start feeling cool, you tend to forget the reason you fought so hard to get to where you are.
Have you moved from buying and selling ready-made bras to designing your own bras?
We design our own lounge wear, lingeries, shapewear, fitness wear. We have not started making our own bras. We do not have a line for bras yet. We have heard many theories about how many panties women should have in their closet. As a professional in this field, do you agree every woman should have up to 365 panties for the year? It all depends on what the woman can afford. If someone can only afford two, and I am telling such a woman to buy up to 7, I am just wasting my time because she cannot afford it. The important thing is to keep it clean. You have to wash your panties every day. Always wear a clean pair. If you have the money, have at least 7 panties, so that you can wear a clean one every day. If you happen to have more, the better. Panties must have cotton lining that will help control the moisture and absorb sweat or discharge.
How often should a woman wear a bra before washing?
How often you should wash your bra depends on how you use your bra. If you engage in activities that cause a lot of perspiration, then you definitely should wash your bra after each use. If you dry them instead of washing, and use for another day, you are circling bacteria. A rule of thumb is perhaps after two uses, assuming you engage in low intensity activities. We need to keep in mind that a bra is that piece of undergarment ladies should wash more often than not.
Just like we are advised to change our toothbrush every three months, how often are we supposed to change our bras to new ones?
The life span of a bra is 6 months and it depends on how long you water them. If I have like 30 bras in my closet and I wear one in a month. That means those bras can last me for three years. That means I would have worn one 12 times in a year. It is about how you use it. A bra you wear 4 times in a week, might probably last one year and we have many that last longer. Ladies have to remember that it is about the frequency and usage. They should also look out for signs that tell the bra is worn out. These signs include stretched out straps, bent under wires, extended bands, wrinkled cups and damaged hooks and eyes. The same wear and tears signs applies to panties.
How many bras should a woman have in her wardrobe?
A woman should have about five bras that really fit.
What kind of bra should women invest in?
A woman should invest in bras that fits. When we talk about fit, we mean the bra should be the woman’s size, should be comfortable and should be supportive.
A bra recently gave me blisters what was the reason?
This question requires more investigation and it depends on where you had the blisters. Sometimes poor fit around the underwire area or bands that are too tight might cause discomfort and sometime blisters. This is why it is important we find what truly fits.
For men, how many boxers are they supposed to wear?
Men need to be serious about hygiene too. They need to wear clean one every day. Men are lucky that when they buy a pack of boxers, they get about six. So, there is no excuse of repeating a dirty briefs.