If there is one story that the world must hear about in 2021, it is Longe Bolanle’s story.
Though born with a disability as a girl in Ekiti State, Nigeria, graduated with second class upper and emerged as one of the best graduating students in her class from Obafemi Awolowo University. And despite not being able to walk with her legs started BML Collections, a shoe production company and today perhaps the biggest shoe brand in the Western part of Nigeria. Bolanle is a star and should be celebrated as such.
In my Naira Diary Session with Longe Bolanle today, we discuss abilities in disability, her company BML Collections, family, future plans and more. Sit back and relax with your coffee and enjoy. Don’t forget to drop a comment and share.
Firstly, who is Longe Bolanle?
My name is Longe Bolanle Tolulope. I am an indigene of Ido Ekiti, in Ekiti State. I studied Computer Science with Economics, from the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo University.
By the grace of God, I am an entrepreneur and owner of BML Collections Limited, a footwear manufacturing company in Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria.
I grew up as a physically challenged person but by the grace of God, I was not deterred by my disability. I always see ability in my disability. I was able to complete primary and secondary school education and then proceeded to the University. I graduated with second class upper and emerged as one of the best graduating students in my class. Despite my good grades and knowledge acquired from the University, I could not get a job. However, I did not allow this also to discourage me. I still had the belief that I can achieve whatever I want to achieve in life. I am a cheerful person and live a life that challenges others.
Wow! Your story is is so inspiring. I can imagine the number of people that will be challenged by this to ignore their challenges and pursue their dreams.
So, how and what inspired you to start BML Collections?
It all started in 2015 while I was searching the internet on how to make hair cream to grow my daughter’s hair. In the course of my search, I stumbled on YouTube videos on how to make hair roses, hair bands and hair packers.
I made some for my daughter and saw that they looked good. I decided to make some to sell and I got patronage from friends. After that, I yearned for more, and then I had an opportunity to attend a two weeks training and empowerment program. I enrolled for two courses, hat making class in the morning and bag/slippers making in the afternoon. After the training, I was selected as an overall best participant. I then went in for another two weeks training on shoemaking organized by the same training institute. After the training, my husband opened my eyes to the fact that shoemaking will be more profitable than a hat or bag making. He made me realized that people may choose to go about without bags but will never go barefooted. I now enrolled for a three months training in shoemaking in September 2017.
Towards the completion of the training, my husband mandated me to make a Cortina shoe for our daughter. I made the shoe, posted the picture on Facebook and it attracted so much order. We then realized that children shoes will be more profitable.
We decide to go in for children shoe making and we started the company in December 2017. We pushed it further by registering the company in February 2018 and we are working hard to make our brand known.
This is amazing!
How did you raise money to start your company, BML Collections?
I started with personal and family savings, gifts and loans from family and friends. People who believed in my dream also supported me tremendously. Mrs Mary Onu launched a fundraising campaign to support my business. I met her through Mrs Mercy Bello Abu who did everything within her capacity from giving me free mentoring, free business consultation and publicity to connecting me with the process of getting a facility from CBN. After struggling to get a loan from different quarters, I eventually got the facility from the CBN.
We understand that you are physically challenged and most people in your situation depend on others to survive. Why is your case different?
While I was growing up, my Grand Mother never allowed me to become lazy. She would always tell me that it is my legs that are bad and not my brain or my hands.
Despite my physical disability, I do all the pattern creation and design, travel to Aba for all our material purchase and also travel as far as the extreme Northern and extreme South-South to meet our Clients. I don’t believe in depending on people but love to engage my hands in things that can make me not to be a liability to people.
Indeed. You are making good use of your hands and brain.
What do you think is responsible for your success so far?
Passion and determination to succeed backed by God’s grace and favour.
What are your motivations?
I just believe that I can do all things, achieve whatever I want to achieve and that nothing is impossible.
How did the Coronavirus pandemic affect your business and what are you doing to remain in business?
We officially opened our factory in March 2020 in Ibadan and by April 2020, all our major prospective clients (Primary and Secondary in Nigeria) were shut down. We kept hoping the schools would resume soon but it did not happen so we had to diversify into production of sneakers and Birkenstock sandals. Although sales were almost nothing but our passion to succeed and determination kept our business open and in full operation throughout the period.
What message do you have for physically challenged persons in Nigeria who think they can’t do much for themselves or society?
My message for physically challenged persons out there is that there is ability in disability. All they need is a decision to become great and begin to strive at it. Once that decision is made, the will power, drive, how to become great and help will surely come.
Let’s talk about balancing business and family.
Many women blame their inability to do well in the marketplace like their male counterparts on family responsibilities.
I have been able to balance business and family. I thank God for giving me a husband who believes in me. He helps me get some things done.
How are you balancing everything despite your physical condition?
My physical condition does not stop me from doing anything I desire. I travel long distance sometimes by night, I drive myself whenever my husband travels for work, I take care of the Children and I must not forget to mention that I don’t have a maid or a personal assistant.
What project are you working on currently?
We are currently producing to supply some schools in Ikom in Cross River State and Maiduguri in Borno State.
Where do you see BML Collections in the next five years?
I see BML Collections as a household footwear brand in Nigeria in the next five years.
What should we expect from you in 2021?
We went for product exhibitions in December 2020 and we discovered that a lot of people were surprised to see our brand and products as “made in Nigeria”. Expect more of such surprises. Our brand is going to be “Trending” throughout the year 2021.
What do you think can the government or private organizations and individuals do to help physically challenged persons in Nigeria achieve their dreams regardless of their condition?
Many persons living with disabilities have low self-esteem, believe in freebies, expect pity from everyone and also think that anyone coming around to help wants to take advantage of them, hence they are always want to be on the offensive. I think this is the wrong orientation. If you look down on yourself, expect the same from people but if you walk tall, people will respect you. The government, private organisations and individuals need to help them have a new orientation before empowering them with skills and resources.
“If you look down on yourself, expect the same from people but if you walk tall, people will respect you”.
How can anybody reading this be part of BML Collections either as an investor, supplier, customer or partner?
We are open to all kinds of partnership and support from everyone. Our desire is to have all schools in Nigeria patronise quality school shoes and sandals from BML Collections Limited. We have a very good package for referrals, recommendations and people interested in marketing our brand.
Share your contacts details including your social media handles.