YEBA? A Business in the Bag!

After a brilliant career in consultancy, Yeba Olayé now has her own brand of leather goods: YEBA. The target demographic of her "chic business bags"? Women who, like her, want to make their dreams reality.

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  • In a luxury market dominated by Delvaux, Longchamp and Lancel, what made you decide to launch your own leather goods brand?

The idea came out of my own experience. When I was a consultant, I noticed that business codes were quite masculine. I often found myself in top management meetings where the men around the table were dressed to the nines in their Hugo Boss suits and would proudly take out their Montblanc pens… These are brands which, though they do produce collections for women, retain a masculine DNA. And, strangely, although the world of fashion is aimed mainly at women and more and more women are forging excellent careers for themselves, few designers are offering them accessories that reflect this success and their professionalism. I myself had difficulty finding a computer bag that was both elegant and practical and designed for an executive woman. Those women who took the risk of abandoning an unsightly masculine computer bag in favour of a large handbag were very likely to find themselves rummaging around in this bag at an important meeting, looking for a particular document, a business card, a pen or their smartphone! And this is what gave me the idea of launching “chic business bags” that are elegant, high quality, functional and organised … while remaining accessible. There was a niche in the market and I grabbed it!

A vast gap

  • Aren’t you worried that your idea might be “nabbed” by the competition?

That’s the reason I work so hard on the philosophy and message of my brand. YEBA is designed for active women who are moving forward. Whereas ambitious men are always highly regarded, female ambition is often frowned upon. But what is ambition other than the phase in which we pursue our dreams, in which we seek to make them reality? Women of today are committed, successful and achieve great things! I want my bags to give them confidence and assurance and support them effectively in their very busy lives.

  • There’s a vast gap between financial and strategy consulting and handbag design, isn’t there?

For me, it’s less a career change than a logical development of my professional aspirations. I’ve always been fascinated by the creative process, by people who start out with an idea, a vision, and manage to translate this into reality… and in fact I was only five years old when I opened my first fashion magazine! As a child and an adolescent, I was very creative: I used to draw, I wrote, I became passionate about architecture … and as these passions took hold of me I decided in turn that I wanted to be a stylist, chief editor of a magazine, a company director and an architect!

At the age of 18, when the time came to choose what I would study, I opted for a course at the SBS-EM, telling myself that a degree in management could take me anywhere. I soon realised that there are two main types of profile: those who see themselves becoming CEO of a large company and those who want to create their own. I definitely belonged to the second group!

  • But you did take quite a time to get going…

That’s right! I left the SBS-EM in 2002 and followed a very traditional career path in consultancy. I did my time with Deloitte: first in pure audit, then in process improvement. In 2007, I joined BearingPoint, a French consulting firm, which enabled me to get involved in strategy. In 2011, I made the transition to marketing when I was taken on by The House of Marketing. Each time, it was the same story: after two or three years I grew tired of what I was doing because my room for manoeuvre was always limited. A consultant can give very specific advice, draw up some very comprehensive strategies but she is never in an executive position, never able to implement things. It’s frustrating! Eventually I realised that whatever I did, I would always remain out in the company lobby, never in the boardroom. The only way of managing a project from start to finish was to start my own business.

WHAT IS AMBITION OTHER THAN THE PHASE IN WHICH WE SEEK TO MAKE OUR DREAMS REALITY?

Like hot cakes

  • You can’t become an entrepreneur overnight … How did you go about it?

I was methodical. Of course, my twelve years in consultancy had taught me a lot about management, strategic development, marketing, etc. But the world of fashion was new to me! I had my idea and my passion but I was starting from nothing. I hadn’t been to fashion school; I’d never worked for a designer; I had no network in what is very much a closed environment for those who aren’t part of it… I needed tools, advice, a plan of action. So I began by getting some training. My second son was born in July and in September I was back at school! I studied two courses at the same time. The SBS-EM’s Creation and Growth training helped me to draw up a long-term commercial strategy. And the SME Start programme at the ICHEC provided me with concrete advice on how to get a new business off the ground properly. Then for a year, I went to trade fairs and met with investors and professionals in the leather goods trade. After a few disappointments, I eventually made the right contacts. I found a stylist who helped me design the first prototypes and in Florence I found a workshop of craftspeople who had been working in leather for several generations. In December 2014, the first bag models were ready … and they sold like hot cakes! Two months later, I launched my first collection.

  • At the start, what was most difficult?

The most difficult thing was, without a doubt, managing the fear of failure – my own fear and other people’s. Because, contrary to what you might think, people who say “Go on, take the plunge! Follow your dream!” are few and far between. And they’re often entrepreneurs themselves! The majority tend instead to voice concerns. In our culture, there’s no place for failure. But I’m convinced that we all have a gift, a talent, a particular skill. Our inner voice knows this and makes sure to remind us at regular intervals throughout our life, until we listen to it. And that’s what I did … Whatever happens, I have no regrets: I’ve found where I belong.

 

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