What a failed business venture taught me

If you google Michelle Okafor what comes up is my fashion design business. I started it officially in 2013 and I had reasonable success for about two years. I made African print dresses for women and made printed shoes and bags as well. Customers were able to choose their design and fabric, we would take their measurements and they would get a unique, one of a kind dress for their special event. I had a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter handle and a LinkedIn Profile. Business was good. I was able to work from home and dictate my own schedule. At one time I had 3 seamstresses working for me and it felt good creating jobs, in a city where jobs were scarce. It felt good in a lot of ways. Magazines and publications called me for interviews. In general I was on a high.

Then, slowly, things started to change. My funds started to dry up. It became more difficult to pay salaries and overheads. Customers were still coming, but I needed to figure out a way to keep the doors open. It was hard. My savings was running out and I had not drawn a salary in two years. I was in debt, demotivated and down. I started looking at job ads, just to see what was out there. I thought I could get a job and still run my business on the side. I was wrong. I got a job and as soon as I was not there to oversee things, things went from bad to worse. Customers were complaining, quality was bad and trying to balance everything was a nightmare.

Eventually, it was easier to close shop then to continue. I still got orders and asked my seamstress to come in on weekends so we could at least make dresses for the few customers that were left. Then the customers dried up. I had to face the stark realisation that my business was failing. It was hard to accept. I thought of all the money that went into it. Is this the point where I give up? The decision was made for me. Once I got into the routine of the new job, commuting back and forth, I didn’t want to think of the empty sewing room with sewing machines, fabric, patterns, zips and buttons. Money once well spent, now just sinking costs. Well, I thought, taking the job is temporary, until I am back on my feet again. Maybe I’ll do it for 6 months only. It’s been two years now. In the meantime I sold my sewing machines. I closed the Facebook page. I closed the website. It was easier not to have to be reminded. I still get calls from customers, calls from advertisers, calls from journalists wanting to do an article. I have to tell them, sorry I am not in business any more. It’s been two years and although I like the job I have, I dream of the day when I will open shop again.

I have some ideas I’m working on. The seeds are planted. When the time is right, I believe that I can open shop once again. Call my customers to come and have a look. Offer a service that they are willing to pay for. It will be different the second time. It has to be. But at the same time I’m afraid that maybe it won’t last again, and maybe this infatuation with business is just a dreamer’s dream. But then I ask myself, what is the alternative? To keep your dream inside you? For it to remain a caterpillar forever? I think that will be even more painful. So I’m working on my next business idea. I’m positive that things will be different. It has to be. For I have grown. Other people have failed before me and still others will fail. But we can’t let failure stop us. We have to keep going. For success is one stop away.