Struggles of a startup: The “bamboo” innovator with an eye for green

Most entrepreneurs are driven by a common, undying desire to satisfy a need. They scavenge for business opportunities from the rubbles of socio-economic gaps around their immediate environment, allowing them identify societal needs which become the foundation of a sustainable business.

Abari Damilola embodies, in typical fashion, this persona. His quest to offer something unique forced him to think innovatively when he ventured into the business of producing sunglasses. The 27-year old, Lagos-born entrepreneur found refuge in the midst of bamboos after spotting a need for eco-friendly sunglasses. Today, Damilola is the proud founder of Africa’s first eco-friendly sunglasses line. His Bamboo-framed sunglasses are iconic in style and look. They are also healthier to use than regular metal frames.

In this interview, Abari speaks on how ‘the Lagos hustle’ has influenced his entrepreneurial journey, the lessons learnt from managing a business and his vision for the brand.

I am Abari Abdulhamid Damilola

I’m a 27-year old Lagosian (born and raised in Lagos). I am also a graduate of Igbinedion University Okada with a major in Mechanical Engineering, Presently undergoing my Master’s degree in the University of Sheffield U.K in Process Safety and Loss Prevention.

Growing up and impact on business

I’m a typical Lagosian and we are known to be very fashion conscious, always wanting to stand out from the crowd with our accessories and that influence my choice of not doing the conventional plastic or metal frame sunglasses but to use bamboo which is eco-friendly and good for the skin.

Abari Bamboo Sunglasses

AbariTM Bamboo sunglasses brand was officially established in January 2016, although a lot of the publicity and groundwork was done over the course of 2015. I chose to categorize the frame models for ease of identification.

The first is the Creamie model. The Creamie model are made from ecological bamboo which is the original colour of the bamboo. This sunglasses are eco-friendly, water resistant, that float on water and Non-slippery when sweating unlike the plastic frame glasses. They come with Wayfarer style and also round shape style, TAC polarized lenses providing full sun protection for your eyes from UV rays and strengthened flex-steel hinges. While the coffee model bamboo sunglasses are eco-friendly, the color is as a result of oil painting the bamboo which just gives our customers an option to choose depending on their complexion or desire. They come in a Wayfarer style and also round shape style and suits most faces notwithstanding the size of face.

abari

The lenses are TAC (Tri Acetate Cellulose), which offer superior visual and polarization clarity. They are hard coated to resist scratching and block out 100 percent of all harmful UV rays up to 400 nanometers, and are also lightweight and highly impact resistant. Lenses are also available in different in colors (ROYGBIV)

To ensure our products appear classy, each pair comes in a hard bamboo box with a silk lens cloth, silk bag and a little gift.

Inspiration

I saw a problem and decided to solve it. A lot of Nigerian are exposed to UV rays knowingly and unknowingly, coming from the sun (due to ozone layer depletion), street lights and even inner lights and headlamp use for decoration of cars both in cars and outside. Exposure to UV rays are dangerous to the eyes, but very little amount of people know of this hazard (myself inclusive until my research) as we just admire the beauty and ignore the effect of this UV lights.

Relationship with bamboo

Prior to venturing into this business I wouldn’t say I do have a relationship with bamboo, but now I can see everything around me turning to bamboo, knowing how strong, effective and the durability bamboo products brings.

Funding

I had a full-time job before I went back to school and have been doing a lot of saving, so this business is currently funded entirely from my pocket. I do intend to expand to other bamboo products which would definitely require a lot of capital, hopefully with a successful run of the bamboo sunglasses it would convince potential investors to look in my direction.

Greatest daily business challenge till date

Convincing people that about price. With the Nigerian market flooded with inferior goods, a lot of people have embraced the culture of favouring cheap over quality.

Doubts regarding success

Trying not to be boastful but I never had doubts, because I knew the product will sell itself all I needed to do was to make it available and affordable and thanks to the hashtag #buynaijatogrowthenaira with credit to Senator Ben Bruce, it was the perfect platform to showcase my product and the comments have been very encouraging.

Lessons learnt in entrepreneurship

First and most important to me is that the customer is “KING”. Treat them as royalties and they remain loyal to you.

Also, time management is critical. I’m in school and it been challenging running between school and business.

Lastly, critics are “chiefs”…manage their excesses, it only makes you stronger.

Major hindrances to business growth in Nigeria

Hindrance is dependent on the individual, I believe Nigeria has a growing economy and it’s our duty as entrepreneur to find our feet and help it grow, although issues like exchange rate and availability of skilled personnel are issues but they are manageable in my opinion.

The three qualities a startup needs to succeed

Sincerity, persistence and effectiveness

Quick Fire Questions

Favourite business brand?

Dangote

Favourite business leader?

Jack Ma (Alibaba group)

Most Inspiring Quote?

“You only get lucky when you take the opportunities that come you way.”

Most admired Nigerian Entrepreneur?

Alhaji Aliko Dangote

Top Travel Destination?

Obudu Cattle Ranch