#LLAInterview – “Uniqueness is my selling point. My clients want unique and custom designs only.” Ola Morin Muhammed, CEO IJORERE
Tired of going round the motions in her 9-5 job, Ola Morin Muhammed decided to take the leap into entrepreneurship when she discovered there was a demand for the invitation cards she designed. That decision led to the birth of IJORERE which has become known worldwide for bespoke wedding invitations. In our interview with her, Ola talks about how she grew her brand and the challenges she had to overcome.
Who is Ola Morin Muhammed, and why is what you do important?
I’m a creative spirit, a friend, a wife, a sister to two younger siblings, a daughter, and mother of three. What I do is important to me because being creative is a form of prayer to me. I’m doing what I was born to do and fulfilling God’s purpose, in this life, through creativity.
Your company started in Chicago but it has a Yoruba name. What informed your choice of that name, and what does it mean?
My company started in Chicago because Chicago is where I reside. However, I’m first generation American. My parents are Yoruba Nigerians. I asked my mom to come up with a Yoruba business name that encompassed the intentions of my business and she came up with IJORERE. Ijorere is two Yoruba words combined, and it means ‘a grand day’.
You’re an Architect with over 20 years’ experience in that field. How did you transition to becoming an entrepreneur?
About eight years ago, I became wearied with what I was doing as an architect. The trappings of a 9-5 were limiting my creativity. In the real world of architecture, designing opportunities from conception to construction is scarce. Designing invitations became a creative outlet and with more demands from friends and families to design their invitation, I saw an opportunity to turn my creative outlet into a business. I started to do the research and finally made the leap into entrepreneurship four years ago. I have absolutely no regrets!
I must say that your designs are exquisitely beautiful. How do you get the inspiration to create them?
Thank you. I find inspiration everywhere, but mostly, inspiration comes from what my client desires, their style and/or theme. Shapes, colors, experiences, the stories my clients share with me are all part of my inspiration process. The beautiful thing is that it is unique and exclusive for each and every individual. My clients not only get what they want but more than they imagined, and that’s one of the most delightful parts of doing what I do…the client experience.
How has the response been to your brand and products?
The response has been welcoming and unprecedented. I understand that people want something special and want their guests that they’re inviting to also feel special. Some time ago I tried creating an affordable collection that would appeal to the masses, it didn’t work. Uniqueness is my selling point. My clients want unique and custom designs only. My brand precedes me; it didn’t take long for me to figure out that I need to stick with what works and what I’m known for.
You have a team that is comprised of women only, why?
My team is comprised of not just women, but mothers. Initially it was subconscious but now I realize I chose to work with moms like myself because we understand the juggling art of balancing work and children. And moms are also experts at multitasking. When you work with people that have the same goals and vision, you get further together.
How do you merge the creative side of your business, with the more administrative aspects? It’s hard merging the creative side with administrative duties. It’s quite common that creatives have a hard time being great business people. I’m still refining myself and at the same time, delegating the aspects of business I don’t enjoy or that I’m not knowledgeable of, by hiring experts. I take classes to learn what is necessary or spend time with experts who teach me what I need to know. I have two business mentors; one a small business adviser and the other a business strategist. I meet with them once a week, every Monday, so I have a thorough outlook on my business goals, financials, and steps to keep IJORERE successful and sustainable. One of the secrets to running a successful business is getting people who are great at what they do to join your team. It’s a win-win. They do what they love and it helps my business grow.
The wedding industry moves quickly and each day there’s something new. How do you keep up with the trends?
Yes, the wedding industry is constantly changing, so not only do I take the time to pay attention to trends, I’m always thinking up ways I can stay abreast and innovative. I think to keep up in an industry that is ever changing, be a trendsetter, not a trend follower. When I launched IJORERE in 2008, I had an epiphany to set my design style apart by incorporating ankara fabric to my invitations. I also designed wooden boxes as enclosures to hold invitations. No one was doing that at the time. These signature designs catapulted IJORERE’s popularity worldwide, especially amongst the West African diaspora. That’s how one becomes a trend setter.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in running your business and how did you overcome them?
My current challenge is running a creative business while dealing with all aspects of managing an event space. I have two different businesses that overlap, yet are still separate. Managing an event space takes me away from being the creative being I need to be, so in 2017, I’ll resolve this challenge by refocusing on what I do best, design.
What would you say are the core differences between owning your own business and a 9-5? The core difference is that you work harder than ever because it’s yours, not someone else’s. You’re more passionate than ever. Failure is not an opinion when you own your business.
There is a common belief that most creatives are not really business savvy? In your opinion, is this true?
Very true, for me at least. However, I do know of some creatives that have the gift of both sides of the brain and admire them a lot!
How do you relax, unwind and get inspiration?
A glass of wine, engage in sweet conversations with my closest friends, binge watching house hunters international, are a few of my favorite ways to unwind and find inspiration.
Name three women you admire, and why?
I’m a big fan of Sade Adu because she’s quiet, yet everyone knows who she is and of course her beautiful vocals. I love Lupita Nyong’O, because she is the first dark skinned African woman in this generation to redefine what is considered beautiful. She’s also very eloquent when she speaks. Lastly, Oprah Winfrey for being so inspirational worldwide, and for being an enlightenment to the world. I think it’s important for me and other women to have someone to look up to. It gives us the desire to be proud of who we are and better ourselves.
Where’s your favorite holiday location, and why?
I don’t do it as often as I used to, but I LOVE coming home to Nigeria. Home is always where the heart lives. As intense as Nigeria is, it’s always so much fun being home, especially in December. Great chops, childhood friends and memories, and when I’m home, I’m always pampered. You have a driver, a home care-taker…all the luxuries you won’t get in the U.S, unless you’re a celebrity.
If you could, what would you tell your younger self?
“Tokunbo, all the times you thought you were weak, you were so resilient, so strong. Chin up! You think you’re creative now, just wait till you’re older”.
The Leading Ladies Africa Series is a weekly interview series that focuses on women of African descent, showcases their experiences across all socio-economic sectors, highlights their personal and professional achievements and offers useful advice on how to make life more satisfying for women.
It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit that promotes women empowerment and gender inclusion for women of African descent.
Do you know any woman of African descent doing phenomenal things? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we just might feature her.