21-year-old Night Olao attended the Eldoret BLAZE BYOB Creation Camp out of curiosity. The camp changed her life and her small business that makes accessories when she emerged as the 3rd runners up in the BLAZE BYOB Creation Camp going home with some money but even better, she got skills and knowledge that will take her business to the next level.
This year, Safaricom flagged off the 4th Edition of the BLAZE BYOB. They expanded their engagement programs to 18 compared to the 3 they had last year so they could reach more youth in all the regions. BLAZE BYOB provides youth mentorship summits and creation camps all focused on empowering the youth by providing valuable information, skills and networking opportunities in different fields including Creative Arts, Fashion, Sales, and Film and Photography, Production Music, Agriculture, and Sports.
Night Olao came in third in the BLAZE BYOB creation camp in Eldoret. At 21 years old, she is the CEO of Banda Collections, a fashion brand that deals with creating unique fashion pieces and accessories for the modern-day woman and man. In only 6 months, she has been able to run a successful business and is looking to continue expanding. I sat down with her to get to know about her journey and her experience at the BLAZE BYOB creation camp.
Please tell us about yourself
I am a student at Moi University in my fourth year taking Media Science. I am also an entrepreneur and live in Eldoret. I run Banda Collections, where we make and sell accessories made primarily out of Ankara but we recently started using other kinds of fabric. We have been concentrating on beadwork too. So we make necklaces and hand accessories.
What inspired you to start your business?
Something that has always bugged me and I am sure bugs other young people is what to do right after completing campus education. Most of us think we will get jobs right away which is not always the case. So I wanted to have something I could work on right after I finished school so that I would not just be sitting around. Additionally, I wanted to help out at home. I come from a family of six. My dad sometimes struggles to pay our school fees and I wanted to pitch in. I have always loved Ankara so I thought that was a nice place to start.
How do you balance school and business?
I started my business around May this year. When I was starting it was quite tough. I wanted to give up a lot of the time. But then I figured out a way around it. I would concentrate on my school work from Monday to Friday. I would then dedicate all my weekends to make my earrings. The first place I sold my earrings was in the hostels. Luckily the month after, we went home for our long holidays so I was able to fully concentrate on my business.
Thankfully, my business grew quite quickly. I was able to open a store in Eldoret town where I now work with three people. One deals with the sales, the other one stands in for me at the shop then the other helps me make the jewellery. So this has really helped me manage the school-business balance.
As a new business, what are the challenges have you encountered so far?
The biggest challenge would be the finance aspect. Not only acquiring it but also managing it. In the beginning, I would take money out of the business for personal use. Because of how much money you are injecting into the business, you end up broke a lot of the times. So it is very tempting to take money that money you make as profit. However, it becomes a cycle because taking money out of a new business will stunt its growth.
Additionally, the Ankara market is a niche market. Not everyone is into that style. So when I wanted to expand my business, I realized there are just some people who are not interested in it. However, I took their feedback positively and incorporated the use of plain fabric. This way I get to serve a bigger market.
Where do you source the fabric and beads you use to make your accessories?
When I began the business, I was really trying to be smart with the money I had. It did not make sense for me to buy a whole meter of material yet my earrings require so little fabric. I would also have to buy different kinds of material for diversity. So I made friends with a couple of tailors around my home area. They have a lot of fabric leftover which they are unable to use so they give it to me free of charge. This is the fabric I use to make my earrings. That is a huge expense that I get to save on. I buy the beads from a certain shop in Eldoret. I just buy them in bulk which is much cheaper.
Why did you decide to go for the Blaze Creation Camp?
I love listening to the radio especially Hot 96. So I heard the hosts talking about the creation camps happening in Kitale. Afterwards, they talked about BLAZE coming to Eldoret and I wanted to check it out and find out what it was about. However, on the first day of the creation camps, I was not even aware that BLAZE was in my hometown. By then I did not even have a smartphone so it was hard to keep track of some things. My neighbour is the one who alerted me to the news. So I was decided to attend the second day of the camp. Unfortunately, I had not registered online so at first, it was hard to get in through the gate. But I was really determined and eventually, they allowed me to get in.
How was your experience at the Creation Camp? Any moment that stood out to you?
I learnt so much most especially about finance. My mentor was Nancie Mwai. One of the things she talked about was the importance of rewarding yourself as an entrepreneur. If you keep injecting money into your business without paying yourself, running your business that you were once so passionate about can become such a daunting task. That spoke to me. Sometimes it is hard to even reward yourself since you want to put everything you have into the business so it can grow.
Those discussions become my first entrepreneurial class. It is important to understand how to manage your money and find the balance between funding your business and reaping its benefits. I was also able to interact with other young entrepreneurs. I made a couple of friends and we are very keen on working and growing together.
How has being part of the BLAZE experience and winning the prize money impacted your life?
The first thing I did when I received the prize money account was to buy a sewing machine. I have been planning on expanding my business for a while now. The idea is to incorporate clothes into the business and this win at BLAZE came at the perfect time. The rest of the money went to restocking most of the tools I use to make the accessories. Apart from winning the money, the lessons I learnt interacting with the mentors will go a long way especially now that I am planning on not only expanding my business product-wise but also geographically. Now that I am here in Nairobi, I would also like to open a shop here.
What do you think is BLAZE BYOB impact on young entrepreneurs such as yourself?
One of the major things I think BLAZE is providing us is exposure. When you are this young and you start a business, more often than not you do not even know where to start. Even if you have the resources you do not know where to invest them for maximum benefit. So these creation camps help with that aspect of mentorship. To be honest, I did not even know that there was any prize money. I had gone there solely for the mentorship. While the money has been really great, the lessons I learnt are the ones helping me make certain decisions for my business. For example, I plan on taking up Centonomy Classes to get more financially savvy. If it was not for BLAZE, I would not even know those classes existed.
What are some of the lessons you have learnt about running a business?
One needs to be patient. This was especially really hard for me because I tend to be a very impatient person. You may want things to go a certain way but then they could go in the other direction. Other times you may spend your time creating products that do not do well in the market and that can be very frustrating. You learn to be patient with your business.
Another huge lesson that has been significant to me is persistence. If you do not keep pushing your business forward, nobody will do it for you.
As a young entrepreneur, what advice would you give to other young people who want to start or grow a business?
Our generation struggles with having high expectations. They want to start something and see immediate results. It takes time. I took me about 3 months to even start making returns which did not amount to much. So if you are going to start a business, you need to put in the work and be patient. High expectations can kill your business very early.
Another thing is the aspect of financing your business. Sometimes you do not need a lot of money to start your business. Work with what you have. Your idea is what will make your business a success. I did not wait to get a lot of money. I did not even approach anyone for a loan or an investment. I started with the little savings I had and went from there. You can even start a business with Kshs 100.
After running your business for 6 months, what are some of the highlights so far?
Winning 3rd Position at the Eldoret BLAZE Creation camp was definitely huge for me. Additionally, I got my first international order from Ghana recently. This just shows that there is a huge potential for the business to break local boundaries and that in itself is so encouraging.
What plans do you have for your business moving forward?
My immediate plan right now is to set up a store here in Nairobi. Additionally, now that I have a sewing machine, you can expect new fashion designs coming soon. I am also going to take some advice that Nancie Mwai told me very seriously. She told me that I do not have to limit myself to Ankara just because that is how I started. So I am planning on looking into other product ideas such as brass earrings and bikinis and I am very excited.