Mbonne Esenju is a graduate of Biological Sciences and a brand management and communications professional. She also owns Everley, a fashion store that retails female handmade bags in Lagos, Nigeria. From science to communications and now adding fashion to the mix, Mbonne has transitioned quite a lot. The need to make money and run her own business while making her own rules was the spark that ignited Mbonne’s entrepreneurial journey. 

From her days at university, Mbonne sold fashion items, mostly shoes and clothes. When she chose to start a business she decided to go back into fashion retail; and bags came to mind. She explored and did research on handmade bags, and in her own words, “I loved everything about it.” Mbonne settled on female handbags because she felt there was a need to have readily available gorgeous bags at good prices for fashion-forward women.

Mbonne had decided to start a business, but how did she make it a reality? She walks us through how she started her brand, from the ideation process to establishing the business.

“I thought about the kind of brand I wanted, the kind of people I wanted to sell to, how I wanted people to feel about the bags as well. This informed everything from the brand name, logo, look and feel; down to the carrier bags we deliver the handbags in.”

Everley handbags are beautiful and unique, and this piqued our interest in finding out how Mbonne learned to design and make these gorgeous handmade handbags.

“I have people trained to make any handbag design needed for the brand’s collection. I, however, ensure that the quality of production is top-notch.”

It is normal to have fears when beginning a new venture but what matters most is how you face them. While starting her business, Mbonne didn’t exactly have fears, she was anxious.

“I was a little anxious about starting it and about how people would respond to it. But looking back, it’s been a great experience running Everley.”

For Mbonne, the most challenging thing about being a designer is in the area of production. She says, “Mostly production and having the production team stick to timelines. We spend a lot of time doing quality control, making sure the output is great, and we’re happy with it.”

Starting up any business venture comes with challenges; that fact is heightened by the Nigerian factor. Mbonne shared with us some of the challenges she faced as a Nigerian entrepreneur.

“Officially registering the business was a lot of stress, as we did it ourselves and did not outsource the registration process. Sometimes, certain factors pose challenges even as we run the business. One of the major struggles we face (but are fast overcoming) is delivering orders in time to customers. We have partnered with many logistic companies who, at one point or the other, we’ve had to stop doing business with because of so many delays in deliveries. It can be quite frustrating.”

As most would know, marketing is key to the success of any enterprise. To market her business, Mbonne’s brand Everly has an Instagram page @shopeverly that serves as an online store at the moment. She also uses social media ads, which help in creating awareness.

Covid 19, and the subsequent lockdown, had major economic impacts on businesses, and Mbonne’s brand Everly was not left out. She shares with us its impact and how she recovered.

“There were no sales, production was halted, and we couldn’t even market bags at the time because no one was going anywhere. When things started to settle, we ran discount sales for a while; that helped a little.”

Mbonne Esenju draws her inspiration from online, but also from people’s fashion styles and things all around her. When it comes to letting loose, she enjoys a good movie, going out with friends, trying out new restaurants. She also really enjoys redecorating and refurbishing old furniture and some other interesting items.

On what’s next for her businesses, she responds. “Expanding some more… We’re seriously considering adding another bag collection to our leather bags. We’re still thinking about it, but we’re already excited. Another thing is, in the next year, we would like to have our website up and running, with our local delivery sorted.”

Finally, for entrepreneurs who are just starting, Mbonne Esenju shared some advice. “It’s a brave thing that you have started. Don’t worry too much about things not falling in place at first, you’ll have a hang of things with time. One thing you should take seriously is your customer experience. There may be a thousand people doing the same business as you, but what could set these businesses apart is your customer service. Invest time in giving your customers a great experience. Also, make sure you’re enjoying running your business!”

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