By Christy Anyanwu
Folashade Balogun is a serial entrepreneur and creative director of House of SOTA, a fashion brand with stores in the United States and different cities across Nigeria.
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In this interview with Daily Sun, she spoke about journey from oil and gas into the fashion world, her grass-to-grace story and a lot more.
Before fashion you were into oil and gas, why did you leave such a lucrative sector?
I was into oil and gas, and I am still into it. As we speak, I have a filling station. I did 9-to-5 jobs in my early years. The oil and gas industry is not really as lucrative as when I started out. When I started, it was very profitable. It was booming, but right now a lot has changed. Again, it is about following my passion. I have a strong passion for fashion, and decided to fulfill my dream.
What is it like running a business in Nigeria and the U.S., how would you compare both, market-wise?
It is about lots of bills, believe me. We are really enjoying in Nigeria. In America, you have to pay your tax. You have to pay your rent, you have to pay lots of bills but, guess what, the market is there. That is what has kept us going. People love what they see. They love what we are selling but, again, it is not easy, especially with the exchange rate, it hasn’t been easy.
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Where does your design inspiration come from, when you decide to put an outfit together?
Sometimes, it could be around me. When I see someone, for instance, what you are wearing is a beautiful style, and it could be nice in Ankara or Aso-ebi, then I could twist it a bit. Sometimes I could be watching a movie. My inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere. So, it is just a gift from God.
What do love about being a designer?
The fact that I make people happy, and very comfortable with what they wear, most of our designs are not too serious, we deal in casuals, but even in our casuals you look chic, and trendy. Anywhere I walk into, they applaud my creations. Even if it is a birthday or wedding, there is always a wow factor. Again, when people say they love what I am wearing, that makes me happy. I love putting smiles on people’s faces.
As a serial entrepreneur, how do you cope with work and family, what has been the magic for you?
When I first started my business, it was a bit challenging because I had to do school runs, go to the depot, then my filling station was in Seme. Before I had one in GRA, Ikeja; but now my kids are all grown, I am a grandmother of two. All my kids are graduates. My first son is happily married with two daughters. My second son is here with me, my third son is a pilot in U.S. My only daughter graduated in 2020, she is a psychologist she is working now in the U.S.
What was growing up like for you, especially coming from two different ethnic groups?
I speak Yoruba and Igbo very well. My mum is from Ondo State while my dad is from Orsu Local Government in Imo State. My dad died during the war. My dad was a naval officer and my mum singlehandedly trained all of us.
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What in your upbringing informed the woman you are today?
Growing up was very tough. It wasn’t easy because I lost my dad early and you know, those days the Igbo were very strict with their widows. When a husband died they would strip the woman naked, take everything away from her and she wuld be left alone. That was the same thing that happened to my mother. So my childhood wasn’t really interesting. We were all living in a one-room apartment and she had to do so many things, just so she could take care of us.
She used to sew. She has a chemist, she is still alive. My mom is very creative too, and she loves fashion too. I can say I got that from her. Looking at her then as a teenager inspired me a lot. I grew up in Mushin, and I must say that the Mushin in me is really helping me. It is good to be street-wise. When you are street-wise, even when you are facing any challenge, you look at it as one of those things. My upbringing has really impacted my life greatly.
Looking back now, what is the most memorable thing that comes to mind anytime you remember Mushin?
We lived in a one-room apartment and those were very interesting times. I tell my children that when we send them abroad to school, it’s a privilege. It’s not as if they are entitled to it because when I say one-room, we didn’t have access to a proper toilet like the WC to flush. You know the bucket system of those days, that was what we had.
So, I let my children know all these. I tell them to go out there and work hard like their lives depend on it. And that has really paid off, because all my children made first class, and are doing well today. Thanks to God. My upbringing really gave me a different view of life.
You have been in business for six years; at what age did you discover your creative skill?
From my childhood, I loved to dress very well. I am a fashionista. I love to look different. My mother is Yoruba, my father is Igbo and I am married to an Ikorodu man. Even when I tie my two wrappers, I want to tie it differently. I want to rock my top differently from the normal Igbo style. I am very creative. I didn’t go to any fashion school. Before fashion, I was in oil and gas business; whenever I visited my tailor, I used to design what she would make for me.
And guess what, before I picked up my clothes, a lot of people would have copied that style. So, six years ago, I said to myself, it is time to turn my passion into business and that was how House of SOTA started. We started with just one machine in my house. I was making the designs and I got a tailor. I started with designing the clothes I wore to church. A lot of people loved what I was wearing and asked that I make for them. I would take their orders and get to work with my tailor. That was how we started. And we give glory to God. It has been amazing, though it has not been easy, but we have been persistent and consistent.
What is your dream for House of SOTA?
My dream for House of SOTA is for the brand to become like Zara. That is why we are opening outlets in different parts of the continent. I want House of SOTA to live after me. When I am gone, there will still be House of SOTA, just like some of the popular international brands that we don’t know who owns them.
How do you take time off to relax when you are not working, what do you?
When I am flying, I relax on the flight, I love travelling a lot. If I am not in Lagos, I am in Abuja, if I am not in Abuja, I am in Owerri, or in the U.S. I love travelling a lot.
What lessons have you learned about life?
I have learnt a lot of lessons. Firstly, you shouldn’t look down on people. Be friendly, be nice. Always try not to look down on people and be nice. Even if that person is a beggar, be nice because that beggar might be a billionaire tomorrow, you never can tell.