Will you like to be featured on our “How I Started My Business” series? Do you want to nominate someone? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Annah Ayodele is the creative director of Annáy Millinery. She is British by birth and of Nigerian decent. Her parents are from Ogun state. She currently lives in the UK, married with 2 kids and loves all things millinery and Nigerian culture.
Tell us about your business
My business is called Annay Millinery— Annay is a combination of my first name and last name! I make bespoke and ready-made fascinators, cocktail hats and hair pieces for the modern, stylish and chic woman!
From having an idea to starting your business, share your journey with us
I’ve had a passion for fascinators, hat’s, hair pieces and the Royal Ascot, from a very young age. I can remember going to Harrods and Selfridges with my mum and I would be captivated by the hats on display. I could spend hours just trying them on and looking around.
Fast forward to many years later precisely in the Spring of 2013, I decided to launch into the world of millinery, at that time it seemed like a journey of millinery impossibilities, in fact it seemed like a joke. I had no formal qualifications in millinery and had no idea where I would start from. I made a few enquiries online, made a few purchases of materials and started making my first few pieces.
Those “few” actually resulted in a collection. Once I got started there was literally no stopping. I made a page on Facebook, put up some pictures, tagged a few people and from them on I started getting orders. The rest as they say is history.
Why do you love what you do? There are so many other businesses you could have explored, why this?
I love what I do because I love creating things, I love the satisfaction of knowing you have made someone’s day or completed someone’s outfit or look for an occasion. I find ease in what I do.
Many years before I started Annáy Millinery I was into event management and decorating I loved doing that but one way or the other it just didn’t gel with me, I guess that wasn’t my calling. With millinery everything just clicked into place. I never get tired of creating pieces- I can do it in my sleep that’s how much I love it.
At what point did you know beyond all doubt that this is going to work?
I think when I made my first piece for my sister and she wore it for my mums birthday party, people’s reactions were so encouraging, I got many enquiries that day it made me feel good but I still wasn’t sure if this was a hobby or a business that I wanted to really pursue, not until I got my first order through Facebook. The lady had seen some of my work I had posted and she placed an order for a bespoke custom piece. She sent me a photo of what she would be wearing and left it to my care to come up with something that would suit the outfit, occasion and her.
I was super scared initially, I carried out extensive research and just started playing with the materials, putting them together until I got the perfect look! My client was so impressed she referred so many people to me and I think after that I knew this was something that would work and even go further than I could imagine.
How did you raise the capital to start your business, especially with the high cost of running businesses in Nigeria?
I’m currently based in the United Kingdom at the moment, however the response from Nigeria has been so positive. I’ve already started building my clientele base in Nigeria, and had many orders. I’m currently in the process of setting up Annáy Millinery in Nigeria.
How soon did you start making profits?
Initially when I started profit from my work wasn’t as much as I only had a few orders, however I’m a firm believer in maintaining strong work ethics and building a solid foundation. I work hard to ensure that my work is always the best it can be, this has resulted in more sales and of course the more sales you get the more profit you make!
Brilliant ideas don’t always mean great sales, how has it been marketing your services?
Marketing is everything! If I make pieces and don’t show photos of them then no one will see them. Social media has helped a lot in promoting my business, majority of my clients will say they saw photos of my work on Instagram or Facebook. I have a Facebook page which has also helped a great deal. Word of mouth is a great tool and I have had lots of referrals from my friends, however thanks to social media my work is able to reach people in all parts of the world. I’ve had clients from Canada, Hong Kong, Ireland, Denmark, Switzerland, America and Nigeria with thanks to social media.
As a small business owner you can’t do everything, what has been your experience hiring staff and building your team.
So far I’ve been working solo, during periods of great demand I usually hire a millinery apprentice to work with me, which isn’t too bad as my apprentice has basic millinery skills meaning I can just tell her what to do and she can follow through with that. My aim is that each piece looks as though one person has created the entire piece so I tend not to hire more than two apprentices at a time for very large orders.
I’m about to start building my team of Annáy Millinery distributors in Lagos. This is so I can make pieces here in the UK and ship them to my distributors who will then be able to deliver or arrange pick up for orders in Nigeria.
Your greatest skill/strength that has particularly been of help in starting and running your business?
My greatest skill that has helped me in my business has been creativity, this has helped me in my business because as a milliner you have to be creative, innovative and constantly looking and keeping up with fashion trends. You need to be able to meet your client’s needs, for example, I’ve had a few clients that say they don’t know what they want but they want something nice- that’s a blank canvas and you have to be very creative in thinking and putting things together so the client trust’s you and commissions you to create the piece.
It’s that creative streak in me that comes to life allowing me to create my clients millinery dream into a reality.
Did you have to get a formal training or qualification to be able to do this?
I have no formal training at all. My inbuilt talent allows me to create different designs and styles. I follow evolving trends from milliners around the world and look for ways to make my own mark in the industry. Most importantly I practice and learn every day building on knowledge already gained and many of times trying out new ideas and new ways of doing things.
You have been running your business for some time now, what did you know now that you wished you had known before you started?
I’ve learned that your passion and gifts can translate into something big i.e.: something you do in your spare time can just be what people all around the world are looking for. Your passion can meet someone’s need. So my advice for people is to keep nurturing their gifts and one day it will materialize into something great.
Any life experience that has particularly prepared you directly or indirectly for what you do now?
Yes my wedding. I wanted my entire bridal party to wear fascinators but they just weren’t with the idea.It took a lot of convincing and cajoling for them to accept it. It took forever to find something that they all fell in love with. At that time I never even thought of running my own millinery business, but I realised that there was a gap in the market for trendy bridesmaid’s fascinators and even one for myself. I didn’t want to do the whole tiara business I just wanted a nice bridal fascinator for myself and something chic for my maids.
Now that I run my business I totally identify with brides when they say things like “I want my bridesmaids to look trendy and chic” or “I want something nice and simple for the registry” I’ve been in their shoes myself so I know exactly what they want, which helps when creating deigns for brides/bridesmaids.
Change can bring out a part of us we never knew existed, what new things have you discovered about yourself in the course of starting and running your business?
I’ve discovered that I can work outside my comfort zone, that I can push myself to think out of the box and that anything is possible if I apply my mind to it.
The greatest challenge you have ever had to overcome to get to where you are now?
To be honest, by the Grace of God I’ve not had any challenges which have lead me to where I am right now. I believe its God’s divine orchestration causing my gift to make room for me.
The greatest business advice you have ever received and by who?
I absolutely love this statement by Pastor Paul Adefarasin “Skill starts with talent but does not end with talent. Where you find skill it is also called excellence. Skill causes you to be liked and marketable to mankind. People like people who do things excellently, they patronize those who are excellent in the market” this is something I believe is very apt to me and my business. I work to be the best that I can be with God’s help.
What do you think are the most essential skills for women entrepreneurs especially in Nigeria?
I feel that women entrepreneurs need to be confident, creative, unique, and innovative, be competitive with nature- positive competition that brings out the best in one another not to bring each other down.