Agnes and Lola
Founded in August 2010 by Lola Adeshigbin, Agnes and Lola is a London based online retailer of African fashion brands.
Agnes and Lola showcase a kaleidoscopic collection of designers from a multitude of influences. The company selects designers who contribute positively to the development of Africa through their practices or their community involvement.
As a result of her start-up success, CEO Lola Adeshigbin was recently selected to take part in Marie Claire magazine’s Inspire and Mentor programme.
Why did you decide to start your company?
Like every girl, I love fashion and follow the catwalks each season. I came to realise that there was a big gap in the industry concerning African fashion.
Despite the growth of the industry, it was hard to easily access a garment from an African designer and I decided this would be my way of helping the fashion industry grow.
What’s the story behind your brand name?
My grandmother, Agnes, was my first style icon who remained stylish even in her eighties. I loved looking at her pictures, the clothes she wore and her mannerisms. It was so reminiscent of a more glamorous fashion era.
I combined her name with mine, Lola, although I’m not a show girl like the song says!
What was your career path prior to starting your first business?
My educational path was based in the Arts and Languages. I lived in Paris for a while and was very influenced by the overall sense of style.
My professional career has been based in financial services – I still work full time in addition to running Agnes and Lola.
Did you always know that you would start your own business?
Yes I did.
What are you working on at the moment and can you describe your typical working day?
At the moment we are putting together the look for the Autumn / Winter shoot.
My creative director and I would come back from work and go through the mood boards, we email and blackberry chat to each other all day, then go home and work all night. It is non-stop.
We have to make sure we have the right model for the look, the right location and the right team.
How do you maintain a work/life balance while running your business and maintaining a career as a financial consultant?
I try to get some sleep at the very least, although it is sometimes hard to come by. I have to plan ahead and ensure that I am as strict as possible when it comes to keeping deadlines.
I cannot afford to be lackadaisical as this means that I will have to work extra hard in the long run. I have reduced a lot of social activities as my friends remind me, but I am so happy with the work that I do. The passion for this feeds me on.
You recently took part in Marie Claire magazine’s Inspire and Mentor programme, what tips would you give to someone who is looking for their own business mentor?
My advice would be to think carefully about what you want to be mentored in and why. I have always had a mentor in my professional career, even prior to Agnes and Lola. I think it is very important to realise that you do not have the answers and ask someone who can steer you in the right direction.
Do not be afraid of contacting people you admire and understand that they are honoured to be considered. Some may say no, but do not take it personally as when you find the right person, it’s so worth it.
I also feel that we are all mentors in our different works of life and we should really build on this. I recently went to an event called Project Raise where 15 year old girls are put in contact with young professionals so that they are exposed to different professional opportunities. It was wonderful to view young women are leading professionals in politics, finance and medicine sharing their knowledge.
What have been the highlights of running your own business?
The feedback people have given us. It has been amazing to see such support and we find that people who buy from us are genuinely in love with the product.
The best feeling I get is when a customer re-orders with us because it shows that they enjoyed the first experience so much they wanted have another go!
I also love the emails we get and remember one where a pastor mentioned how he was proud of how we represent Africa. It’s really touching that someone is moved enough to take time out of their day and write this to us.
I also remember our first order for the multi print bikini…my sister and I did a little dance before sending it off. We couldn’t believe it.
What is the hardest part of running your own business?
Time. There isn’t enough of it in the day so we have to meticulously plan each day. Also the fact that at the moment we can’t stock all the designers we want…hopefully one day we would be able to.
That’s the goal – to create a home for African designers online.
What has been your proudest business moment so far?
It’ll be a close run between the CNN feature and the mentorship shoot with Marie Claire.
What, or who, inspires and motivates you?
I take inspiration from my family; my mother is a typical African woman so her wardrobe is bursting with colourful items. My sister whom I work closely with is a fashion junkie and she has what I call a true fashion eye.
I also love women that dare to dream beyond what people expect of them. Tyra Banks went from super-model to super-mogul and shows that you can dream bigger than what people expect you to.
In the last few years, I have been really inspired by Michelle Obama who is the ultimate icon for me, both in fashion and life. I remember watching her at the Democratic Convention in 2008 and she stated “All of us driven by a simple belief that the world as it is just won’t do – we have an obligation to fight for the world as it is.” I actually typed these words and posted them on my wall! I love women that show they are thinkers and use the opportunity to influence other women. I cannot speak highly enough of her.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering starting a fashion retail business?
Make sure it is driven by passion as you have to be committed before you see any returns. Fashion is tough, so wear a helmet.
Be true to your beliefs and do not accept any misdemeanours from anyone as they’ll try to give you the run around. It is important to be firm and have principles that you stick to.
Also, work with a trusted team – I would not have the success I have without the people I work with, especially our fabulous PR Beth.
Fast forward five years, where do you think your business will be in 2016?
A global success, making African fashion truly global.
Lola, is there any other information you’d like to share?
Besides fashion we want to be responsible and accountable therefore we admire charity. The organisation we currently support is Medicins Sans Frontier – doctors without borders – who have been doing amazing work in the Congo Republic.
Going forward, we hope to work closely with smaller African based charities that work on developing the roles of women in Africa. I am a feminist by nature and feel that it’s our duty as African women to contribute in developing the role of women in society. We need to support the elevation of our sisters and help break down any barriers they face.
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Lola Adeshigbin was interviewed by Octavia Goredema, founder of the Twenty Ten Club.
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Do you have a question for Lola? If so, please feel free to post a comment below: