Abimbola Kunle-Osunkunle, banker-turned- jewellery designer, is the founder and creative director of Cornucopia, a finely-handcrafted jewellery company that provides accoutrements working with gemstones, freshwater pearls and more for women and, most recently, metrosexuals, with the aim of making them feel elegant and chic every day.
Having bagged a B.Sc in Economics from the University of Ibadan as well as a Certificate in Entrepreneurial Management from the Enterprise Development Centre (EDC) of the Pan-Atlantic University, Abimbola has no regrets leaving the boardroom to start her business on the dining table of her home after which she went on to become an Accredited Jewellery Professional (AJP) certified by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and an alumnus of the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS).
Abimbola is also an Associate Member of WIMBIZ-Women in Management, Business & Public Service. She has now successfully grown her enterprise that started from her dining table to a business that has a showroom in a prime area of Lagos and several other outlets where her jewellery brand is retailed.She is married to Olukunle Osunkunle and they are blessed with three children. In this interview with Guardian she shares her experience.
What does your company do?
At Cornucopia, we design, manufacture and retail high quality handcrafted jewellery to women of style, using semi-precious stones like corals, pearls and other gemstones. Specifically, our aim is to help our clients feel elegant everyday, wherever they find themselves, whether they are at the office or at a wedding. Our jewellery pieces are deliberately designed to be timeless and versatile. They usually become the pieces our customers find themselves wearing all the time.
Our goal is for our customers to no longer feel a need to visit Europe, or the US to buy their jewellery. In fact, our customers often compare us to their jewellers in these countries, usually with them expressing their delight in finding us. A large percentage of our product offerings are ready-to-wear. Our customers come into our store and buy what they need off the shelf, while a small percentage is custom-made, depending on the specific request of the customer. The business has the main showroom, three other strategically located outlets where our jewellery is retailed as well as a website where purchases can be directly made. The aim of Cornucopia is to be accessible to our target market and we continually work to make this more of a reality.
What inspired you to start your company and why leave a lucrative job in the banking industry?
I realised that I was dissatisfied with my banking job, the long hours were telling on my young family at that time. I also wanted to do more, I wanted to own my time, run my business but I was sure I didn’t just want to buy and sell. I wanted to add value, and I realised that if I was going to be successful, it had to be something I was passionate about.
I started exploring what this could be and realised that I not only enjoyed jewellery making, I was good at it. I instinctively know how to make jewellery that people wanted to wear. I decided to resign and focus on growing the business. This was also made easier because when I was afraid to resign, my husband gave me his full encouragement and support. One thing he said was that “if this doesn’t work out you can always go back to work, but if you never do this, you will always ask yourself, what if I had taken this step, what would have happened? “ This made it easier for me to take the plunge, and I have not looked back since.
Why do you think anyone should use your service or product?
A Cornucopia jewellery piece is designed to stand out both in quality and in design. We are very particular about designing jewellery with the wearer in mind, as it is very important that any Cornucopia piece that is acquired becomes the go-to necklace for its owner. With this in mind, our pieces are very wearable, very versatile, durable and they are very stylish.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
My business started on the dining table of my home, with me as designer, marketer, accountant all wrapped in one. As the business grew and I started to employ people and assign roles, I drew on my past experience in customer service and retail banking, and this helped me as we built a culture for Cornucopia in terms of how we treated our customers and how we even prospected for customers. As we have grown, customer satisfaction, and providing jewellery of excellent quality has remained central to everything we do. It sounds like this should go without saying, but we try to be very deliberate in making this our customer experience, even when it is inconvenient for us. This has given us very loyal customers that would vouch for our products anywhere they are.
One of the key turning points for me was attending the six-month entrepreneurship course at the EDC of the Pan Atlantic University, and since then I have continued to ensure that I hone my business skills, as I have realized that creativity isn’t enough, you must be business savvy or the business would remain a hobby.
My parents have owned a business, which my mum ran for about 30 years. I also remember growing up to see how my grandmother would come to Oje Market in Ibadan where I grew up, all the way from our hometown in Ondo State. She would come to buy Aso-oke, trinkets and other things to resell back home. This is one of my earliest memories of her, and I’m sure it may have shaped my thinking.
What are the future plans and aspirations for your company?
My plan is for Cornucopia to become a household name for jewellery retail in Nigeria, and for us to expand beyond the shores of Nigeria to retail overseas. Our business is very labour-intensive as all our pieces are handmade, and it excites me to know that as we do this, we would be doing our share of getting the unemployed off the streets, empowering people, and sustaining families.
Talking about overseas, there are more lifestyle/fashion imports into Nigeria than exports. Doesn’t this bother you?
It’s definitely a bothersome thing that, as a nation, we spend so much foreign exchange to import everything including fashion items into the country. It just shows our failure as a nation to bridge the demand gap and also our failure to create systems that enable Nigeria to compete effectively in the global market.
The truth is that the only way to be relevant in the international market is to ensure that our products can compete globally in terms of quality. We must also be able to make sure that the fashion industry isn’t all fluff, but substance also. Our businesses must be structured so that we can scale, meet demand, and so much more.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
When a customer walks into our store and expresses delight and surprise at finding us and they realise that everything in the store is handmade in Nigeria. We are happy to be a go-to place for people that just want to buy jewellery either for an event they want to attend, for work or as a gift, and who don’t want to necessarily place an order but buy what they need immediately.
Any challenges so far or has the journey been smooth all the way?
Usually, every journey comes with its share of challenges. One of the challenges for me personally as a creative has been continually balancing my creativity with the need to run a successful business. Also growing capacity and accessing capital.
How do you combine family life and business?
Remember that one of the reasons I decided to have a business was because I wanted to own my own time. So family life has always been important to me. For the first four or so years of my business, we operated as a home-based business, but as we grew and expanded, we had to move out of the house. But I have always ensured that my business locations- production and retail- are close to my home. This makes it logistically easier to oversee the home.
Also, I always try to be available for my children, not just physically, but emotionally as well. I’m deliberate about asking about their day, their friends, and also just talking to them about life. I usually sound them out to know what’s on their mind, and they also know that no discussion is off-limits with me. My husband is my very best friend and greatest cheerleader, and together we just make sure that our house is a place filled with laughter. Playing pranks on the children is my husband’s speciality and he just lights up the whole house.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you can give to other start-up founders?
First, I would say do not be afraid of starting small, but give yourself permission to dream big. I worked from home for a number of years but I never lost sight of the fact that I wanted Cornucopia’s showroom to be in a particular location in Lagos. When the time came, this happened.
Also, I believe it’s important to keep growing your knowledge and developing your mind. These are important because it helps us to remain relevant. Also as we grow and evolve, our business evolves as well. We must grow our relationships. It is said that our net-worth is the sum total of our network. I have friends, mentors, big sisters that I talk to regarding my business. This network of people has been so helpful in opening my mind and has also kept challenging me to push further. Good quality relationships also help you to have a growth mindset. Therefore it’s important that we surround ourselves with people that are more driven than we are.
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy reading and cooking.
In what ways have you helped to mentor other women?
I am very passionate about women development, an interest that I express through two separate sessions- a weekly session targeted towards mothers, and another monthly session towards building the complete woman. I also enjoy working with children and I express this through volunteer work done in church and also a teenage creativity summer camp tagged Learn Jewelry, which I launched in 2016.