A Week In The Life: The Entrepreneur Empowering Less Privileged Women

June 30, 2020

“A Week In The Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.


The subject for today is Toyin, a 28-year-old proposition manager at a financial institution. She walks us through how her job allows her to empower women, empower herself, and what it’s like to run a demanding business in the middle of a pandemic.

MONDAY:

I wake up at 6 am today. In the past, I used to wake up at 4 am every morning and leave my house at 5 am because I had to join the staff bus. However, since the lockdown started, I’ve been working from home. This means I get to wake up by 6 am.  

I like being an early riser because it gives me alone time before the whole frenzy of work and business begins. It helps me to set the tone for the day because I believe in praying and speaking into my day. If I don’t do that, I make a mess of the day.

I work in a financial institution as my 9-5, I also run a mask business on the side so it can be overwhelming. Since I started combining both, I have had an emotional breakdown. I’ve had times where I just wanted to leave everything or pull my hair out. The only good thing is that my business is a family business so I’ve been able to take breaks. It also helps that I have an understanding boss who communicates her expectations and timelines so that makes doing my job easier. I can plan my time and follow through on my tasks while still running my business.

The first thing I do most mornings is to ensure that business orders from the previous day are picked up for delivery. After that, I block Twitter and other social media channels so I can focus on work. I write out all I want to achieve for the day and I allocate time to each thing.

It has been a productive day, work-wise but frustrating on the business side. Today, a customer told me he wanted to get a mask but he didn’t want to pay for delivery. His excuse was that I didn’t tell him before that he was supposed to pay for delivery. I kept wondering what he was expecting to happen. I even tried to find a middle ground for both of us. but he was still being difficult. We sha did not find a solution after all the back and forth.

I am feeling stressed, so I play some episodes of Friends to relax and reset.

TUESDAY:

The thing about this mask business is that it was unplanned. My mum has been a fashion designer for over 30 years. My brother is also learning fashion designing at Yabatech and he’s into printing; he does that a lot. When COVID started, they made masks for all the neighbours. 

Then, my mum made another set of masks and she was like the second batch was better than the one she did for the neighbours. My brother then suggested that we could print on it. So we went on Pinterest, saw designs and realized that we weren’t the first, but our design was unique. Then we started thinking of fun stuff to print on masks and made some. The first batch sold out so fast because people were like “wow, this is a mask that doesn’t remind you of COVID.” From then on, we started doing other designs and growing. 

But it was challenging. Eh, it was challenging! 

People and their expectations. It’s amazing how Nigerians forgive inferior things they buy abroad but expect so much from locally sourced materials here. Some people have compared my mask to Adidas. I have had to remind them that I’m a small business. We’ve even had to buy over 4 machines since we started – we bought a machine to make holes, we bought a machine to do the finishing. We just had to up our standards, but there’s no time to learn in this business, no incubation period.

Sometimes when I see people wearing the old masks we did before we got the machines, I want to apologise to them. We are sorry, but it is what it is. Nobody knew last year that masks were going to be a mega profitable business so no one learnt how to make masks. We had to learn on the go, but I’m glad that we are improving.

Today, for instance, we launched 7 new designs. and the responses have been amazing. Apart from the positive responses, I have also learned about the Nigerian market. I realized that people want what they can’t give you and you need to strike a balance between being rude and standing your ground. You need a lot of patience because of the bashing. 

At one point, I had anxiety attacks because when people called I wasn’t sure if they wanted to complain about the mask or something else. I have learned to separate who I am as a person from the mask business. I’ve had to tell myself that when people are complaining about the masks. they are not complaining about me.

WEDNESDAY:

Even though I run a business, I love my job. I work as a proposition officer in the bank. My job is to think of ideas that can make accounts and loans more appealing to women and to implement those ideas.

What do women want? – This is a very hard question that no one has been able to answer. 

My job is to cater to these needs using banking services. While it might not necessarily come as banking services, the end goal is to make more women become customers.

There was a time we found out based on our research that women actually have money but they don’t use the money in ways that secure their future. Many women give out money without tracking where the money is going, especially if their husband is well to do. Instead of trying to make the money work and investing in their future. A lot of women after working for years, look back and realize that they have nothing to their name. They had just been living day in, day out.

So we came up with financial literacy engagement classes where we went to teach women about money and how it could be used to secure their future. They were informal conversations where we talked about investments, mutual funds, etc. Then we directed them to the bank products that could help with these. The surprise on their faces when they realized what they could achieve was priceless. 

For some, we even insisted that their husbands join the program because their wives being financially literate also makes their lives easier. So that if they are not there, everything doesn’t die with them.

During work today, one of the women who got a soft loan through one of our classes called me.  She explained that before the loan, her business was doing fine, but she didn’t have the confidence to expand because of lack of funds to push a particular product line. However, after she got the loan and started to produce more items, this opened her up to the possibilities of applying for grants and fellowships.

She called to inform me that she applied for a US grant and was picked. She won it and it blew her mind. She kept on thanking me and calling all of us at the bank her friends. She kept on going on and on about how we helped her when she was at her lowest.

Hearing this made my day. Things like this are a reminder that this is not just a job, it’s a mission, and I’m helping people change their lives. 

THURSDAY:

My work really helps me because it has shown me that I need to put myself on a pedestal where I am not sidelined because I’m a woman. If anything, I am as qualified as any other person in the room because I’ve done my work and I have everything that makes it easy for me to be picked for a job.

Before we started making masks, I was buying and selling accessories. I registered the business and made a business plan. This made it easy when we sent out proposals to companies for the mask business. They saw the work I had done, and it was easy for them to trust me to handle their work. I had even started designing a smart website for the accessory business but I had to let it go and focus on the money which is the mask business. Registering my business showed these companies that I was serious.

We’ve had companies tell us to supply 200 pieces, 500 pieces, 1000 pieces of masks. Today, as I am sorting out my duties at my 9 – 5, my family members are processing 2,000 pieces of masks due for delivery tomorrow. This is the highest number we have ever done and we are so so excited. 

Once my day is over like this, I have to look for something interesting to eat. I don’t know what it is yet, but my spirit is telling me that there must sha be chicken involved.

FRIDAY:

Since we started this business, we all agree at home that the quality of life has improved. I know this because I’m the first child so the responsibility of someone wanting something has reduced. Now I look at my salary in surprise. Last month, they paid salary and I was like “oh, they’ve paid? I didn’t even know.” My mum was shocked to hear me say that.

Business is not always this sweet. In the past, I have also run into loss because I bought stock that didn’t move. 

One thing I am thankful for in my family is contentment. Like any other family, we’ve had our struggles with finances and what not, but we have always been content. Even now as we are making money, you won’t see us living luxurious lifestyles. Our aim is to make products so affordable that people feel good without breaking their pocket. We’ve also given out masks for free because we are also about impact. We have given out masks to people on our streets, to the neighbours. My mum has also given the security men at our gate.

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The History

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It’ll be foolish for us to think this mask boom will go on forever. We see this as a learning phase to prepare us for the launch of our retail ready to wear clothing line. We’re just systematically registering ourselves in the mind of people so that when we make other things they can trust us based on the quality of our masks.

Even with this learning period, life has improved. I won’t lie, having money when you need it is a huge relief.

SATURDAY:

Weekends are for sleeping until my eyes open on their own without the help of any alarm. Today, I plan to catch up on things I didn’t have time for during the week like books and movies. I’m currently reading my ‘Sister the Serial Killer’ but it hasn’t caught my attention yet. Or maybe, I’ll just call my boyfriend and gist. Or, maybe scroll through Twitter and IG. I don’t know my plans for today yet, but I know it doesn’t involve chatting. I feel like I have chatted so much in these past 4 months of lockdown and I am tired.

I need another round of sleep. 

When I wake up, I’ll do whatever catches my attention.

SUNDAY:

Sundays used to be for attending church. I attend an Orthodox church where we don’t count time for the holy spirit. So, church used to last from 8 am to 5pm because of back to back meetings. Now, we are online. The church I attend online ends their service by 10 am, so I now have time to do other things.

Things like thinking about the future. Today, I’m looking forward to a time when we can mingle the way we used to. I really miss human interaction because these days, I don’t have any reason to go out unless I want to make deliveries. 

I was telling someone that even though my house is far from the office, I’ll give anything to go back just so I can hug people. And I’m not even a hugger. I am just looking for things to go back to normal. 

I also think that when things return to normal, my priorities will change. I’ll spend more time taking care of myself. During this stay at home, I’ve seen the difference between waking up very early every day and getting back home late. I plan to be better at time management, I just hope that Lagos traffic allows me to be great. 


Glossary:

“Not counting time for the Holy Spirit” – Spending as much time as possible in church without rushing.

Check back every Tuesday by 9 am for more “A Week In The Life ” goodness, and if you would like to be featured or you know anyone who fits the profile, don’t hesitate to reach out. Reach out to me: hassan@bigcabal.com if you want to be featured on this series

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