Joy Ofili Yebovi, a graduate of Industrial Design from Yaba College of Technology, Yaba, Lagos State, is the Chief Executive Officer and Creative Director of Simplinteriors and Decor, a leading furniture manufacturing company in Nigeria and the Proprietress of Simplinterior School of Interior Design and Entrepreneurship. She speaks with TAYO GESINDE on her love for interior decoration and why she believes she is the world’s sexiest interior designer.
How it all started
I have always been very artistic. I have always loved design, decorating and that was what informed my choice of course at Yaba College of Technology. I did my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and worked in one or two banks before going into interior decoration full time. The furniture company started first. We manufacture our furniture here in Nigeria and we have showroom in Lekki and Surulere, Lagos State, where we showcase and sell the furniture we have in our stock. Most of our furniture is 85 per cent made in Nigeria.
Like every other Nigerian entrepreneur, the major challenge is fund. No bank wants to help you out, nobody is ready to help or believe in your dream. However, you can’t blame them because they can’t see your vision or dream. Another challenge is power. I believe if we have electricity, it will help improve the economy of Nigeria. The third challenge is having the right artisans and right service providers, people who can learn this trade and know how to do it well. People always believe in going out to look for white collar jobs. Not knowing that they can actually become a furniture designer or manufacturer and still come out looking corporate. The three areas highlighted above have been the biggest challenges for us.
The journey so far
I have been doing this for close to fourteen years. The journey was rough when we started, because to get the right clients who will believe in us took time and patience. I kept showcasing my work; I didn’t compromise on my standard or the standard of the product I wanted to push out. It hasn’t been easy or a bed of roses but gradually, people started knowing us and started believing in our quality. That has helped. Also, referrals and advertisement also helped. We started the school because people were asking if they could understudy us or asked to be directed to where they could do it. So we felt why don’t we start a training centre for them? Also, when we employ people to work for us, we discover that they don’t know anything about the job, so, we had to start training them.
My life as a female furniture maker
Furniture making is not a dirty job. There are a lot of machines that are available to do the work for us. Everything has gone digital. Yes, it is true that we don’t have the same strength that men have but there are other things that are working for us; as women we have eyes for beautiful things. They might have the strength but that doesn’t mean they will do it better than us. Also, if you can’t draw, you can go on the computer, there are many applications that can help you design it the way you want. You can tell the artisans how you want it to be done and if you want to learn, we are opening a carpentry place soon. We are working on it. We have a land for it in Ajah already and we are going to teach carpentry there.
Inspiration for my designs
I get inspiration from my environment and the people living in it. Also, you need to have an eye for design that can stand the test of time in design, that is something no one can really train you, it is time that will train you on that.
What distinguishes us from others
It is customer service. We train our workers every time on customer service. We relate well with our customers, if you have complaints, we have ears to listen to you 24/7. That is why my number is on our fliers, website and card. You can get in touch with me easily. We are always available to help you out.
Why made in Nigeria goods are expensive
Number one reason for that is that it is customised. It is not something that you see everywhere. It is also expensive because we import some materials from abroad. Also, the cost of running a business is very expensive in Nigeria because you are always on diesel. In a month you will spend up to N70, 000 and above to run generator. The money for that will be spread on what one is selling so it becomes more expensive. However, it is not too expensive because furniture made abroad won’t be sold for 300 dollars. Go to I care, a three seater will be $1,200 or $2,000. Calculate that and you will still have to pay for shipping and custom duties. A set here is N350, 000, N400, 000. So, it is still a good deal because it is cheaper.
Secret of success as an entrepreneur
I am focused and I am driven. The fear of poverty also keeps me going. Another thing is that as a woman, you have a lot to prove. I don’t want to be a failure to my children or myself. I want my daughter to look at me and say if my mother could do this at that year and time, I could do better. I also don’t believe woman’s place is in the kitchen or the other room. Most men will even tell you they cannot even afford to have their women in the kitchen, especially with the exchange rate now.
If the wife is in the kitchen or the other room alone, do you know the kind of high pressure the man will have? If you have three children, school fees are increasing, house rent and even transport fare are on the high side. Most men who thought women should stay in the kitchen are now thinking otherwise because the couple should contribute together to make things work. I don’t believe a woman should just sit down and expect to just be collecting from the husband, it is not going to help him health wise. It is not easy in Nigeria today. You have to wake up, take the children to school, think of when you will pick them up in the evening and still go to work so as to contribute to the family upkeep, then you don’t want to be insulted that your place is in the kitchen tomorrow.
How I have been combining my business with the home front
Having an understanding husband is the major thing because you can’t do it alone, especially when you are married. You must have some support. My support system is my husband and family. Sometimes, I have appointments on a Sunday, but he understands. When I can’t make it home on time, he goes to the kitchen and cooks because he knows I am running around for us. So having an understanding husband has helped a lot and also, carrying the children along. I made them understand what mummy is doing and why I am not always there. Sometimes taking them along with me helps too. I carry them along physically and mentally so that they can understand what I am doing. They have helped me too. Without them I won’t have gotten this far.
I have to be truthful, I never had anyone that I would say was the one that was driving me to do what I am doing. It is just looking at the environment I am living in and the opportunity not given to women that was pushing me. I have learnt not to say this is my role model, because as human beings they have flaws just like I do and have messed up so many times like I did. When you look up to a fellow human being you may be disappointed, so, I have decided not to look up to any body and when people tell me I am their role model, I tell them to look inward and find something that motivates them. So I look inward and move on.
Why I chose world sexiest interior designer as my motto
You have to praise yourself. You have to tell yourself who you are. It doesn’t matter if you are fat, slim, tall short, black or light complexioned. Don’t let that determine what you call sexy. Look at yourself and call yourself sexy. Nobody will tell you that, you have to tell yourself. So, I am the sexiest interior designer.
I like hanging out with some girlfriends and my sisters. I take my wine in the evening. When I go out to have fun, I have fun. I don’t go to parties and sit down; it annoys me, why am I not sitting down in my own house? I don’t go to parties every Saturday but once I decide I am going to one, I party. I also like being around intellectuals; people that will help lift me up.
Philosophy of life
Work hard, play hard.
Advice to young girls
Believe in yourself. Don’t wait for a man to marry you and take care of you. You don’t have to make yourself cheap. I wish I had people to tell me this while growing up. Why do you say you want to marry a doctor why not be one yourself? Don’t see marriage as the solution to your problem. Start building yourself to be who you want to be. Don’t let anybody pull you down because you are a girl. And don’t let your past determine your future. Everyone has a past. Don’t let your mistake pull you down.