‘Why I left banking job for jewelery business’
Abimbola Kunle-Osunkunle, a banker turned jewelery designer, is the founder and creative director of Cornucopia, an upscale handcrafted jewelery company that provides accessories working with gemstones, freshwater pearls, with the aim of making people feel elegant and chic every day. She spoke with ROTIMI IGE about the business of jewelry making, among other issues.
What does your company do?
At Cornucopia, we design, manufacture and retail high quality handcrafted jewelery to women of style, using semi-precious stones like corals, pearls and other gemstones. Specifically, our aim is to help our clients feel elegant every day, wherever they find themselves, whether they are at the office or at a wedding. Our jewelery pieces are deliberately designed to be timeless and versatile. They usually become the pieces our customers find themselves wearing all the time.
Our goal is for our customers to no longer feel a need to visit Europe, or the United States to buy their jewelery. In fact, our customers often compare us to their jewelers in these countries, usually with them expressing their delight in finding us. A large percentage of our product offerings are ready-to-wear for example, our customers come into our store and buy what they need off the shelf, while a small percentage is custom made, depending on the specific request of the customer.
What inspired you to start your company and why leave a lucrative job in the banking industry?
I realised that I was dissatisfied with my banking job; the long hours were telling on my young family at that time. I also wanted to do more, I wanted to own my time, run my business but I was sure I didn’t just want to buy and sell. I wanted to add value, and I realised that for me, if I was going to be successful, it had to be something that I was passionate about.
I started exploring what this could be and realised that I not only enjoyed jewelery making, I was good at it. I instinctively know how to make jewelery that people wanted to wear. I decided to resign and focus on growing the business. This was also made easier because when I was afraid to resign, my husband gave me his full encouragement and support. One thing he said was that “if this doesn’t work out you can always go back to work, but if you never do this, you will always ask yourself, what if I had taken this step, what would have happened “ This made it easier to take the plunge, and I have not looked back since.
What makes your pieces unique in the fashion industry?
A Cornucopia jewelery piece is designed to stand out both in quality and in design. We are very particular about designing jewelery with the wearer in mind as it’s very important that any Cornucopia piece that is acquired becomes the go-to necklace for its owner. With this in mind, our pieces are very wearable, very versatile, durable and they are very stylish.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. Do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
My business started on the dining table of my home, with me as designer, marketer, accountant all wrapped in one, as the business grew and I started to employ people and assign roles. I drew on my past experience in customer service and retail banking and this helped me as we built a culture for Cornucopia in terms of how we treated our customers and how we even prospected for customers. As we have grown, customer satisfaction, and providing jewelery of excellent quality has remained central to everything we do. It sounds like this should go without saying, but we try to be very deliberate in making this our customer experience, even when it is inconvenient for us. This has given us very loyal customers that would vouch for our products anywhere they are.
One of the key turning points for me was attending the six month entrepreneurship course at the EDC of the Pan Atlantic University, and since then I have continued to ensure that I hone my business skills, as I have realised that creativity isn’t enough, you must be business savvy or the business would remain a hobby. My parents have owned a business which my mum ran for about 30 years, I also remember growing up how my grandmother would come to Oje, market in Ibadan where I grew up, all the way from our hometown in Ondo State. She would come to buy aso-oke, trinkets and other things to resell back home. This is one of my earliest memories of her and I’m sure it may have shaped my thinking.
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
My plan is for Cornucopia to become a household name for jewelery retail in Nigeria, and for us to expand beyond the shores of Nigeria to retail overseas. Our business is very labour intensive as all our pieces are handmade and it excites me to know that as we do this, we would be doing our share of getting the unemployed off the streets, empowering people, and sustaining families.
Talking about overseas, there are more lifestyle/fashion imports into Nigeria than exports, does this bother you?
It’s definitely a worrisome trend that as a nation, we spend so much foreign exchange to import everything including fashion items into the country. It just shows our failure as a nation to bridge the demand gap and also our failure to create systems that enable Nigeria to compete effectively in the global market.
The truth is that the only way to be relevant in the international market is to ensure that our products can compete globally in terms of quality. We must also be able to make sure that the fashion industry isn’t all fluff, but substance also. Our businesses must be structured so that we can scale, meet demand, and so much more.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
When a customer walks into our store and expresses delight and surprise at finding us and they realise that everything in the store is handmade in Nigeria. We are happy to be a go-to place for people that just want to buy jewelery either for an event they want to attend, for work or as a gift, and who don’t want to necessarily place an order but buy what they need immediately.
Any challenges so far …
Usually, every journey comes with its share of challenges. One of the challenges for me personally as a creative has been continually balancing my creativity with the need to run a successful business. Also growing capacity and accessing capital.
How do you combine family life and business?
Remember that one of the reasons I decided to have a business was because I wanted to own my own time. So family life has always been important to me.
For the first four or so years of my business, we operated as a home based business, but as we grew and expanded, we had to move out of the house. But I have always ensured that my business locations( production and retail) are close to my home. This makes it logistically easier to oversee the home.
Also, I always try to be available for my children not just physically but emotionally as well, I’m deliberate about asking about their day, their friends, and also just talking to them about life. I usually sound them out to know what’s on their mind, and they also know that no discussion is off limits with me. My husband is my very best friend and greatest cheerleader, and together we just make sure that our house is a place filled with laughter. Playing pranks on the children is my husband’s specialty and he just lights up the whole house.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you can give to other start-up founders?
First I would say do not be afraid of starting small, but give yourself permission to dream big. I worked from home for a number of years but I never lost sight of the fact that I wanted Cornucopia’s showroom to be in a particular location in Lagos. When the time came, this happened.
Also, I believe it’s important to keep growing your knowledge and developing your mind. These are important because it helps us to remain relevant. Also as we grow and evolve, our business evolves as well.