My Focus is In Pleasing My Clients – Naija Housewives’ Interview with Monalisa Abimbola Azeh of Mona Matthews

Editor’s Note: I read about Monalisa Abimbola Azeh a couple of months ago and was deeply struck by the sheer grit it must have taken to build a business like she has. She owns and runs the label, Mona Matthews, that produces luxury goods (shoes and bags) right here in Nigeria. She does not send her designs to China or Vietnam like so many people are doing these days, but sources for raw materials locally and does her production here in the country. I found this phenomenal. Statistics tell us that most businesses fail within the first 5 years. Mona Matthews has gone past a decade. She found a need, created a solution and stuck by it with a persistence and doggedness that is inspiring and motivating at the same time. I hope you enjoy reading this interview.

 

[media-credit id=1 align=”aligncenter” width=”640″]Monalisa Azeh on Naija Housewives[/media-credit]Tell us about yourself; your childhood and background?

My parents worked in various Universities as Administrators in various capacities. I have 3 Siblings. I read a lot growing up. I loved reading and believe education very important. I also studied Law at University of Lagos.

 

We read somewhere that you did not really set out to be a shoe designer, but you must have had some artistic tendencies when you were younger; how were those displayed?

I loved making things like paper dolls and we always had music at home. I watched loads of stage drama and loved it too. Then I loved dressing people up too and doing their make up etc.

[media-credit id=1 align=”aligncenter” width=”640″]Mona Matthews Bags Naija Housewives[/media-credit] 

You were definitely a very creative person. So how did you eventually make the decision to start your shoe company, Mona Matthews?

Well I was at a crossroads after working in Church and doing some other things. I was advised to pray and seek direction from God about what He specifically wanted me to do. I did and shoemaking was ministered to me. I had made shoes prior to this because I was finding it hard to get the kind of shoes that I wanted. And people had ordered shoe from me even before I began to think of it as a business.

 

As a married woman, how do you combine work and the home front?

My husband is very supportive of my business. He gives me wings to fly. More than that, I employ the most competent person I can afford to do the housework and then I plan.

[media-credit id=1 align=”aligncenter” width=”640″]Mona Matthews Yellow Naija Housewives[/media-credit] 

What is your design philosophy?

My client’s needs. I started out wanting to do very esoteric designs, but at every point I couldn’t ignore what my clients wanted and needed.

 

Where do you draw your inspiration from for your designs?

First from God, the Ultimate Designer. I know many people say this, but in my case, being a Christian opens me up to so many ideas. Also, I am very fashion forward, sometimes too fashion forward. I study the trends and interpret them to suit my clients. Also, my clients come up with ideas. So also do my staff and shoemakers.

 

We have several up and coming business people who work with leather right now and you have been in this business for about 12 years. How have you kept your edge?

Well I give glory to God, He is my source. I am also focused about my business. I try to learn new things. I am also aware that there is competition, but my focus really has always been pleasing the client. Offering a service that they cannot get anywhere else. I make excellence my watch word. I don’t compromise on that.

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Could you tell us about the journey so far? What have been the major challenges you’ve faced and how did you overcome those?

Well the challenges we had earlier on made us more innovative. Lack of personnel made us work smarter, find ways of speeding up our processes. It’s been interesting. [I’ve had] days of wanting to give up but trudged on regardless of the obstacles. I have learnt to handle people, staff, clients and contractors and I am still learning.

Nigerians are fashionable and love to look good. They have embraced the Mona Matthews Brand wholeheartedly. Many people tell other people about our work. We make to order and we have a ready to wear range as well. Making to order helps me to listen to my clients and understand their requirements.

This has made us the go-to brand for special shoes for that special event. Now, people say, oh I wish I had heard about you earlier. Many of our clients travel abroad but still buy their shoes from us because we are able to meet their needs. We add glamour to comfort and style. Also clients say the shoes they bought from us more than 5 years ago are still in great condition. One client told me on Facebook that the pair of slippers she bought from us 8 years ago have refused to spoil (get ruined), lol. I love my work.

We also have made it a point of duty to learn from our mistakes.

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Starting out, did the fact that you were female impact in any way on your business?

Yes it did. Every other shoemaker that I knew in Nigeria was male and they hated making female shoes because they didn’t understand what women need in their shoes and why we are so demanding. Being female gives me an advantage. Also, most men cannot tell the difference between coral and peach, I can, lol.

 

You are a lawyer and you worked for a while before you began your business. Did the fact that you had a law degree help you in your business in any way?

Well my network was wider because I had the professional background and also, the legal aspects of business was easy peasy for me. But, I got a business education just as I was beginning my business. My first day in class I was struck dumb. I knew nothing about running a business even though I had been a lawyer for many years and had run my own practice.

[media-credit id=1 align=”aligncenter” width=”640″]Mona Matthews Green Naija Housewives[/media-credit] 

Where do you see yourself and your company in the next 10 years?

I don’t know. All I know is we shall be exactly where God has placed us.

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Doing business in Lagos takes a brave person. The competition is stiff and yet, most people believe that it’s easier to get a break if you are based in Lagos. How true is this?

Lagos has like 17 million fashionistas. Of course it’s the best place to run Mona Matthews. I see the opportunities, oh and they are huge. No where on Planet earth is easy. No where. Just be where God wants you to be. I know a Nation that has the reputation of being one of the easiest places to do business in the World, it’s here in Africa. The only problem is the people have no purchasing power. Our Country has suffered from bad leadership, poor infrastructure etc yes. But it has made us some of the most resourceful and resilient people in the world.

 

Do you have any advice for female designers who would like to start their business?

Yes I do. Get a business education, get professional training in your line of business if you can, then just do it. Trust God and put Him above every person.

 

 

To find out more about Mona Matthews, visit their Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/MonaMatthewsShoesandBags

www.monamatthews.com

 

 

 

 

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