The headline above is suggestive of a typical Nollywood movie where a young man starts petty trading in a small store in Alaba market, and in the next scene, he is seen jetting around the world, importing and selling goods worth millions of naira.
In this case, it is not Nollywood but the story of Bimbo Alase-Arawole and how she grew a small gift store in Apapa to become a mega business with partnerships extending even to Italy. Here is how it happened.
Education and journey into business
Bimbo Alashe was born in 1952 and attended Pitman College, London and the Regent Academy of Design and Fine Arts, London bagging a Post Graduate degree in Interior Design. One could see from her background that creativity and arts were built over time before she could boast of owning a luxurious furniture company. Her success did not happen immediately.
Upon her return to Nigeria, Alase started Glamour – a mini-gift shop and a beauty shop in Apapa, and one might say this was the official start of her entrepreneurial journey. Soon enough, she saw a gap. There seemed to be a scarcity of high-quality furniture at the time, especially those made in Nigeria. The need for overall quality was the opportunity Leatherworld would cash in on.
Leatherworld: From Ikoyi to the world
Leatherworld was born in 1994, a business that would come into the furniture space to redefine luxury and class. The vision was very straightforward – to make high-quality furniture available to everyone. Alase started with a small retail outlet in Ribadu road, Ikoyi, grooming and growing the business until it was large enough to warrant a second outlet.
After a few years, during which the company made significant progress, Alashe relocated from her office on Ribadu road to a more spacious workspace on Raymond Njoku street, also in Ikoyi, where the company established what was to become one of Nigeria’s largest furniture showroom.
Leatherworld grew steadily over the years, and in 1999, after four years of successful operations, a new showroom was opened in FCT, Abuja to open up a new market and cater to prospective clients in the region. After some years, a permanent site was opened in Lekki Phase 1, called The Concourse Place. The year 2009 brought with it, a new branch in Ikeja GRA.
In all of these, the brand still retained the integrity of only serving the best quality of luxury furniture. In partnership with NIERI, Leatherworld in 2005 had commissioned The Concourse Industry – an assembly and manufacturing plant in the Calabar Free Trade Zone, in a bid to concretise the standard it had set for luxury furniture in Nigeria. The business, which was commissioned by the former First Lady, the late Chief (Mrs.) Stella Obasanjo in February 2005, was the first truly Nigerian furniture manufacturing company with a continental franchise to serve the local market, as well as export finished items to other West African countries.
The company sourced its materials both locally and internationally, only targeting the best. The work was also mostly done by Nigerians in line with the set standard. In this way, Leatherworld was servicing a value chain in the local economy, while also raising a well-trained, well-equipped Nigerian team of furniture makers with skill and finesse that rival their foreign counterparts.
Never one to play soft ball, Alase took a huge leap when she entered a partnership with NIERI, a furniture-making company in Italy in 2005. Founded in 1929, NIERI also had the reputation of being behind several exclusive home designs in wood and full flowered leather. The partnership was, thus, a marriage of like minds, and has since then produced some of the best furniture in Africa.
Till date, the brand holds to its reputation of only dealing with the highest grade of quality furniture, furnishings and allied products, locally and internationally. It also has a track record of zero-reject, emphasising that its standard in the industry remains uncompromised. Leatherworld continues in its move to spread to other African countries.
Alase-Arawole can easily be described as one of the top 10 female entrepreneurs in Nigeria, without fear of contradiction. She is said to be worth about $750 million and sits on the board of several companies. She is a mentor to several aspiring and established entrepreneurs.