Lara is an exemplary example of the consummate entrepreneur. As the MD of Ashers she has consistently remained relevant in the world or retail fashion. Let’s read more about this amazing mum!
Please tell us a bit about your educational background and growing up years?
I went to Maryland convent private school Lagos for my primary school, Federal government girl’s college Sagamu for secondary school, thereafter, studied Law at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. Finally obtained a BL from the Nigerian Law School Bwari in year 2000. I’m the third of five kids but the first girl. Two older brothers and two younger sisters. Growing up we had a fantastic family life. Things however got complicated when my parents separated when I was 13 years old. Family life was never the same again. My dad was my hero and would always be. My mum was the medicine I so urgently needed. She knew how to set me right fast and she has been very instrumental to my entrepreneurial pursuits so far.
Did entrepreneurship find you or you found it?
I think it’s a combination of both. The entrepreneurial pull has been so strong in my life that we just had to find one another. Though my dad was a civil servant it was my mum’s entrepreneurial power that had the greatest impact on me growing up! Interestingly enough we didn’t get along that well growing up but she was such a strong character and influence in my life that it was either her way or the highway. Well I was young, broke and desperately in need of direction so the highway was not an option. It had to be her way! It worked for me! Quietly but surely mum introduced me into the world of entrepreneurship and life has never been the same since then. An exciting journey with bumps along the way but laced with many highs too.
Why did you start Ashers?
Well why not? I got into the fashion retailing business initially as a stop gap regimen for when I finish school and become a “Lawyer”. This was the plan but the plan went favorably wrong! So I’m in Law school, doing my fashion retailing business and before I knew it I fell head over heels in love with this business plus I was making a lot of money. I truly couldn’t ask for more at the time. So I broke up with my Lawyer plan and decided to face my fashion retailing love fully. It was the best decision ever, as I am still in love, still going stronger and the best is yet to come!
Now your children are quite grown but at some point in your working life you must have struggled with juggling career, being a wife and motherhood. What helped you balance it all.
To be honest there is never a 100% balance all the time! It’s a daily struggle that gets better over time. It’s a lot easier now that the kids are older and I travel less often because the business has grown in leaps and bounds and over the years my team and I have been able to organize a seamless strategy for buying goods, manufacturing, distribution, sales and customer feedback. This has allowed me more time to spend with my husband and kids and to pursue other areas of interest.
How has your choice of a partner helped you generally, whether it be in terms of juggling career and motherhood or just in terms of supporting all you do.
This is a major one for me. Marriage partnership is too important to be trivialized into this current wave of one day groovy wedding ceremonies that rock but lack much substance! It’s important to get it right once! I didn’t the first time and it almost ruined my life. Mine was literary a battle ground and if I didn’t get out when I did I believe strongly that at least one person would have died. One of the lowest points in my life! But I didn’t stay there. I repacked and bounced back from practically a hellish nightmare. Finally I became the right person and I met the right person and 13 years later it’s truly been a home run! It’s been a series of scores, goals, wins and more highs points than lows! My personal and business goals have experienced an astronomical growth because of my husband. My learning curve has been so positive and consistent and isn’t flattening anytime soon. A progressive, supportive and beneficial partnership to say the least!
Tell us about the mentorship programs you run for children?
The Visionary Nigeria is an initiative I launched in 2011 as an entrepreneur that has been tried and tested in a very challenging business terrain like Nigeria. It was born out of my personal struggles and belief that it is possible to succeed as an entrepreneur in Nigeria in spite of our unique challenges as a nation.
This project is geared towards creating an enabling environment that will support and empower the least Nigerian to achieve his greatest dream. Through the Visionary platform we are working towards a Nigeria where if you can dream it and dare it then you can be sure to find the means through our platform to achieve it. My story is a classical example.
“Never again should a dream, a vision an innovation go unfulfilled because the right message was not instilled at the right time”… This is THE VISIONARY NIGERIA working towards a Nigeria, where entrepreneurial education is properly disseminated at every level, and the most important place to start is with children.
The Visionary is aimed at discovering, mentoring and empowering new entries into the Nigerian entrepreneurial landscape by giving them the opportunity to practically execute their finest business initiatives and innovations. Through my book The visionary kid book and the Visionary Entrepreneurial Academy im passionate about teaching kids, teens and young adults to say yes to entrepreneurship, thereby turning little beginners to world changers. The Visionary Entrepreneurial Program is currently running in over 30 public schools across the FCT, private schools and online.
What kind of testimonies have you received since you started business.
Let me start from the earlier days of business. I entered into the retailing space then with an everyday low prices strategy without compromising quality and ensuring a good customer, shopping experience. This gave rise to testimonials from people that said before we came on board they could not buy ready to wear office clothes. And tailors always either disappointed them or did a terribly bad job. Our ready to wear gave them a renewed sense of style, fit and invariably affecting their self esteem for the better. For others, our low prices gave them a level of inclusiveness in this new world of ready to wear plus they enjoyed an amazing shopping experience every time they were on our fashion retailing premises. More recently our testimonials include our consistency in providing quality male and female outer garments at unbeatable prices and ensuring a fantastic shopping experience in over 20 years. The testimonials still keep coming.
What challenges did you face in business and how did you overcome them?
Oh so many challenges! Doing business in Nigeria is the number one challenge. In over 20 years of fashion retailing our economy has not been stable. We have had to bear the brunt of that for years and this gets passed onto the customers invariably! Funding from banks is a major challenge. Unstable exchange rates is a major problem. Lack of constant power supply, multiple taxation business owners face, lack of reward for entrepreneurial innovation and lastly but probably most importantly the very low buying power of the almost non existent middle class our business is designed to cater to are some of the challenges we face and are currently facing. Thankfully we keep overcoming the challenges and each time we get stronger and better.
What advice do you have for young women struggling with comparison especially in this era of social media where people are constantly comparing themselves with others.
The first thing to do is to find out who you are and get comfortable and confident with that. Once you know and like you then you are already in a very good place. Celebrate your uniqueness and make up your mind to show up in the world as a masterpiece bringing the best version of yourself to the table all the time. Social media should be kept in proper perspective. It’s a platform designed to show the best times and not the worst seasons. It’s a lopsided platform so you can’t build your entire perspective of someone or something on an incomplete story. In any case you don’t need all of that story, you get busy writing your own bestseller and realise that social media is what it is!
How do you keep yourself happy and refreshed?
Time spent with family especially hubby and the kids is one of my best times. Friday night, movie night is a must as it is always a happy and refreshing time. I don’t joke with “ME” time! When I can’t travel, which this Pandemic season has brought, then night time is my sweet time. I’m a night owl, so once everyone is in bed, my day or should I call it night starts! I’m more of a home girl so I work hard to make home a happy and refreshing place for all.
Thanks Lara it’s been great talking to you!