Voices of African Women Entrepreneurs: Founder of Ayo Naledi Designs Talks to the AWP Network


The AWP Network met with Ayo Agunbiade, founder of Ayo Naledi designs, a handmade fine jewelry design company to learn more about what inspired her to start her business and how she plans to grow.

How did you come up with the name of your business?

Years ago, while watching a television show, I heard the name \’Naledi\’ and I instantly fell in love with it.  It was my first time hearing the name so I did my research to find out more information about \’Naledi.\’ Through my research, I discovered it was a South African name, which means \’star.\’ I adopted the name and decided to add my given name \’Ayo\’ to it and voila –  \’Ayo Naledi.\’

What inspired you to start?

 I have always been very creative and art inclined. From drawing and painting as a child to designing clothing and jewelry as an adult. As the years passed, I found my hands and heart leaning more toward this. The desire to be my own boss coupled with a passion for what I do inspired me to birth \’Ayo Naledi Designs.\’ The thought of being stuck working for someone else doing a job that I did not have a passion for, was an added motivation.

Who is your target market?

Young and upwardly mobile individuals. The goal is to have different collections for different needs. I want to offer something of value for everyone; from classic jewelry for the corporate woman to fun and trendy pieces for everyday wear.

How have you financed the idea?

I worked on and off for some time now before resigning completely and devoting my time to growing my business. In addition, I have a great support system; my family. The importance of this cannot be overemphasized.

What is your competitive edge?

Adopting a customer-centric approach is one because I understand that customers want the opportunity to connect with you and vice versa. Another value added, is the offering of bespoke, one-of-a-kind jewelry to customers, for which they might have played a personal role in its design process. For Ayo Naledi, it is more than just jewelry.

What is the 5-year plan for this idea?

 In 5 years? I would like for Ayo Naledi designs to be well-known in the market for fine jewelry; a brand whose designs have a recognizable look. I would also like to have built a team of passionate people who can key into the vision of my designs.

What challenges do you face ?

One of the challenges that I have had to deal with is business management. It is not enough to just be creative, I realized quite late that having a clear understanding of the management aspect of my business is just as important as the production/creative aspect.

What key things have you learned since starting this idea?

  1. I have learned to trust myself;  it took me a while to understand and accept the fact that when I falter or make mistakes, it is not the end of the world.
  2. I have learned to create jewelry that is demand-driven and not what I think will sell or what I like to wear. Understanding what my customers want has helped a great deal.
  3. Proper planning and learning is crucial. No one gets rich without having a clear idea of what exactly it is that they want to accomplish. I used to think that I did not need a plan because my business is small. But without a plan, I very soon realized that I did not have a clear direction. I wore myself out jumping from one task to the other without any focus.
  4.  Networking is key to both business development and growth as a person. Ideas and knowledge are shared through networking. Connections, referrals and opportunities can all come through networking.


What five(5) things do start-up entrepreneurs need to know?

  • Have a plan,
  • Understand that building a start-up isn\’t easy,
  • Know where the funding of your business will come from,
  • Be optimistic – focus on possibilities not problems,
  • Network

What advice do you have for youths looking to start an idea but say ‘there is no money’?

There are many people who want to start their own businesses, however, they do not believe that the time is right because they do not have enough money. I have been there and I realize that nothing will be perfect. You may not have all the money you need to start, or a fantastic website, start anyway and you can improve as you go along. Pastor Sam Adeyemi\’s book \’Start With What You Have\’ helped me a great deal.

My advice – do the best you can with whatever resources you have. Make sure that your business is built around what you already know. Avoid unnecessary expenses and maximize the use of social media. Will it be difficult and stressful? Yes. Would it make a great success story? Definitely.

How do you think African youths can continue to support each other?

Through network building and collaborations. We need a platform where we can engage one another and share ideas because we all need help of some sort. On these youth-driven platforms, we can dialogue, learn and empower one another.

How many jobs have you created so far?

I currently have one (1) paid staff. Since I started, I have trained over 100 women across Nigeria in the art of making jewelry and accessories. These women have been able to start their own small businesses and some have even gone on to train others.

How has technology enhanced your business idea?

Technological innovations have changed how businesses run. Businesses are capable of running in a more organized fashion. The use of the internet has enabled small businesses like mine to showcase and sell products not just in Nigeria alone but around the world. Customer transactions are a lot faster, giving way to a better customer service experience. Design techniques have improved over the years with the emergence of softwares and equipments that have made designing and production processes a whole lot easier. A design could be sketched and with CAD, one could have a digital version, an idea of what the finished product would look like even before you start making it.

How can we support and improve innovation in Africa?

Innovation is already on the rise in Africa and thankfully a lot of entrepreneurs are coming up with various innovative solutions to problems; from urine conversion to electricity to innovative ICT solutions. However, Africa\’s capacity to innovate can be increased by tackling the key issues in our educational systems, improving local access to technology, providing adequate and accessible startup funding for inventions and ideas. Tech hubs are constantly trying to bridge Africa\’s technology gap and they should also be encouraged and sustained.

Innovation in Africa can be improved through the emergence of more collaborations and partnerships that provide trainings, mentoring programs, educational opportunities, knowledge sharing and support for Africans. Partnerships between our governments and businesses should be geared towards providing enabling environments for innovation.

Facebook: Ayo Naledi Designs
Twitter: @theayonaledi














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