‘Home is where the heart is’ is the very fitting motto of Natalie Manima founder and creative director of Bespoke Binny, an eclectic homeware brand deep-rooted in African expression.
Fearless in her experiments with West African fabrics, her work is bold, eclectic and fresh, her approach uncluttered. She blends modernity with African tradition, creating a range of lively handmade home ware and gifts items including includes pillows, cushions, lampshades, table runners and more from.
Natalie, originally a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist living and working in London, started her entrepreneurial journey after she recognized the importance of one’s home environment in coping with issues such as anxiety and low mood. Coupled with her experience growing up in Ghana and a love of sewing, she took the leap of faith to market her first collection in 2003. From there, she grew into the superlative brand that we know today.
Meet the dynamic and extremely talented home ware designer in this candid interview with BellaNaija telling her success story, inspirations and upcoming projects.
What were you doing before you launched Bespoke Binny and is it your first business?
Bespoke Binny is my first business. I used to sew as a hobby. I do like fashion, but it has never been my passion. I love homewares, so I would make things for my home. I used to make it for fun really, but then I got a lot of compliments. Then my friend suggested that I sell some of the things that I was making. I took that advice.
I went to some craft fairs and did quite well, so I realized it could be a good business!. Before I started Bespoke Binny, I was working as a CBT therapist and also studying for a doctorate in Counselling Psychology.
Tell us a little bit about the process involved in designing the Bespoke Binny cushions and homeware items. Are the items handmade?
Yes, all the items are handmade.The process for each item is entirely different, but generally, it starts with a massive fabric shopping spree. Then, I sit down and think about which fabrics would be most suited to which products and begin the making process.
How did you come up with your business idea? Did you write a business plan, and was it an effective tool for you?
The business idea started as a hobby, not a business idea at all. As a result no, there was definitely no business plan. As things have progressed, I have had to go back and be more systematic in how I approach things, but they definitely did not start out that way.
How did you get funding/capital to start up the business? Did you have investors? Or did you have to do a measure of marketing with initial products?
So far, I have not had any funding or investment from outside sources. My funding has come from me personally and with the support of my family. I’ve also used profits from the business to reinvest back into growth. Rightly or wrongly, I have been quite cautious about taking out business loans. It’s been a much more organic process.
What were your initial challenges starting up the business?
Initial challenges I think with most businesses were linked to capital, and logistical difficulties too.
How do you run the business? Do you have a particular culture that exists in your organization?
Attention to detail is at the heart of my business, I would say. I really pride myself on the quality of my products and quality check everything before it leaves to go to a customer. I also like to make sure I have good relationships with all of the people that support me and make sure they get what they need from me in terms of resources or support.
The business took a 9-months break before being re-launched in 2016. What was the motive behind this?
Yes, it did. Sadly, I experienced a still birth which put everything in my life (including my business) on hold. It was a very difficult time for me, my husband and the rest of our family. It’s still a sensitive issue now, but we are doing much better.
I’m so sorry about that. What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business since the re-launch? Also, what has been your greatest fear about your business, and how do you manage the fear?
For the most part, I think the business continues to grow organically and resonates with those who like our branding and message. My greatest fear, as I’m sure most business holders have is: Am I making things that people really want and need? In those situations, I think the best thing is to keep listening to your customers, they will tell you if you are on the right track or not.
Why the fascination with African prints and how would you describe the language of your designs?
I love African prints as I think they have a real freedom of expression with their use of colors and patterns, and they are so vibrant. How can they not lift your mood?!
What is the biggest influence behind your designs and how do you remain inspired?
I like to create what I feel is functional art – beautiful products that also serve a very practical purpose. I continue to remain inspired by so many things, but I think the endless creation of new and beautiful fabrics always leads me to want to create something beautiful.
What role has your background as a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist played so far?
I think my role as a therapist has really helped me keep the idea of well-being at the center of my business message both to customers, and also how I approach decisions made for my business.
What have been the most rewarding and challenging part of running your own business? Also, what has been the greatest highlight so far and why?
Most rewarding parts include being stocked in The British Library as part of their West Africa exhibition, and also being nominated and shortlisted for a GUBA Start-up of the year award. Challenges, on the other hand, have been grand plans not working out as planned, and also personal obstacles that have impacted the business.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected? And if you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
I don’t know that I had any particular expectations as to what it would be like to run a business. I can say it is daily hard work that is not always obvious from the outside looking in. Regarding doing things differently with my career, I actually don’t think I would change anything. There are lessons in both the highs and lows.
What can we expect to see from Bespoke Binny in the near future? Are you working on any exciting new projects or collaborations?
Now that would be telling! You’ll have to watch and see…
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Keep going, keep learning and growing. There is no such thing as an overnight success. There is no secret to success; it’s just hard work, persistence, and patience.
On a lighter note:
You have described sewing as being therapeutic…is that something you still do?
Yes, I still sew, and I find it therapeutic, I could get lost sewing for hours
What was last piece of homeware you bought?
A chest of drawers!
What one thing could you not live without?
Where would you go tomorrow if money and time were no object?
Cuba! It’s such a beautiful country
Do you love to cook and if so anything in particular?
I don’t know if I would use the word ‘love’. I do enjoy it though, I like making a nice dessert.
What was the last book you read?
Goodness! It has been so long since I actually read for pleasure, and I love to read. At the moment, I am finishing up my thesis for my doctorate so probably a text book on refugee mental health care as that’s what my thesis is about.
Cats or dogs?
Cats! I have a cat called Marmite, we all spoil her, she is such a little madam!
Tea or coffee?
Tea, love a cup of tea and some rich tea biscuits or ginger nut cookies.
Thank you very much for chatting with us. We can’t wait to see your beautiful home ware products in retail stores around the world.