It’s the month of fashion at LLA and we’re delighted we had the opportunity to chat with Alexandra Alli, a trailblazing fashion entrepreneur. Alexandria Alli started her brand from scratch and today, her bags are retailed in over 100 stores. She shares the secrets to her success in our interview with her.
Who is Alexandria Alli, and what does she do?
I am a wife, mom, and a designer. I am the owner/designer of luxury leather handbag brand F&W Style.
Wonderful! So what spurred your interest in fashion?
Sounds cliché but I have loved fashion since I was a little girl. I grew up in Nigeria where my mom had a design studio. I worked with her at the studio since I was 10 and I fell in love with fashion.
Why did you decide to go specifically into designing handbags?
Well, when my family and I moved from Nigeria to the United States, I started my modelling career. I modelled for many brands. I loved modelling because of all the luxurious Items I got to wear and carry especially the handbags. But, I soon realized that along with a lot of other women, I could not afford these luxury handbags. So, I decided to create my own collection of well crafted luxury handbags but without the $1000 price tag.
Your business is capital intensive. How were you able to secure funding for it?
I was able to secure funding for it by saving for it. I knew that I wanted to be debt free with my business, especially at the beginning. So, I started small and have continued to grow since then. We are now in over 100 stores. It’s incredible.
You used to be a model, tell us about that. Did it prepare you in any way to become a fashion entrepreneur?
Yes! It prepared me in so many ways. But one of the most important ways is the ability to sell myself. I realized early on in my modelling career that the models that booked gigs were the ones that were personable, fun and relatable. Those same rules apply as a fashion entrepreneur.
You have some very high profile clients. How were you able to achieve this?
I think I have been able to secure high profile clients because I build relationships and I take risks. I go to a lot of relevant events where my ideal clients are and I build relationships with people there. It’s very much about the relationships. Those manifest into something bigger.
Where are your bags retailed, and how can prospective customers access them?
My bags are retailed in boutiques, gift shops, and online stores throughout the United States (fashionistas can check out our fwstyle website for full listing). They can also be purchased on our site, or by appointment at our studio in Atlanta.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned in being a female entrepreneur?
I have certainly learned a lot and I am still learning. But these are my top three:
- Get clear on your goals and steps you will take to achieve them.
- Condition yourself for success (always expect and focus on the positive).
- Celebrate everything!
What specific challenges have you faced in your business, and how have you been able to overcome them?
At the beginning, finding the right manufacturer was a challenge and it really just took trial and error to find the right fit.
Another challenge was deciding who my target client was and how to reach them. That took a lot of internal research and several surveys to find who my target market is and then I started positioning myself in places where my target market hung out.
Do you have any plans for product and brand expansion and what are they?
We definitely have plans for expansion. At some point, we would like to have shoes and clothing in our collection. For now, we have our hands full with everything handbags.
Let’s talk about the workshop you’re organizing with fellow Leading Lady, Yetunde Shorters; what’s that about?
It is a live full day workshop teaching designers and brand owners how to start making profit with their fashion line. I get asked so many times by designers, “How do I sell and market my products?”So, I decide to partner with Yetunde to put together a workshop to help the new generation of designers get unstuck and start selling their products.
What’s the one fashion accessory you can’t do without?
Hahahaha. My handbag of course!
Name 3 women that inspire or motivate you?
- Adeola Yunusa, my mother
- Oprah Winfrey
- Designer Tracy Reese
Where do you see yourself and business in the next 5 years?
I see F&W Style being a household name!
Last words for upcoming female entrepreneurs?
Don’t wait till you have more time, money etc, start today!
Photo Credit – Photo by Kay of 7th Street Studio
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.