Joy Adesanya, Founder and CEO of Sshhh Lingerie Boutique, is a young Nigerian entrepreneur with a strong drive for philanthropy, mentorship and nation building. With a Bachelor of Arts degree in Marketing and Media from the South bank University, London, Joy has overcome the odds and is now on a quest to change the overall perspective of the world towards Nigeria. Sshhh Lingerie Boutique, is a fast growing business birthed to cater to women’s lingerie needs, with branches in Lagos and Abuja, Nigeria.
Asides her role as a Business executive, Joy mentors young women within the country and internationally on how to become the best version of themselves. She has been featured on several hit TV shows and magazine publications and is currently working on expanding her business by collaborating with local and international partners in other to capture the African market.
Hello! It’s great to have you on LLA, Can you briefly describe yourself and your Business?
My name is Joy Adesanya. I am the first of four children and lived in the U.K for 28 years before relocating back to Lagos in 2012. I am a social butterfly and enjoy travelling, eating out and reading. I am passionate about customer service, marketing and my brand, Sshhh Lingerie.
Sshhh Lingerie was founded in 2015, after my search for a quality lingerie store in Nigeria. I realized very quickly that there were very few stores who stocked the type of items I desired. I began to research and decided to conduct a survey and focus group, which highlighted that more women shared the same problem. They wanted quality products but resulted to travelling aboard or ordering online which incurred high delivery charges. I wanted to bridge this gap and recreate the lingerie shopping experience felt when visiting international stores.
The story and vision of the brand was simple. I understood that beauty begins beneath and was committed to creating a platform where innovative, cutting edge lingerie in exceptional quality was provided for every woman. The brand is positioned as supplier of “affordable luxury” in the lingerie market, offering innovative and cutting-edge fashionable lingerie products which differs from the more traditional brands to reinvent a woman’s sensuality.
What was the idea behind your brand, what does it represent and what inspired this particular line of business?
I was inspired to change the narrative of how African women talked and felt about lingerie. It was almost a taboo to discuss or show sexy lingerie. The impression was if it’s too sexy; you were considered promiscuous. It wasn’t an open or comfortable conversation, yet women secretly desired these items. I wasn’t interested in stocking boring everyday pieces. I wanted to represent brands that gave women a fiery edge from beneath.
Our mandate was to educate and inform women on building their self-esteem through lingerie. Wearing the right lingerie really does make a huge difference in your outer appearance. It’s a great confidence booster. That’s what we represent, strength and modernity to redefine sensuality. We don’t shy away, we educate. Our core values represent who we believe an Sshhh woman is, “sexy, confident, luxurious, unapologetic and bold.” Sshhh is a haven for women to feel seductive and self-assured.
When you launched your business, did you have prior knowledge on how you could run one? How did you make it work?
I was a serial entrepreneur before relocating to Nigeria. Aside working a 9-5, I had a hair brand, sold make up, waist trainers, jewellery and ran/owned a restaurant. So, running a business wasn’t new to me. However, opening a business in Nigeria was new and a completely different set of rules. In the UK business is straight forward and literally by the books. But Nigeria had its challenges especially because the economy then was facing major changes due to the new government.
Nigeria has some of the best artisans but setting things up wasn’t always straight forward. I wanted my business to have a certain aesthetic look, run by the books, be compliant, and so I hired the right people from the word go. Ensured we were signed up with all tax, banking and legal authorities. Being transparent and sustainable was key as I saw the brand bigger than Lagos and wanted it to be attractive to women and investors all over Africa. I did my research on brands to stock, pricing structure, location and staff to hire. It took me 9 months and at times I felt like giving up. But persistence was key because I hate not finishing what I start.
Determination is the fuel needed to ignite your dreams; I always kept my tank full because quitting has never been an option. I created mood boards and made them my screensaver. I would drive by the store daily and make positive declarations. It wasn’t just physical work it was spiritual as God was always the centre and the vision giver. So, I put him in remembrance of his word and told him, I can’t give up because that means I don’t trust you. He proved to me that trusting him was well worth it.
How long have you been in business? and what would you say has been the most rewarding highlight of your journey so far?
The vision was birthed in July 2015 but officially opened in September 2016. It has been an amazing journey so far. I have met many women and men, most now loyal customers. The most rewarding aspect is the reaction from women when they come to the store. Not because of the interior or products but the difference in the bra they were wearing compared to what they tried on. Sometimes it’s a total transformation. They light up and often times forget they are in a lingerie store proceeding to leave the changing room half naked in excitement..lol! I get thank you messages, pictures and reviews from women here and abroad.
It really humbles me when I hear people talking about my brand here and aboard not knowing I am the owner. It’s always positive feedback and that is rewarding. I get demands for the brand to open up in other parts of Africa and the world, even people ordering from London, America even though the brands we stock are there. It shows so far the brand is having the impact desired and hoped for and we can grow from here. I don’t take it for granted at all.
What new innovation have you introduced to your business?
Most of our products are sourced internationally. When I started, I wanted my own label but felt it would be best to get an understanding of the customers trends and buying patterns before making that huge investment. So, I decided to include brands that were also made by women of colour especially of Africa descent, as I felt it was important for them to have a platform here to reach more women in Africa. This has been successful in our stores and educates customers about women who are doing exceptionally well in the lingerie and swimwear market aboard.
This year we decided to launch our own nightwear collection were the fabrics and manufacturing was done 100% in Nigeria. I wanted to start showcasing more of what we can do instead of importing. We have talented tailors that can design and execute pieces just as great as China and America, but we have limited resources and that’s what holds us back.
By sourcing locally, we help to change that narrative and drive the attention back to ‘made in Nigeria’. Now our nightwear pieces are more preferred to some of the other brands, it’s nice to have that option available for customers. We have also introduced our bridal parties to enhance the lingerie shopping experience. This extension is to create brand awareness and provide customers a different distribution channel from the store and online. So, if you know anyone getting married who needs a wow factor to their hen night, give us a call!
Your line of business requires you to meet different kinds of people, what have you learnt most and what attribute or skill would you say every entrepreneur should hold onto?
I love meeting new people and my background and business has definitely opened the door for that! As a third culture kid, growing up in the UK with African parents exposed me to greater variety of cultural influences. When you are surrounded by various cultures, yet have to identify with your own, you develop an approachable manner that speaks an international language most people submit to. People can read your aura or persona from a mile away, but they can easily be disengaged with politeness and a smile. I think the key is to show interest when meeting people, everyone loves a good listener and a friendly smile, nothing awkward.
My parents taught me to treat everybody with respect and kindness no matter their culture or position. I am yet to meet anyone in my business that has been abrupt or rude to my staff or me. Sometimes customers will be talking to me for a while before they realize I am owner. There’s no need to walk around with an attitude or ego, learn to serve, learn humility, it pays better than arrogance.
What will you say is responsible for your success?
I am still on that track road to success! The thing with success is once you have achieved one goal, you are in pursuit of another so therefore you never reach a final destination, you keep going until you’re empty and there’s nothing else to achieve. In the process you celebrate your achievements, if it wasn’t for my faith and family, I wouldn’t have that drive. They keep me grounded, driven and excited about who I am and what I have been able to achieve. Those two things define success, everything else is a bonus!
In your opinion, would you say that there are any unique challenges that female entrepreneurs face? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced, and what’s kept you going?
When I started, I got so much advice on how my business should run. I soon realised that everyone thrives on being an expert on telling you how to live your dreams. I struggled to have my voice heard and was constantly going back and forth with men and some females in negotiating and brand set up. It used to irritate me, and I felt they weren’t taking me seriously, documentations took longer than usual, artisans were inflating prices, officials were demanding money that some of my male friends weren’t paying but instead of backing down, I just made my voice louder and determination stronger!
I remember meeting a guy who was extremely condescending when asking about my business set up. He felt he had to show me what a company registration certificate looked like as he thought I didn’t have one and my business was in his word ‘just an Instagram shop’.
Knowledge is power and it’s important for women to educate themselves on factors that will affect and improve their business. If not, you will constantly be met with opinions on how you should do things, instead of knowing what to do and what fits you best. Women now are taking ownership of who they are and what they can bring to the table. The glass ceiling has been lifted and even though we still face challenges, we are being heard and recognized for outstanding contribution to society.
What’s your five-year plan for your business?
Expansion! We are getting ready for another location, but I can’t let the cat out of the bag. In 5 years, there will be a Sshhh in key locations across Africa. We are currently focused on sourcing and manufacturing locally and plan to expand on that significantly.
What do upcoming female entrepreneurs need to do to be successful in this path?
Resilience, determination and education. I once read a book that stated, “once you are the solution to someone’s problem, they will constantly need you.” That need can become your profit if you look at it from a business point. Find the solution to a local, national or global problem and turn it into a profit-making business. The lingerie market is thriving internationally and there is still room for success in the African market.
Most of the top international lingerie brands are run/owned by men, that goes to show it’s not a gender marked sector, so anyone can join this path. Once you are set on what you want to do, identify your target audience, create a brand identity, learn how to market your brand and that will resonate with that audience and keep you ahead.
The LLA Lady Boss Series is a weekly interview series that highlights the achievements and entrepreneurial journeys of African female entrepreneurs. The idea is to showcase the Leading Ladies who are transforming Africa and the African narrative through enterprise and business.It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit that promotes leadership, inclusion and diversity for women of African descent.If you know any kick-ass women of African Descent doing phenomenal things in enterprise, email email@example.com, and she could possibly be featured.