Ndeyfatou Ceesay, the CEO & Creative Director of NFC talked with BusinessinGambia in an exclusive interview on how the NFC brand started, initial challenges and advice for young entrepreneurs.
Enjoy the inspirational interview.
Please introduce yourself and the NFC brand to us
NFC – My name is Ndeyfatou Ceesay, I am a Gambian fashion designer, the Creative Director of NFC previously known as Noir.
NFC is an abbreviation of my full name. It is a continuation of Noir rebranded as NFC. I decided to rebrand Noir as NFC because even though Noir was a great success, the design aesthetic was not completely decided. It was a learning curve that was beyond priceless regarding business and design.
NFC is my outlet of expression – through fashion; it is a gift I intend to share with the world.
What inspired you to start a business?
NFC – After graduating from university, I had worked in various industries. However, I found it hard to enjoy any of these roles. I got so bored with everything, I felt uninspired and almost as if I was breathing but not living. I knew something had to change, but I wasn’t sure what. Finally, I got the courage to quit my job as a Protocol Officer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Gambia.
After I had resigned, I asked myself ‘what now?’ I had a bachelor’s degree in Politics and Spanish language; so if I couldn’t work in politics what was I meant to do?
I was already sewing clothing for myself and a few clients with the help of my mum’s tailors, but it was far from a business. The more I designed, the more I fell in love with creating a mood or feeling through clothing.
What are some of the initial challenges you faced when you started this Business?
NFC – There were many: – Top 4 I would say are;
- Capital – where could I get the money to pay tailors, to buy machines, fabric,
- Expertise – how could I get the best team if I was still learning?
- Lack of a serious workforce – the work ethic in Gambia can be appalling at the best of times
- Fear – would it work? Will people like it? Can I really run my own business?ga
Did you attend any training on fashion and business management before you started?
NFC – No. Prior to starting, I had no training in business management or in fashion design; I had watched my mum work with her tailors and design successfully but nothing from an institution. Business was like speaking Chinese to me.
During your presentation at the Youth Entrepreneurship Summit (YES) Gambia in Oct 2016, you mentioned about your trip to Nigeria. How did this trip make you feel about business?
NFC – This trip was my first leap of faith. It was I taking all the risks imaginable and boldly trying. This trip empowered me in many ways that changed how I approached my business; it was challenging as well as fruitful. I learnt many lessons about business and how it works during this trip and wouldn’t change it for the world.
NFC brand has participated in the international fashion shows such as the African Fashion Week London, a great step in promoting the nation’s fashion industry. How does this platform help you to grow the brand?
NFC – I think the most important aspect of doing international shows is to broaden the brand’s reach. Gambia is our country, and we love it, but it is a small market. Being featured on international platforms is a great way to market and also create customer awareness. It grows the brand through that aspect.
You must have failed on one or two occasions, how did you learn from failure?
NFC – I have failed on many occasions, made bad business decisions and used a lot of time trying out new techniques and at times taking too great of risks. But failure is the best gift anyone can ask for, it builds you up and makes you stronger. It also teaches you life lessons that you could never experience without failing; it also humbles you deeply.
It’s not about the failure; it’s about how you relate to failing and what drive it brings out of you that determines your character and how the business survives. Also in times of failure, you get to see who really wants the best for you and pushes you forward – that is a priceless gift.
They say health is your wealth – how do you manage work-life balance?
NFC – I had a rude awakening in 2015. I had just opened the shop, two months later I showcased at the Fashion Weekend Gambia. The shop got recognition, and business was booming.
In June that year, I was nominated to go to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya. The same year in August I was showcasing at Africa Fashion Week London, in October I was attending the Creative Business Cup in Copenhagen. Shortly after I returned to the Gambia, I became extremely ill. My bones were hurting and even sleeping hurt; I wasn’t able to work as hard and felt weak all the time.
I learnt an excellent lesson from that time. Health is really your wealth! It is very important always to take time out to rest, think, laugh and eat! Now I take the jobs I know I can guarantee delivery on time and kindly excuse myself from the ones I can’t. I exercise when I can and eat healthy also.
I still have manic times when we work non-stop, but after we deliver, I always take the time to relax. I also have a no-Sunday policy; on Sunday I don’t do anything that has the potential to stress me out even slightly. Sometimes I won’t even answer phone calls on a Sunday or even reply emails. Whatever it is, it can wait. Unless of course, it is life changing.
What advice would offer to the young entrepreneurs, particularly those who think about starting their venture?
NFC – Just do it!
Start, start anywhere, just begin, the more you ‘dillydally’, the more fear creeps in. It will be hard, you will have horrible days, but you will also have excellent times and the horrible days will only make you stronger. You will experience times where you can clearly see the right direction. Don’t worry about money if you do the work the money will come. Nothing is too small; don’t bite off more than you can chew. Go at your own pace! Trust in your maker and push forth to take what is yours, play fair and you shall be rewarded; lastly go hard or go home.
Ok, the final question: What are your plans for the future of NFC brand?
NFC – That is a hard question to answer, but I’ will try. NFC is at a stage where I spend a lot of time planning and thinking. I still produce garments and am very blessed to have loyal and loving customers who sustain the business.
I also design for others under their brand names which allows me the freedom to plan for NFC while paying for my overheads; this is where the #styledbyndeyfatou on Instagram comes from on my social media.
Noir was the learning curve of my entire life thus far; I learnt so much in that space of time that with NFC I am re-thinking my every move at every turn. Maybe I’m thinking too much, I don’t know – but one thing is for sure I’m more inspired than I’ve ever been. I guess you’ll just have to watch this space.
Thank you. You can see more of NFC’s works on the social media: