Abigail Morakinyo, Founder of Mum Hand Stitch
As part of our series on Black Women in business, we sat down with one of our female founders taking part at UK Black Business Show 2023 in London to find out the secret behind her success and how we can learn from her.
Hi Abigail, firstly – great to meet you! I wanted to kick off our chat to find out, did you always know you wanted to own your own business?
Absolutely! I grew up in an environment of business owners. My mother bought wholesale lace and other fabrics abroad and sold them to women who were invested in looking good. I remember helping her out in her boutique and loving the feeling of engaging with the customers and making a sale. The passion for entrepreneurship was definitely ignited by watching my mum growing up, observing how she related with her customers, her drive and willingness to always go the extra mile.
And how did you start your business? What gave you the idea?
During my University years I worked in a department store- Debenhams, in the childrens wear section. I used to look at all the beautiful clothes for girls and wait for the Blue cross sales (where there is a major mark down in price) and buy them to keep for when I had girls. Of course I wasn’t married or had kids at that time. I was just so fascinated with all the beautiful clothes and pictured how my girls would look in them.
Fast forward to when I eventually got married and had kids (I have 2 girls) I turned my dreams into reality. I started by taking private sewing lessons, invested in an industrial machine and other necessary things. My day job at the time was working as a full time Nurse. Juggling motherhood, career and my side hustle became quite challenging. Something had to give and unfortunately it was the sewing. Bills needed to be paid after all!
The pandemic and several lockdowns was a blessing in disguise for me. It reminded me of the dreams I’d put on hold. It was during this period that I started making outfits for my girls and they would get compliments everywhere we went. It was honestly such a confidence boost and surreal feeling. I used to admire the clothes in stores and now people were admiring my handmade creations.
What would you say, thus far, has been your boldest business move?
It would have to be starting my own production company and managing (virtually) a team of seamstresses who are based in West Africa. I took this move because after taking my product to market (various exhibitions) I realised that there was a huge demand. Mums were looking for alternatives for shopping online, quality and affordable clothing for their children. The move was definitely necessary as there was no way I’d be able to meet the demands single handed.
What has been your biggest financial turning point for your company? Your ‘I made it’ moment?
The financial turning point for my company came from my first pop up stall I did at Westfield London. This location attracts many customers but mainly the affluent. On the morning of the pop up I remember saying to myself that if I could sell one item there then I could sell ANYWHERE. I didn’t just sell one item. I sold half the stock I brought and made a great return on my investment.
How do you think the lens of being a Black woman in your industry has helped you?
The Fashion industry is a tough and competitive industry. It’s based on conformity and the ability to categorise people into an easily consumable package. I do believe that people are starting to embrace diversity and equity a lot more- or at least creating awareness for it. We have a lot more organisations creating platforms and events that promote Black businesses of which I have been a beneficiary of. This has definitely helped to create awareness of my brand and given me the opportunity to collaborate with other brands.
Did you have a mentor? Someone to ask your questions and give you guidance?
I had 2 mentors. Having a mentor is a game changer honestly! When you have doubts, challenges (which will come) or questions you need to speak to the right people otherwise you may find yourself quitting before you’ve given yourself a chance.
What has been one of your business’ biggest challenges?
Whilst most tech companies or startups can obtain venture capital, businesses like mine would find this very difficult to get. Therefore it’s so much harder to scale because you have production costs, staff salaries and other business expenses to cover.
How or do you find a balance between your personal and your professional life?
I’m not really a fan of the word balance and so would opt for the word harmony- work life harmony, where I give to each what is required without burning myself out. The key is to listen to your body and respond to its needs. Your business/career will only be as healthy (successful) as the person running it.
What is the best advice you could give other Black women looking to start their own businesses?
Get yourself a mentor. I would say having a mentor is like having a Sat Nav. You have an idea of where you want to get to but need help navigating your way there. Even when you make the wrong turn the Sat Nav helps you to reroute and get you back on track just like a mentor. Here’s a bonus, believe in yourself. This might sound cliche but it’s so true. If others don’t believe in you or they stop believing in you because the process seems to be taking so long, you need to believe in yourself. You are your first cheerleader.