The Voyage of Blingshiki

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At 31, Miss Tolulope Adeukola Ogundokun has already fashioned exquisite jobs not only for herself but also for over 22 youths in Nigeria as the Chief Executive Officer of Pawprint Limited. Rebecca Ejifoma writes on her new product, Blingshiki

True, dreams are penned down. Imaginations ply the bridge of one’s mind toll-free. But to breathe life into such creative imagination becomes the puzzle. This is the case of Tolulope Ogundokun, whose Blingshiki now booms and breaks records in Nigeria, pulling down strong borders into other African countries and Europe, too, via various social media platforms.

Now, suavely dressed in one of her navy blue danshiki politely embroidered on the neckline with glittering silver stones, Ogundokun narrated the voyage of Blingshiki.

“I was 23 when it began. During my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), I decided to start up my own business to make a little money.  So, my friends and I came up with a concept of making hampers for people in the season. But of us all, only I pursued this.”

Indeed, the graduate of Biochemistry from the University of Lagos began her career in 2008 with her first bold baby steps. “I went to some customers. They said they didn’t need hampers. But they said they liked the fact that I was young. They asked me if I could print some items like towels and design some calendars for them,” she explained.

Even as a graphic artist, she enthused that on one fateful day, she went to Shomolu where there are printers. “I approached a little girl that I wanted to do some things myself. She introduced me to her neighbour, who taught me the nitty-gritty of the job – where to buy the materials, how to do the printing job and all. That was where I learnt that printing job is not done in just one place; you have to move from one place to the other.”

Swiftly on the heel of that job, Ogundokun continued that someone called and ordered for some. I did my imprint on the products with my details. I got an opportunity to print for Eco Bank. They needed to print on some t-shirts for the World Cup in South Africa. And of course, I grabbed it.”

According to her, the clients loved and appreciated the job, because it was very transparent. Adding, she reminisced the times she would be at Shomolu until 3 a.m. while she resided at Lekki. “I tried to hustle it out and made sure I produced and delivered their order in good time. And, all of this was quite nice.”

Interestingly, the monosyllabic lady, whose expression is smothered with mannered smiles, told THISDAY that after service, she was certain she had cut her brown papers right and hewn out sophisticated stitches. “After NYSC, I knew I wasn’t going to work anywhere because I knew I already had something doing.”

Interesting, in 2010, she hit the jackpot. “In 2010, I went to see a friend at his office. He asked me what I do for a living. I told him. Then he urged to introduce me to his boss, which he did. The boss asked, ‘What can I do for you?’ I told him what I do. Then he promised to call.”

Sometime in October, he contacted me and asked to see some designs. Honestly, I didn’t know how to design with computer; hence, I returned to Shomolu. I met a helper. But she adds that it doesn’t always turn out the way you imagine it.

Apparently, she needed to know her onions. “After some time, I logged on the internet and trained myself on how to design. Yes, because the company had told me the designs I sent them were good but they were not good enough. Still they gave me the opportunity to go on and design newer ideas.”

Swiftly, the young Ogundokun studied how to design on CorelDraw. Adding, she enthused that she took some designs to them that were appealing. “They lay off the former printer and adopted me to do all their jobs. And, that was my first hit. I did their printings annually. It became like I had a job. All thanks to Bayo Adenu, Owner of Board News Group Limited.”

Fortune smiled on her. “I found out that Global Sacks was offering scholarship to 10, 000 women in Africa solely in entrepreneurship. I applied with Lagos Business School and was granted the opportunity to study Entrepreneur Management.

As a result of the entrepreneur programme, Ogundokun became born again. “Yes! I was playing around before. I thought I was making money. I thought I had arrived. But the school explained to me how business works, to properly document my goods, pay my taxes and employ the right people; even if I was working from home, I needed to ensure the business was sustainable itself.

Two weeks after, the former President, Goodluck Jonathan’s ‘You Win’ programme popped up for 1,200 people. And she was among the first set. “I made up my mind I would do printing business. I had not been able to acquire machinery but I want to expand into textiles printing. Whilst I’m doing paper printing the way I usually did, I want to have a day-to-day income.”

She continued: “I got the funds to buy the machines. So, I registered Addict by Pawprint before I went to a factory in Turkey, where I did a short course in textile printing with modern techniques.

Every time I got a good transaction, I got a new crystal printing machine.  People who make aso oke, t-shirts and Ankara, would contact us to put stones on their clothes.

“I was soon overwhelmed at the leverage I could get from embroidering clothes with stones because it soon spread like some virus. Everyone wanted to have it. It became even very interesting. Then I had to employ more people. I taught them how to use the machines and do the job.

As a result of her restive nature to create a niche for herself and carve her name on the dressing style of the world, Ogundokun registered the Rhine Stone Company to separate it from the others.

Today, she is a proud owner of Pawprint Limited, the giant courier of Addict by Pawprint, the Rhine Stone Company and Blingshiki – a three-in-one firm. Her companies: Addict (makes T-shirts, uniforms and all kinds of Aso ebi, Aso oke and the likes), the Rhinestone (crystal printing) and now, Blingshiki. They are called Pawprint Ltd.

“Recently, we launched a new product, Blingshiki. We haven’t officially launched it though, we have put it in the market. Blingshiki is curled out from the word, Dangshiki and blink. Instead of the embroidery, we use stones.”

“We put it out on Instagram. I’ll tell you honestly, within a week, we sold over 100. Most of the sales were from Nigerians in the Diaspora while the others from people within.

“We displayed this at a recent expo, and we sold out. Several people even offered to leave their measurement and contact info with us to deliver to them later on. As we speak, we make Blingshiki daily. It’s quite unbelievable.  This shows that Nigerians pay for quality.”

When asked of the challenges, she narrated, “It has not been easy running it. After I went to Lagos Business School and got the scholarship, I had a rethink then concluded I wasn’t good for business ‘Just go get a job.’ I felt like I had failed.”

Other challenges came, too. Consistency – you will see customers today, you won’t see them tomorrow. Competition is fierce in Nigeria. A lot of people, instead of create their own niche, copy. When they eventually do, they rubbish it. There were times I got frustrated and even cried.”

Now, the industrious lady says she is trying to ensure that her businesses are available online – socially interactive enough. She is currently creating more products that will make her country more business innovative in the world.

“Sincerely, our generation is moving. People are making soap, makeup kits, hair and body cream among several others. I now do aso oke. The Caribbean people are now dressing like the Yorubas for their weddings wearing aso oke.  I’ve made for a Caribbean couple before.

Proudly from a polygamous family, Ogundokun said, “I think our generation is doing something. Nigeria must be very relevant to the world. People outside the world will begin to patronise us for something. Let entrepreneurs embrace this system that is working for some.”

Although many youths still perambulate the boulevards of this country submitting their fat CVs and voluminous letters, the old student of Federal Girls College in Oyo said she employs people without certificate.

“It’s not about certificate. I employ people with or without that. I teach them to use the computer for our job. If you can do the job well, why not? It is one thing to have the certificate and it is another to work it.”

Indeed, she has become the cynosure of all eyes even on her Instagram page. Her followers have trailed the rut Oliver Twist left. They have got quality from Pawprint; hence, they couldn’t help but ask for more.