Sonia Ben is a fashion designer and the founder of Shop Stab. She talks to MOTUNRAYO AKINRUN about her business
What is your educational background?
For my elementary studies, I attended the Thescol private school. I also attended Thescol College which is located near CMD Road, Magodo, Lagos.
Later I studied Medical Laboratory Science majoring in Chemical Pathology at Babcock University in Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State.
I also have fashion and business administration certifications, and plan to get more certificates in the future.
Do you have corporate work experience?
Yes. I worked for some time at Ogun State Government Hospital, Ota, Ogun State.
You once mentioned that you discovered your love for fashion under the tutelage of your grandfather. In what ways has he influenced you?
My grandfather was a fashionable man. He liked nice clothes, and he also encouraged me to always look good. He always took me window shopping at night. When I was deciding on a career path and it looked like I was going to give up fashion to go the medical route, he encouraged me to keep both.
What is the idea behind the name of your business, “Shop Stab”?
It’s actually a funny story. When I was in high school, I had a sketchbook where I drew dresses for ‘Sonia Tessy Adaobi Ben House of Fahion’, as I called it then. But, one day, a friend saw it and she called it STAB (my initials), and from there, it stuck. To make things easier, I added “shop” to the name.
Is your business registered?
Yes, the company is registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission.
What motivated you to start your own business?
Although it was always clear that this was going to happen, what kept me going was that I could never find my dress size whenever I went shopping. I’m a size four by the way, so I discovered there was a market and an untapped niche there, and I chose to fill that void.
How much was your initial capital and how did you raise it?
My initial capital was 73,000 naira. I had 43,000 naira in savings and my grandmother supported me with 30,000 naira.
What major challenges have you encountered in running the business?
The main challenge I encountered was when I could no longer pay for social media ads with my naira debit card due to some limitations imposed by the Central Bank of Nigeria last year. So I had to resort to other means. It was a really tough time for the company, but I was able to find a way around it.
What do you see as the strengths of the company?
There have been so many, but I would say recognitions are at the top of the list. It’s really encouraging to be appreciated for what you do.
What is the hardest job you have ever done?
It would be a custom dress that I was making before I had a little accident, and I couldn’t use my legs, which gave me one night to finish the dress. But, at the end of the day, it came out really beautifully.
Who are the people you admire in this industry?
There are a lot of people I admire. They include Gbemi Okunlola of Alonuko, Andrea Iyamah and Deola Sagoe, all of whom are fashion designers who have made their mark in different ways.
There are many fashion designers. What sets you apart from others?
One thing that sets me apart is the niche I cater to, which is mostly petite women.
How do you advertise the business?
I advertise my business using Facebook Marketplace. However, about 50% of my clients come from referrals.
What kind of support did you receive from your family and friends when you started the business?
I always say that I have the best people around me. My family members were very warm and supportive. They really encouraged me. My friends were there for me too. In fact, they were my first clients. My best friend has been very supportive of me in everything I do.
How do you handle difficult customers?
I have an interesting experience in this regard. Once I had a price error on my website. A N14,000 dress was wrongly advertised for N14 and a customer ordered it. I contacted her explaining that there was a mistake, but she insisted that I deliver the dress at this price.
What personal qualities do you have that help your business?
The main thing is creativity. In addition, I have good communication and negotiation skills. I can be meticulous and always demand perfection in all aspects.
Nigeria is experiencing a huge brain drain, with many professionals traveling out of the country to seek greener pastures. How do you feel about that, vis-à-vis staying in the country and running a business?
People have their reasons for seeking better opportunities outside the country, although sometimes it may or may not work out for them as they envisioned.
Personally, I believe it depends on what motivates us as a person and our life goals. Running a business in Nigeria comes with many challenges, such as infrastructure limitations and economic fluctuations. However, with the right vision, creativity, and business acumen, these challenges can be overcome to create a successful and fulfilling business.
What are your short and long term goals for your career?
My short-term goals for my career would be to attend more fashion shows, collaborate with influencers, get published, and improve my technical skills.
As far as my long-term goals go, I’m working on making my brand a household name. I also want to become a sought-after global talent and win awards in my field, while promoting sustainable fashion.
What advice do you have for other young entrepreneurs looking to start a fashion design business?
The advice I can give them is: start and be true to yourself. Whatever you think makes sense, believe it does. Also, don’t be discouraged. There are millions of birds in the sky, and they all have room to fly without colliding. The world is big enough for you to spread your wings and fly.
Do you make your own clothes? If yes, how do you like to dress?
Yes, I make my own clothes. I like a sophisticated yet minimalist look.