A case for sustainable business models in Nigeria

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When Amina Gwadabe, a 28-year old mother of two,signed up as one of the first batch of 30 women on the Wow Braids Supplier Program in October 2016, she was not the only one that was sceptical about the outcome. But after nine months on the program, Amina’s monthly income had increased by 300% from N15, 000 earned styling hair for women in her local community to an average of N45, 000 while her Cooperative group grew from 10 to 25 women!

You may ask “So what?”

Well, as a member of Kadara Cooperative hair styling group, Amina had signed up to Wow Braids’ Supplier Program to get modern skills to help her make braided wigs that would suit the requirements of a modern lady in Paris or Lagos. It was a huge call, in terms of our strategy and capital layout. But we knew it would help us do more good while boosting our competitiveness. So, we took it upon ourselves to equip women like Amina to produce quality, globally competitive products at scale in Nigeria for the rest of the world. But the journey wasn’t all smooth sailing.

When we started Wow Braids, recruiting women stylists that provide the support services our business needed as we scale was one of the biggest challenges we faced. At the time, our individual suppliers often came up with creative excuses for missing deadlines and delivering products that fell below customer standards. So in our journey towards a solution to our supplier troubles, we discovered that a combination of poor organization, lack of information, access to capital and access to market were the biggest factors preventing our suppliers, and, indeed, many African women at this level, from maximizing economic opportunities and realizing their full potential.

As a social enterprise, we sought a solution that combines social good with profit making. That solution, Wow Braids Supplier program, helped us achieve two things:  equip women with skills to earn a living and address key factors that prevented our suppliers from creating globally competitive products. The Supplier Program was structured into four phases:

Training: We recruited and trained women on how to make braided wigs in trending styles and meet the quality requirements of a typical consumer in New York, Abuja or London.

Organization: We worked with the trained stylists to form cooperative groups and ensure women in the program had the appropriate leadership and governance structure to meet production and quality standards.

Access to capital: After successfully completing the training, we paired the cooperative groups with organizations that provided seed capital or loans required to produce their first few wigs.

Access to market: Once the hair stylists were able to fund their production, we issued them purchase orders and guaranteed the offtake of all their products that meet our quality standards.

It was a huge success!

Since we launched in October 2016, over 100 hair stylists organized into four cooperative groups have joined the Wow Braids Supplier Program. All the women on the program have fully repaid their loans ahead of schedule and are now independently financing their production. While we currently use this model to produce our line of Hand Braided Wigs and Extensions, we are very excited about the results and potential to equip women at the grassroots level with skills that ultimately transform their lives.

We’ve also identified a pipeline of beauty products that can be produced by adopting the same model and would be launching new lines in the coming months. It might sound a little risky, but the truth is: we do it not because it’s easy, but because it is hard.

Overall, I am enthusiastic that this template can be adapted to many other social businesses as a sustainable way to leverage the latent talent of African women to develop products that meet global standards.

Do you know of other sustainable models? Be sociable, please share!


Editor’s Note: This piece was contributed by Kemi Tijani (@iamkemitijani), MD of Wow Braids and Beauty, a company that locally manufactures hand-braided wigs. 


I believe Africa's entrepreneurship stories must be told!

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