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|Written by Toyin Oke on Saturday, 17 October 2009 11:58|
Very upset she walked into a jewellery shop in Washington DC to express her displeasure yo her mother, who had kept her waiting. That, was however a turning point for Bola Allison, who was an IT consultant at that point. Today, she sits as the Director of Bola 3, one of Nigeria’s leading jewellery design outfit.
Why Bola 3?
It is actually God the father, God the son and God the Holy Ghost; the holy trinity. The business is a manifestation of God’s glory. It has nothing to do with me. I never went to school to learn how to make jewellery. I was just an IT consultant. It just happened. An art gallery in Georgetown bought the first collection I ever made. I love what I do. For me, it is not about the money, but about something that I am passionate about. It is about something that I can feel. Everything I wear is handmade, and one off. I don’t make any piece twice. We are proudly Nigerian. I have had a lot of people tell me, “don’t say it is made in Nigeria.” Why shouldn’t I? Why should we be ashamed of our products?
In 2005, I was asked by the Presidency at the time, to represent Nigeria at an expo in Atlanta, where I had so many people come around to say my products cannot be from Nigeria because nothing goods comes from Nigeria.
In four years of existence, we are waxing stronger. Recently we introduced bridals, using diamonds, precious gemstones and semi-precious stones. We are also expanding into men’s jewellery and accessories.
Where do you get the inspiration?
I keep getting the inspiration. Mine is a gift from God. I didn’t grow it, I didn’t plan for it. It is just there. You won’t believe it, but before I started making jewelleries, I hardly wore them. I know people might be wondering how I started, if I didn’t train. During the summer holidays, my mother came over to visit us in Washington DC where there are hardly parking spaces. I had to drop her off, and we agreed on a time I was to come pick her up. I came back at the appointed time, only to find out she wasn’t ready. It took me over 45 minutes to get a parking space. Upset, I met her in a jewellery store where a trunk show was holding. My mother urged me to watch and learn from the jeweller who was doing his act, but I said, “I can do this.” Everybody in that store turned around looking at me. “You mean you can do this?” I said “yes” The jeweller then asked me to do some and of course, I did them. That is how the business started.
How did you get the confidence?
I just knew I could do it! It was not me really, it was the Holy Spirit. In this business, God is the CEO, I am just a Director. There are two types of persons in business. Those who believe they can do it by themselves, and those who rely solely on God. I belong to the group that relies solely on God. I never really planned to have a store in life.
What are the challenges?
It has been extraordinarily challenging. Doing business in Nigeria is tasking. Honestly if I am to be made President, one of the first things I will do is to create a conducive atmosphere for business. To say power supply is epileptic is an understatement. How can you run businesses without adequate power? Businesses now resort to generators for power supply.
It is also very difficult to get a start up loan for small businesses from the banks. The banks will ask you to bring collaterals that are just way off. This is however not an excuse. Regardless of the environment we find ourselves, we must continue with small businesses. The most successful economies of the world are actually powered by small businesses. Small businesses are the bedrock of the economy. If any nation wants to advance economically, then small businesses are the way to go. Government should make allowances for entrepreneurs, particularly new entrants.
I must tell entrepreneurs and would be entrepreneurs that Bola 3 started with $300; today we have something very impressive on ground. You don’t have to start with a lot of money, just a brilliant idea. As an entrepreneur you have to be creative, you need to be a leader and not a follower. Creative in these times, require thinking outside the box.
Where do you source your materials?
I source some of my materials from Nigeria. We have one of the best tourmaline in the world. Really, ours is said to be the best in the world. Truth is we have beautiful stones, but we are too busy selling them abroad and the foreign guys add some value, and then send back to us to buy at cut-throat prices. We are, however, trying to change all that.
What is your management style?
Well, like I said earlier, it is not about me, but about God. We are blessed with God fearing staff, who know what they are doing. I am a relationship leader, not a task leader. I believe in loyalty, so will employ a staff that will be loyal as against one that is skilful. I prefer to invest in someone who’s loyal but without skills. Why? I believe in the fundamental goodness of man. I believe if you find somebody willing to learn, loyal, faithful, and honest, you can invest in such a person.