By Ebele Orakpo
Mrs. Peju Okungbowa is the Creative Director of Shades of Purple Décor, an interior decoration and events outfit based in Lagos. The graduate of Mass Communications from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, said she ventured into the interior decoration and events management business because of her love for creating beauty out of ordinary things/ugliness and order out of chaos.
In a recent chat with Vanguard in Lagos, the former marketing executive with some information technology firms and advertising agencies spoke on various issues relating to her business. Excerpts.
After graduation, Mrs Peju Okungbowa did her one year mandatory national youth service in Lagos during which she worked as a marketing executive.
“During the service year, I was in Lagos working with an information technology firm as a marketing executive and I have done a lot of marketing jobs for information technology companies and advertising agencies, but that did not give me the passion and the fulfillment I expected,” she said.
To find that fulfillment, she had to look inwards and today, not only is she fulfilled, she is making a living out of her hobby.
“The marketing job did not give me the passion and the fulfillment I expected until I started the decorating business in November 2006 and so far, it has been very rewarding and fulfilling,” she enthused.
The Shades of Purple
Decor boss said she went into the decoration and events management business because of her love for creating beauty and order. “It was actually as a result of the natural flair right from when I was very young. I have always had flair for beautifying the environment, I have always loved to have an orderly environment around me.
“So it is a natural flair. Over the years, I actually did one or two courses online as well but it is more of a natural flair. I am a naturally artistic person. I am gifted in that area,” she stated.
Continuing, Mrs. Okungbowa said: “I believe in creating beauty out of ordinary things, out of ugliness. And it need not be so expensive. At Shades of Purple Décor, we are very creative and we can work with anybody’s budget but our goal is to create beauty, to create an ambience of royalty in any environment we find ourselves.”
The saying that the first thing one needs in starting a business is not capital but ideas, was once again proved to be true in Mrs Okungbowa’s case. Speaking on her start-up capital, she said: “Basically, the beautiful thing about this business is that it is not so capital-intensive.
The first job I did was a Christmas decoration of an office. I decorated an office and they paid me N30,000. It was from that N30,000 that I paid labour and bought all the materials that I needed so it was as if I used their money to do the job and that is the beautiful thing about it.
“You don’t really need capital, what you need is the creative ability, the creative ingenuity; that’s all you need, it’s not really money per se. But by the time I started doing wedding decorations, I had to buy the bridal chair, make one or two things and that cost me about N15,000 and I am still using those things today. So let me say that’s just the capital I have put into it.”
As a Chinese proverb says: ‘The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials,’ so every business has its own challenges which it must overcome in order to succeed. Said Mrs. Okungbowa on the challenges facing the business:
“Basically, people cannot really quantify what you do because it is abstract, they cannot really see the effort, they under-price you. ‘Oh, is it not just decoration, N5,000 is enough.’ But it takes a lot of creative expertise, a lot of brain tasking; a lot of muscles.
It’s tasking. You have to climb on chairs, use ladders, the risk involved is even there for very high halls where you have to decorate the ceiling. It’s very risky because you could fall off. But people do not really appreciate it so the challenge is clients wanting to under-price you because they think it is easy.
Another challenge is people telling you what to do. Most times the decorator just wants to be left alone to her own world to create her own thing. But you know, most of the time you have people coming to tell you ‘oh we don’t want this, do it this way, do it that way,’ and that kind of kills your creativity. So those are the challenges of the job.”
Speaking on the requirements of the job for those who are interested in going into the business, Mrs. Okungbowa said: “The first thing is you need to have the natural flair for it because sometimes I do jobs that I don’t make anything from but I don’t complain because I love what I do, I just love to see beauty.
“So you have to have that natural flair. Then added to the natural flair, you need training, not just the theoretical part, you need on-site training; that is, you need to be trained on the job, see how it is done, then you need to exercise it.”
As the renowned Greek philosopher and polymath, Aristotle rightly said, ‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit,’ Mrs. Okungbowa believes that practice makes perfect. “Even if you have it naturally, you need to be able to exercise it and it will always get better. Your first job may not be so wonderful but don’t give up, it will always get better.”
“Unstable power supply is another factor. Most of the time, for weddings, we have to decorate over the night and most times when we get to the halls, we discover there is no light and they cannot turn on their generator and so sometimes we are forced to use candles, rechargeable lamps and all that,” she noted.
On the charges for her services she said it depends on what the client wants. “Basically there is no fixed price. It depends on what you want; the level of expenses. Would you want to cover the tables, would you want to cover the chairs? Do you want lots of lightening effects and all that. But on the average, you can do something very nice in an average size hall with N70,000.”
Asked if the business is lucrative in Nigeria, she said: “Yes it is lucrative. But that depends on your scope of influence. If you know lots of people who are party makers and there is always need for one to network. You don’t just stay on your own and say ‘yes I am a decorator, they will come looking for me.’
You need to network with other entertainers like caterers, disc jockeys, those who are also in the field of entertainment. You need to network with them, partner with them. You can also register with wedding planners so that when they need vendors, they can always call on you.”
She, however, underlined the importance of being the best at what you do as that is the best way to attract clients. “One good job will always give birth to another good job. That is the thing with the business so it is lucrative but it depends on your scope of influence.”