It’s December which we all know is the climax of weddings in Nigeria (Naija). So, it only makes sense we highlight the bridal industry with strong wedding features and festivities that is bound to make you ‘ko mo le’ (get down). What better person to really help us kick off December celebrations than our USA based Ladybrille Nigeria Personality of the Month, Olatokunbo (Tokunbo) Morin-Muhammed?
Tokunbo, as far as we are concerned, is a woman that embodies greatness and is at this point on her way to unmeasured success. An architect by day and a creatively intelligent designer by night and weekends, Tokunbo is the owner of a one of a kind invitation business called IJORERE The Invitation. Ijorere incorporates Nigerian fabrics like Ankara, Lace, Aso Oke, among many, to create aesthetically pleasing, eco-friendly, chic, elegant, funky and unique invitations. IJORERE’s specialty is weddings and indeed it is why many brides, near and far, are clamoring at Tokunbo’s feet to make their day an Ijorere one.
We caught up with Tokunbo for a fun down to earth chat (via phone and IM) that explored the business of Ijorere: from concept to execution, mistakes made along the way, funding, investors and growth.
In addition, to our LadybrilleNigeria bride or groom, if you are planning a wedding in 2010, LADYBRILLENigeria has teamed up with IJORERE for a contest where one lucky LADYBRILLENigeria bride or groom wins the opportunity for IJORERE The Invitation to design his/her wedding invitations. Watch this space for the contest COMING VERY SOON! Enjoy the interview.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Hi Tokunbo. It is a pleasure (chatting) with you.
Tokunbo: The pleasure (is) mine! (Smiles)
LadybrilleNigeria.com: How was your day?
Tokunbo: Sweet & busy as usual, making invitations you know.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: We will get more into that but first, is Ijorere a full time (job) for you?
Tokunbo: Nah, I am an Architect by profession running an invitation business.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: So you still have a 9-5 that you go to?
Tokunbo: Yes Ma’am. I work as an Architect with the government U.S GSA and evening and off days I work on my business.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Okay. Got it. You are a very busy woman. Give us a feel for who you are. Who is Tokunbo?
Tokunbo: (I am) a designer, a creative thinker, sweet talker (laughs), a mother, a wife.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: On the sweet talker, I agree! (laughs) In fact it appears you should be singing. Do you have a singing background? Your voice sounds melodic.
Tokunbo: (Laughs) Nah, wish I could. I am not a bad singer. . .just not a professional one! Thank you. (Smiles)
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Okay consider that as another side gig when Ijorere really takes off. (Laughs) So, let’s talk Ijorere. For non-Yoruba speakers who will read this interview what does it mean?
Tokunbo: Ijorere is pronounced “E-jaw-ray-ray,” it’s a Yoruba word for “a grand day.”
HOW IJORERE THE INVITATION BEGAN. . .
LadybrilleNigeria.com: How did the concept come about?
Tokunbo: Ijorere originally started as a way for me to vent out my creative traits but it was really a way for. . . how can I say this? I love “Ise owo” meaning I love working with my hands. I also enjoy the delights of discovering things the old fashion way. We live in a world of technology and the days of receiving an invitation or a hand written letter is almost obsolete. This is how I started to conceptualize my thoughts for Ijorere.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Let me backtrack on the “Ise Owo” thing you mentioned. You already seem so busy with so many things why add another “Ise Owo” with Ijorere when you are already playing Wonder Woman?
Tokunbo: (Laughs) When one is passionate about something you do it! (Laughs) Drawing or making an invitation is all the same to me. . . I am working with my hands.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Yes Indeed. Let’s really get into it. We are about to roll our sleeves and join you with an “ise owo” Ijorere interview madam.
Tokunbo: I’m ready!
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Okay so you are venting your creative energies and ideas. How does it turn into this business?
Tokunbo: About seven (7) years ago, I made my own wedding invites. My guests were shocked with what they saw! They thought I had a professional service create them for me. Of course later on, I had a lot of my friends and family requesting for my services and you know I just really enjoyed it so much I thought . . . hmmmm, I think someone is trying to tell me something here. Anyway fast (forward) to sometime last year. . . I started researching to see what was out there . . . trying to figure out my niche. Invitation designers come a dime a dozen. I wanted to stand out from the rest. I noticed something was missing. I saw modern invitations, very Western. I saw Indian inspired and Asian Inspired invitations but no African Invitations. Hmmmm . . . how come?
I dug (deeper) looking for African invitations or African-American invitations and all I discovered that represents black people were invitations of a couple with black faces . . . and I said, “this can’t be it?!” I thought invitations should be able to somehow reflect a person’s culture in a way that their guests could share a little piece of that individual’s Ijorere (grand day)?
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: (Begins laughing)
Tokunbo: You are laughing but it is oh so true. . . just google African-American invitations right now and you will see what I am talking about.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: I am laughing more out of excitement because it is so interesting how we think basic ideas have already been done only to realize there is a gaping hole and nobody has filled it. It is indeed how Ladybrille Media Group came about. With a large population of Black people worldwide you would think this has been done?!
Tokunbo: “The idea” came about when I would notice that the patterns printed on invitations were patterns you would find on fabric. I love texture, vibrant colors and patterns and so I thought, “why print a pattern, why not just add the pattern, the texture, the fabric?” Uduak, I ran up the stairs of my house, took out all the pretty African fabrics I had, incorporated it into my invites and Voila! Ijorere was born!
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Wow! What a story.
THE MISTAKES AND JOY OF RUNNING IJORERE THE INVITATION . . .
LADYBRILLENigeria: We will get into the details of running Ijorere very soon but let’s turn our attention for a quick minute to the actual invitations you design. You execute with such precision, seriously. Tell us about your architectural background which it appears informs your designs of Ijorere The Invitation.
Tokunbo: Certainly. If I were to give you a good take on my style of architecture it would be summed up as so . . . “Contemporary, BOLD & exotic.” I believe my invitation design reflects this style. I have over a decade worth of experience working in the architecture world. I graduated from architecture school with a Bachelor’s degree in 2001.
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: There are many young Nigerian girls and aspiring designers who will read this and get chills because you are doing what they want to do. What is lacking in our industry and for women as a whole is the business “know how.” Walk us through what the next steps were for you. How did you turn this into the business that it is today?
Tokunbo: I am not really a business minded person, so you can just imagine how many mistakes I made! I think it is true that if one is a creative minded person, they are usually not business minded. (Laughs)
Tokunbo (continues): It was all fun coming up with a name for my business, designing the logo, coming up with a slogan but when it was time to register the business, all the legalities with trade marking my logo, dealing with web designers that knew the technical aspects of designing a web but they couldn’t envision what I wanted . . . was so frustrating.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Hmmm . . .
Tokunbo: Then comes the money aspects. Pheew! Where can I start?
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Abeg start o! We wan hear this part because that is what it really comes down to with running a business, the financial backing. (Laughs)
Tokunbo: (Laughs) One has to have a little capital to start a business. I didn’t have capital. I had a job as an Architect so I used my stable day job to invest in my business. I bought a lot of stationeries to make samples, spent money on advertising to spread the word, unfortunately some were spam.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: What do you mean spam?
Tokunbo: I spent money on web designing several times, because I am a perfectionist when it comes to anything design and how it represents me, my vision and my style. Without getting into names, I once advertised with a wedding site, paid big bucks for it $$$$ and nothing, not one customer. I wasted money on web designers who didn’t have a clue of how to be an “Artist” if you know what I mean. But it was all good, because I needed to make these mistakes so my eyes could open to the light of what is right, what is wrong, what will benefit me and not.
Then, there was the issue of knowing my worth. It is obvious that what I sell is not worth $2.00. It was obvious that what I kept creating was not for the “budget clientele” and so now I know who I am selling to, I understand my worth, I know how to set my prices and stand my grounds about it.
WHOSE YOUR AUDIENCE, HOW MUCH WILL YOU CHARGE FOR YOUR SERVICES?
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Let’s take each apart. Who is your target audience, who are you selling Ijorere to?
Tokunbo: Anyone who appreciates good design. The discerning bride, affluent customers who understand that their Ijorere comes but once and it should be grand. It’s for those who understand that first impression counts. Ijorere invitations are luxurious eco-friendly invitations that will (survive the wedding event). These are invitations people will never forget.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Okay just so we are clear, you’ve got the bridal customer (Nigerians, Blacks, Indians, Whites etc) who else? What other customers?
Tokunbo: Majority of my customers are brides or wedding planners but Ijorere also serves other customers. This December we are focusing on babies. I have a few mom-to-be’s asking for baby shower and baby announcement cards.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Awwww. . . that is so cute! I never even thought about baby showers but baby shower invitations would be perfect also.
Tokunbo: Yeah, it is. I am so excited with the baby card thing, too cute! Oh, just wait till you view what I am about to showcase for the lil’ munchkins!
LADYBRILLENigeria: Excited! (laughs)
Tokunbo: We also provide special event invites, house warming cards, etc.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: You have also said, “I understand my worth, I know how to set my prices and stand my grounds about it.” As fashion business professionals trying to start a new venture, what are some tips on how we figure out our price points and stay true to it?
Tokunbo: I say do your research, see what the going prices are. Critic your products and ask others (that are not customers) what do you think this is worth? I did what I did because I love doing it. I didn’t know what it was worth. The professional photographer I used to take pictures of my invitations said to me. . . “Oh my God! These are not for the (average) client Ola!” My mom saw how much time I put into my work and said, “Hmmmm Tokunbo, these are not cheap invitations.” The ladies at the printing shop looked at my work and said, “Ola you are going to have to focus on a “certain” demographics here. . .”
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Let’s continue a bit more on tips. You mention a lot of mistakes you made in trying to get your business started: Give us tips on finding the right website designer?
Tokunbo: I have a new motto. My advice to others is to “do as you will & follow your heart…but do so with your eyes WIDE WIDE open.” The most successful people in the world do what they do best! #1, If you have a great idea, protect it first before anything or else!
LadybrilleNigeria.com: The intellectual property part. Copyright/trademark protection.
Tokunbo: Heck yeah! (Smiles) #2, Come up with a real business plan. I wish I had. I would have avoided a ton of mistakes. #3, If you are going for a web designer, check out samples of their work. If you are a just a tiny bit worried, follow your instincts and go to another . . . (as in) next!
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY. . . FUNDING FOR IJORERE
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Those are very useful tips Tokunbo. Tell us a bit more about your funding situation. Do you at this point need investors? If so, what exactly can you offer investors and what kinds of investors are you looking for? Is that what it will take to help you quit your 9-5 or are you doing both as your passions?
Tokunbo: Ijorere The Invitation is just the beginning of my business ventures . . . I have plans to network with the right people, people who believe in Ijorere and are willing to invest in my ideas. I have thoughts to open a transformable space to hold my clients’ events, a loft to be exact. Here is where my Architectural experience comes in. I want Ijorere to be a one stop shop for all things luxe and Urbane. A client would be able to host their event at Ijorere, I would interior decorate the space, converting it to their heart desires. Each time an event takes place it would be one of a kind and not look the same as the previous event and of course how would the guests know about the event unless they get “The Invitation.” (laugh)
Per investors, I need someone willing to partner up with Ijorere, buying property that would be used to host any kind of event. Per what I would bring to the table, creative design with an ethnic flare. . .unconventional designs and creative ideas that are not cliché, not the norm. People want to see unique things, and visit unique spaces. It’s refreshing to see something different sometimes you know.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: (Such ambitious goals). It sounds great. Where is Ijorere as a business now? It would seem to me it should be very active in Nigeria given the wedding and events market?
Tokunbo: Oh! I am working on it. I needed to establish my business where I live first, the U.S and I think I have finally got a wave started. Now my target is Nigeria once I convince “our people” flyers or copies are NOT the proper way to invite your guest!
BRIDES AND GROOMS . . . WHERE AND HOW TO HIRE IJORERE FOR YOUR WEDDINGS
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Great transition for us to talk Naija weddings! It is wedding time in Naija. How do brides get you to design for them? What do they need to do? What steps would they need to take?
Tokunbo: Oh definitely, it “is the season in rejoice.” Ijorere provides service internationally now. A bride simply needs to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can start to have conversations (via email) about how we can make her Ijorere come to live. They can contact me via phone at 312.401.3956. Her invites once completed would be sent via FedEX.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: What if a bride wants a more personal touch than phone calls or e-mails especially since it is an emotional time?
Tokunbo: Yes. A bride’s day is a very big event and so I always meet with my clients. Ijorere is personal. I try to have what I would call an “intimate relationship” with my brides. My customers become my friends by the time we are done. But for brides located internationally, we are unfortunately limited to how we can connect. So a phone call to get a sense of her style, pictures and lots of correspondences via email would be her options.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: What about wedding planners looking to retain/hire your services, people like Funke Bucknor-Obruthe and the likes? How do you work with wedding planners?
Tokunbo: Working with wedding planners is cool. I kind of prefer dealing with wedding
planners because they understand their brides and can articulate their styles and tastes to me better. Sometimes a bride doesn’t really know what she wants and that could be time consuming. But, I haven’t come across that situation yet. I am very intuitive and so I am somehow able to figure out what she might like.
LadybrilleNigeria.com: Final question for you. We’ve talked about the Nigerian bride because obviously this interview is for LadybrilleNigeria. BUT for our non-Nigerian brides for example at our sister sites like Ladybrille Magazine, Ladybrille Stars or brides who will run into this interview from diverse backgrounds, can you customize invitations to reflect their cultures?
Tokunbo: Most certainly! That is exactly what Ijorere is about. (Smiles) I am Nigerian, a Yoruba girl and so my eye favors designs that showcases where I come from. Ijorere celebrates multi-cultures, but yes I can’t help but to proudly incorporate African or more specifically Nigerian designs to my invitations. I guess you could say I am show off where I come from. (Laughs)
LADYBRILLE.com: (laughs) But Non-Nigerian brides can tailor their Ijorere invitations to reflect their own personal cultures that do not necessarily infuse Nigerian designs into them?
Tokunbo: Yes. I want people, brides to understand that Ijorere The Invitation are invites that reflects where they come from. Ijorere are invites to allow them to share a piece of their heritage with their family and friends whether they be Caucasians, African- Americans, Polish, Irish, Indian, Asian, African and so forth. We all have a culture, a tradition and there is something extra special and beautiful in sharing that with others on their Ijorere day!
LADYBRILLENigeria.com: Thank you so much. You’ve been such a delight to have and we look forward to a month on LadybrilleNigeria that is simply IJORERE because we have you as our personality of the month.
Tokunbo: Uduak, it was such a pleasure chatting with you this evening, May your day be Ijorere, A day that is Grand!
~Interview by Uduak Oduok
~Photocredit: Ijorere The Invitation