LEILA FOWLER'S FUNKE FOWLER: NO FOULING THE NAME
Young, vibrant and resilient Funke Fowler, had always known as a child that she would own a boutique no matter what. Today, Vivian Fowler boutique boasts of prominent clientele and this young woman is not done yet.
Her passion for fashion can be traced to the women in her family as they have somehow influenced her in beauty and fashion. Funke told Daily Sun in a recent interview that even though she believes in love, love is not easy. Excerpts:
You are one of the most hardworking young ladies in the social radar, what motivates you?
I wish I could say that I am. I think the need to succeed and make my family proud of me motivates me.
As a child, what was your dream?
Honestly, I wouldn't say that growing up I had one particular dream. I didn't always know what I wanted to do. How certain people always knew that they wanted to be doctors, I just knew that regardless of what I ended up doing professionally that I wanted to own a boutique.
You are very fashionable, what informed your interest in fashion in the first place?
Thank you for the compliment. If you have ever met any of the women in my family you would see right away why I have a love for fashion. It is in my genes. I have grown up surrounded by glamorous women. My maternal grandmother with her platinum colored wigs to her false eyelashes to my paternal grandmother with her knee high boots and fur stoles, there was no way that I wasn't going to have an interest in fashion or rather interest in glamour.
When you started out in business, what challenges did you face?
Everything from power issues, people not taking me seriously because of my age and gender to finding the right staff. It is difficult finding staff that are as passionate about your business as you are. It was even difficult finding something as simple as a good cleaner who understood the reason why I didn't want to see paper on the ground even if it was outside the front gate. To sales assistants that realized that not only are we selling a product but an image. People work hard for their money and we have to make them feel that they are appreciated and special. It's a great privilege every time purchases something from the store, there are a million and one other places they could decide to patronize but they chose to buy that particular item from my boutique. So, we have to make them feel special.
What distinguishes you from other business women?
I will change the question a bit and say what I think makes my business different from other competitor businesses. I am not comfortable calling myself a business woman just yet, I still have a lot to learn. In regards to my business I would like to believe that our attention to detail is what sets us apart from our competitors.
There are very many stores in Lagos that are stocked with beautiful pieces but I think fall short when it comes to providing the client with the complete shopping experience. The ambiance of the store, the manners and etiquette of the staff and the packaging and branding of our product is something that I continually try to improve on. I want customers to enjoy coming into the store and more important, to feel that their hard earned income that they have chosen to spend with us has been money well spent.
What makes a successful business?
The Lord's blessing.
In what ways have your family contributed to making you the person you are today?
They are the reason I am the way I am besides God that is. They have nurtured and guided me and continue to give me guidance and support. I have learned a lot from them individually and the love I have gotten from them has given me the confidence to be able to go out and try and map out my own way.
Do you think you put your family first before doing anything, that is they somehow drive some of your decisions because of the name?
I definitely think that my family affects some of my decisions and inadvertently play a role in what I do or do not do. My grandmother used to say and still does to always ask yourself 'who I am?' Everyone's answer to that question is different, and whatever your answer to that question is should help guide you in your decision making process.
Would you allow any of your children go into business?
I would support my children in whatever they chose to venture into. I have gotten nothing but support from my family and I will do the same for my children.
How do you handle competition?
I think competition is healthy. You cannot be everything to everyone. Without competition how do you test yourself and strive to be the best? The idea is not to be the only one but to create a niche market for yourself.
As an entrepreneur, what drives the choice of your stock?
I am just a lover of fashion and appreciate the work that goes into creating these beautiful pieces. So, I stock the store with brands from any and everywhere. There are different designs with varying price points that do not differ in quality or style in the store. If there is a subliminal message that I am trying to convey to clients I would say that it is that style although personal and unique to each person can be eclectic, so one could mix a relatively inexpensive cotton sun dress and pair it with a $600 Kenneth Jay Lane crystal necklace and look absolutely fabulous.
How would you describe your style?
I would say that my style is very simple and classic. I am much more adventurous when it comes to other people's style than my own.
What would you not be caught wearing as a person?
Spandex. It's not a very forgiving fabric and would show off my multitude of flaws.
What fashion item can't you do without?
I think it is more beauty items that I am more dependent on rather than fashion items. Vaseline and lip balm.
What are those lessons life has taught you?
I think in order to answer that question accurately I need to have experienced more of life. There is still so much I have left to experience. But I will say that with the little I know 'the Lord makes it alright in the end, and if it is not alright then it is most likely not the end'.
How would you describe yourself?
Young people in Nigeria today are facing a lot of challenges, what advice would you give them as a young person?
I would say in my grandmother's words ask yourself 'who am I?' By asking yourself who you are and whose you are, it would stop the young girl who feels the need to sell herself for monetary gain which we see a lot of in various forms in today's society. Or the young man who feels down and out and dejected. We should be proud of ourselves, proud of our families and proud of our nation. Pray for our nation and work towards the changes that we all seek no matter how big or small. Deciding to do something as simple as not littering the street with a sheet of paper imagine if we all decided not to do that? Change will come and by God's grace it will come in our generation. Too many people have worked hard before us for it not to come.
The Leila Fowler boutique was opened in 2008, what have you achieved so far?
We have stayed open given all that has happened economically, we are still open. In an economic slump the first thing we stop spending money on are luxury items. We have been blessed enough to still be here and have built and continue to build our client base. We have also been blessed enough to have opened what I pray will be the first of many spin off ventures. In December 2010 Heritage which focuses on affordable trendy shopping was opened in the Adeniran Ogunsanya Shopping Mall. So to be open for only 3 years I am very content.
What brands do you sell and what sort of merchandise would one find in your boutique?
The boutique through a conscious or an unconscious selection process by both myself and my clients has evolved into a dress shop; ninety percent of the merchandise stocked are dresses, everything from cocktail pieces, evening dresses and more casual maxis. We also have classy accessories.
Do you also stock African designs that are our fabrics and designs?
Yes we do, I am a lover of beautiful fashion. Our fabric and our designs are very beautiful and unique to us as a people. It would be a sin not to have anything of African origin.
How well do you think our indigenous designers are faring?
I think it is amazing how far African designers and in particular Nigerian designers have come. They have become forces to be reckoned with not only locally but on an international level as well. Seeing Chanel Iman walking down the runway in a Tiffany Amber dress or designs by Deola Sagoe in glossy international magazines is a thing of pride. It gives me a great sense of pride to see people, women especially that are the same nationality as I am finally being recognized for their ability on an international level.
Africa as a whole has a lot of unexplored, unrecognized talent. Being able to see fellow Africans showcasing their work in New York city during fashion week which is the dream of any designer in the world gives a sense of hope and shows us that the barriers that once divided us are being brought down. Now that the fashion community has been made to take notice of Nigerian fashion we will start seeing international celebrities wearing our designs to red carpet events. The awareness of our designers and their designs has already begun. It is like the multiplier effect in Economics, the runway looks make their way into the pages of fashion magazines and then into the closets of celebrities whose fans want to dress like their favorite star. As long as we continue to promote our own the sky is the limit.
How are you dealing with financial constraints in your business?
I think when there is a recession or a slump in the economy it is important to adjust accordingly in order to stay in business. It is true that people are more cautious about how and what they spend their money on but style does not have to be expensive in order to be nice. I have tried to adjust the price points in the store to reflect the current economic climate, and I find it even more exciting discovering beautiful pieces that do not necessarily cost a lot but still look like they cost a million dollars. Even during a recession people still want to look nice.
You recently opened another store, Heritage at Adeniran Ogunsanya shopping mall, what plans do you have for Heritage?
Heritage is my baby at the moment. It is my new project. The basic concept of Heritage is affordable fashion. There has definitely been a change in our economy and it is important to adjust accordingly in order to stay in business. It is true that people are more cautious about how and what they spend their money on but style does not have to be expensive in order to be nice. It is exciting finding affordable wearable trendy items. A lot of the time less expensive boutiques mean less of a special shopping experience for the customer. I have tried to make Heritage an affordable store without compromising on the shopping experience for the customer. Hopefully, people will love Heritage and it will grow to be its own brand.
Who are your role models in life?
I have lots of role models, and role models for different aspects of my life, but if I had to mention a couple of them I would say both my grandmothers and my mother.
What advice would you give to anyone who is trying to set up a business?
Not to give up. There have been times and there are still times when I sit and wonder if I have gone down the wrong path and if I shouldn't be working in an office in a fortune 500 company somewhere. I have heard different people say that it is important to do something you are passionate about, and I have definitely been blessed to be able to do what I enjoy doing. Not everyone has that option or opportunity. By the grace of God my stores will continue to grow and I would be able to look back and not have any regrets on not following a passion. So my advice would be to 'not give up' and to ask questions. My mother used to say when I was little there is no such thing as a silly question. Do not be afraid to ask, the only way to know the answer to something is to ask, no one knows everything.
Do you believe in love and have you been in love?
Yes, I believe in love. I have seen many people in love and have been privy enough to see love in various forms. Sometimes life and life issues creep in and make things complicated but underneath it all the love is still there. My parents recently celebrated their 29th wedding anniversary and have been together for 33 years. They have overcome cultural barriers, my mother moved here to be with my father leaving her family and friends to live in a country she knew nothing about and made his family her family, and his friends her friends and his country her country. On my mother's last birthday my father said the toast and one of the things he said was that if he had to do it all over again he would still marry her. After 33 years of being with someone it must be love. So yes, I definitely believe in love. Do I think that love is easy? No. But it does exist and I do believe in it.
Do you have time for love?
I think everyone should have time for love.
Can you tell us about the lucky guy?
I do not think anyone is interested in reading about that.
What if people want to know about him because of you?
Then they should come to me to find out and not from the pages of a newspaper.
Is marriage in your agenda?
Definitely, when the time is right. I would love to start my own little family and carry on. That said, I do not put any pressure on myself nor do I get it from my family, I know it will happen when God wills.
You come from a very prominent family, does this guide your making friends? How do you relate with people?
I wouldn't necessarily call my family prominent but a hard working one. My grandmother went from being a nurse to becoming a lawyer and now an educationist. My grandfather, born to an immigrant Sierra Leonean who came to Nigeria to work on the railway worked hard and became a well respected Professor and anesthesiologist. So, I would call us hard workers, the drive to succeed is definitely there. To answer the other part of your question I have friends from all walks of life. I think when you click with someone you just do it does not matter where they come from or what they do. There is something to be learned from almost everyone.
What else do we need to know about you?
I am still young. I have a BA(hons) degree in Economics and an MBA with a concentration in management. I am the oldest of 3 children and the only girl in my family.