When COVID-19 hit, Rukayat Egbeyemi turned her decade-long hobby into her very own business—Ashabi. She went from making beaded bags and jewellery for friends and family to selling her products online. As a one-woman show, Egbeyemi handles every side of her business while also completing her second degree. She’s the photographer, designer, social media manager, customer service rep and so much more.
We talked to Egbeyemi about how she learned to make her signature beaded bags, the ups and downs of running a small business, and where she hopes to grow her brand in 2021.
How did you begin Ashabi?
It started as a hobby a little over 10 years ago. I was watching one of my classmates in my visual arts class beading and I was very intrigued so I learned from watching her do it. Then, I had to make some jewellery for my mom for a party she wanted to attend, and a bag for my teacher’s birthday, and so on. So, I started doing this a very long time ago but I didn’t start making it into a business until 2018 and I made it official last year. Because of COVID-19, I lost my job and I needed to do something while I was staying at home. So, I created a website and a couple of months later, I’m here speaking to you about my business!
What was the initial response from family, friends and customers?
Friends and family every very supportive. In 2018 when I started making this into a business I was a bit anxious because I wasn’t sure what my parents would say, especially my dad. He was always more of a “focus on your studies” person. But surprisingly he was very supportive and my friends were amazing, too. My initial customers were my friends and family, but I started getting customers I don’t know, and that made me very excited. It was proof that I was doing something right.
What has it been like as a small business operating through the pandemic?
Honestly, it’s been hard, but it’s also been a learning process. I wasn’t really expecting people to still be ordering seeing how nobody is going out or dressing up. But every single order I get, I see it as a blessing. It makes me very happy that people are taking to time to support my small business.
What’s the most rewarding part of being a small business?
For me, it’s been just creating items. It takes time and I have to balance it with my current schedule as a student but creating products makes me very happy. Working through the process and seeing the final result, I just am very proud of myself. Sometimes I even tell my friends “I can’t believe I made this.”
What are other ways to support small businesses like Ashabi.
I would say sharing the business’s pictures with friends and family or just to your social media account. Doing anything you can to help promote their business and raise brand awareness.
What’s one of your favourite pieces in your collection?
One of my favourite pieces is the Abi bag. It’s a cylindrical bag and it’s very gorgeous. I saw it on YouTube a little over a year ago and I was very impressed by the bag. I had to watch videos over and over again to see how to make it because it was just very pretty and I wanted something like it for myself! And then I thought: why don’t I just make it into something I can sell to other people?
What are your plans for the brand in 2021?
The focus right now is customer satisfaction and making sure every item I send out is good enough for the people they’re going to. Maybe later in the year, I will add more items, it’s something I’m discussing right now.
How are you celebrating Black History Month this year?
I’m celebrating by helping other Black businesses promote as much as I can on my business page and my personal page. I’m learning more about Black history in a sense and learning more about slavery in Canada and when it was abolished. Day by day I’m also finding out more about Black people who invented daily things we didn’t even know about!