Meet the 80-year-old entrepreneur whose business is founded on her enduring love for lace
Nov 22, 2021·
5 min read
It’s a sunny Thursday afternoon in Tinubu Square, one of the busiest marketplaces in the Central Business District of Lagos. Isale Eko is the ancestral home of lace fabrics and in the heart of the market is Modupe Fabric Store, a 61-year-old business owned by Madam Modupe Iyabo Olukoya.
At 80 years old, Madam Olukoya’s gait mirrors that of a woman half her age. She moves around the assortment of colourful lace fabrics with understated elegance and it’s clear that she loves this business.
I love selling lace, I love wearing lace, and I have over 200 laces in my wardrobe. I started this business because I love lace and colours. This is how I express my personality, she says delightfully.
The lace business fully kicked off when she was only 18 but she had started to explore the idea from age 17. She was on a summer vacation in England at the time, but she had the opportunity to visit Austria.
When I was in Austria, I used all the money I had to buy the fabrics and I came back to sell them in Nigeria. I was interested in this line of work, so I pursued it. It was all about the interest
Traveling became more frequent after that. Every two weeks or so, I'd travel from Austria to Switzerland to Italy to England. I was meeting my suppliers and I was buying more lace, she could not mask her enthusiasm for travel, discovery, and more importantly, lace.
People who have been in business for as long as Madam Olukoya has earned the right to be called professionals. Perhaps even veterans. And they are usually brimming with entrepreneurial insights. But not the CEO and founder of Modupe Fabric Store.
For her, business success stood simply yet sturdily on passion, honesty, and integrity. A hybrid of these values has kept her in business for more than six decades and she has passed them down to her only son, Okikiola. The 33-year-old is his mother’s pride and she trusts in his innate ability to take the business to new heights. She has no plans to interfere.
Okiki was born in England, and he's been around the business ever since we brought him back to Nigeria. He's a good boy who was raised in the fear of God, so I can rest easy knowing that the business is in good hands. I don't have a bad track record, and I'm confident he won't either”, her eyes glowed with gratification.
Madam Olukoya was self-assured in her reputation. She had a good standing with her international clients, they could vouch for her, they spoke highly of her to others and this was fuel to her fire.
“Call anyone and ask about me”, she said with casual bravado. I’ve never been a shady business person, I always keep my word and I value my relationships. This is how I have earned the trust of my suppliers over the years and it’s a legacy I’ve passed down to my son, Okiki. They trust him too.
One thing was certain. Madam Olukoya had laid the groundwork for a business that would outlive her on multiple fronts. To conclude that she saw the future is not an exaggeration. She started the business with all of her own money. She refused to take a loan from the bank, her parents, or her husband who had been by her side since the beginning. All she had from him was his unwavering support until he passed on and according to her, the event of his death was the only occasion that saw the closure of the business for one full year. That was her only downtime. She insisted that the last 61 years have been devoid of challenges. Not that they never reared their heads, but she kept no record of them. She is the type to plod along. Her son attests to this.
Madam Olukoya acknowledges that being a woman in business comes with its hurdles and the tricks of the trade are different for women. She also admits that the current business environment in Nigeria is vastly different from what was obtainable years ago. In spite of these, she attributes her sustained excellence to her core values: passion for the business, honesty, and integrity. Her body language spoke “effortless”. It was unclouded and deafening, in equal measure.
She is a firm believer that anyone can succeed in business; all they need to do is be genuinely interested in and passionate about the one they choose.
Madam Olukoya’s story of tenacity and perseverance through the years, which have ultimately resulted in the growth and longevity of her business, is a beacon of hope to Nigerian entrepreneurs and a testament to the fact that, when passion meets support, dreams can become reality. At Softcom, we are providing entrepreneurs with this support, with the firm belief that our solutions will not only help them grow, but have a ripple effect that results in the growth of society.