“I was born into the weaving business. My mom was carrying me in her womb when she started to learn the trade. From my early years, I grew up around the loom so that by the time I was 9 years old, I could weave any design given to me perfectly without any supervision. At 10 years of age, I was in JS 2 and I wove the aso-oke used by my principal’s son for his wedding. When he came into the country and I was shown to him as the one who wove his traditional wedding aso-oke, he was stunned. But aso-oke was not the only form of trade I carried on.
In J.S3, I was sold wara (local cheese). I will get the wara and prepare it with my mom and hawk them but I usually do this during break time. But before wara, in J.S.2 I sold oranges and tangerines whenever they were in season. I could buy a whole bag of oranges and I would sell them all before they got spoilt. I cannot explain what led me to do these things; I guess I derived a certain pleasure in doing these things.
At the end of my Secondary school education, I waited at home for a while before I was eventually admitted to study Medicine and Surgery at the Obafemi Awolowo University. Things went well in my first year, however, I failed a major course which I had to retake; this meant that in my year two I would be free all through because I couldn’t take on any other course with the one I had to retake. So, I had so much free time – then I began to learn more on how to play basketball. Things went down for my family: the Aso-oke went out of fashion and NITEL (where my father worked) went under. To survive in school, I began to do business again.
First, I began with selling eggs. Then later I realized the people were often hungry in the night when cafeterias on campus would have closed so I began to sell noodles too. I sold pure water alongside and I made some money from that. Those businesses were the only way I could sustain myself in school since things were very tight at home and nothing was forthcoming from that end. At the end of my third year in Medicine & Surgery, I had to cross-over to study Economics.
At some point, I got tired of school. I wasn’t doing the course I originally wanted to do and I had to find a way to sustain myself. Things had got so hard for me. In some ways, playing basketball helped but I was stretched thin. I did not quit school because I reminded myself that as the first child I had to set the right example to my younger ones, me giving up will mean that they can give up too.
It was sometime in my year two Economics that I went to Lagos and realized that the Aso-Oke thing was back in vogue. I returned to Ibadan and spurred my mom on to reopen her loom and get stuff started. I spent my NYSC playing basketball and making money. I represented Abuja and we came 3rd in Female Basketball Category at the EKO2012 National Sport Festival. Once NYSC was over, I took a marketing job in Lagos but I didn’t feel in the right skin, so I left and returned to the loom.
Of course my mom did not support me. She did not understand why I would want to take on a trade like weaving aso-oke when I have a degree in Economics that can earn me in job in a bank or an office with an air-conditioner and a fat salary. I knew I had to prove her wrong: use modern technologies, my networking skills to show her that I could up the game. I bought a fairly used loom for 10k and I set up shop in an uncompleted part of our house.
Slowly I began business and I would tell friends about what I was into, I’ll snap pictures and put them on Facebook. All these were in 2013. In the same 2013, I applied for Global Entrepreneurship Training in West Africa which I was selected along side with 14 other participants. This a week GET in West Africa which took place in February 2014 at Wenchi Ghana opened my eyes to a lot of things about Entrepreneurship.
In 2014, I bought another used loom after I have already had an apprentice. Business was growing little by little. Later in the year 2014, I applied for a business grant. Over 600 young entrepreneurs applied; I was so convinced that I could not make the shortlist, let alone win the grant. In front of the panel of judges – 4 whites and one black – I was fidgety. I pitched my Asooke business to them and explained how much impact it could make in Africa.
In January. 2015, I got a message from a friend congratulating me, I was like…for what, and she said she saw my name on Linda Ikeji’s blog. She had checked the shortlist of 80 entrepreneurs and my name was there. In February 2015, I was at the back of the house when I randomly checked my phone and I saw that the winners of the grant had been announced. My name was number one.
With the grant, I left the uncompleted building and got a more befitting space. I also made 10 brand new looms. I was able to boost my capacity with the grant and thereby grow my business. The internet has been a powerful tool for Jokelinks. Beyond marketing and all that, I have been able to partake in Entrepreneurship courses online where I get to learn about how I can conduct my business better and build a reputable organization.
In December 2016, I graduated from the Lagos Business School Entrepreneurship program funded through the Worldbank Scholarship for Women (Certificate in Entrepreneurial Management CEM).”