• Friday, February 23, 2024
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Olamide Ayeni-Babajide: Turning wastes into furniture


When was the last time you dumped your car tyres into drainages? If you did that in the past, think twice now. Apart from its negative environmental impact, you can keep the tyres at home and make money from them, thanks to Olamide Ayeni-Babajide, chief executive officer of Pearl Recycling, a sustainable social enterprise that transforms solid wastes, especially tyres, into sustainable, eco-friendly products for everyday use. Pearl Recycling started in 2012, though it took off fully in 2016. Olamide caught the vision while on a trip to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

She walked into a decor store and bought some products, only to realise later that they were made from wastes.

“I was really sad when I discovered that the decor products were made from wastes,” she tells Start-Up Digest.

“I was still doing my 8 to 5 job, but trying my hands on some many creative things on weekends. But that realisation prompted me to start,” she says.

“You can imagine the amount of money I spent to bring them in. But I saw the opportunity and the numbers. We are almost 200 million people. I saw these raw materials every day and it was more like a motivation. But what validated the motivation was that when we started, we had a few people that patronised, but immediately we introduced the furniture, it was just like everyone was waiting to buy some cheaper furniture,” she says.

She explains that it was the patronage that confirmed her vision.

“The market moved us so fast and the support we got from international organisations actually moved us to believe that people see our vision,” she explains.

Olamide has a background in Computer Engineering. Before she started Pearl Recycling, she had worked for more than 10 years on designs. This was why the only place she could enter while in UAE was a decor shop— not a shoes or clothes shop.

Her vision was made simple by the proliferation of wastes in the country.

“One of the things I realised was that we generate a lot of wastes in Nigeria,” she says.

“Most of them end up in canals and on the streets,” she adds.

The entrepreneur says though Nigeria generates a lot of wastes, focus has been mostly on plastics wastes.

“We have some companies picking these wastes, but the focus has been on plastics. But something we are missing is the tyre waste. We have a lot of cars in Nigeria, but what happens to tyre wastes?” she asks.

She, therefore, saw the need to do something about tyre waste. She also noticed that since the majority of Nigerians were poor, their major challenges were food, clothing, and then shelter.

“But the last thing among these choices is how their homes look,” she says

“You enter some people’s homes but can’t sit down. People have chairs but don’t have furniture. That was why we started. We understand that a lot of people cannot afford luxury furniture; they can’t afford the high-priced furniture. So, we have to create quality at an affordable price. We had to create durable products that last longer than the normal furniture made in the country,” she explains.

Her business helps to preserve the environment and trees. Her furniture products are cheap for average Nigerians and low-income earners, she attests.

“You can buy our furniture from N3,000, N4,000 and upwards. You can imagine buying very nice stools for N15, 000. Average working class people love them because they also buy something that fit into their leather. Our ability to make customised products that fit into their leather has helped a lot.”

Between 2016 when Olamide started fully and now, a lot of things have changed.

“When we started 2016, we were battling cultural stereotypes. We could hardly get calls asking what we were doing. Three years down the line, we now receive at least six calls per day from people who want to know what we do. A lot of people want to dump tyres and sell. So they just call us to buy their tyres. The awareness and patronage have gone up. We also did a lot of structural changes by incorporating B2B and B2C. What we were doing before was to sell to individuals, but we deal more now with corporate organisations and collaborations,” she tells Start-Up Digest.

Due to the impact her products make, the United States Embassy in Abuja and that of Lagos have supported her.

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She is currently doing a programme in schools— funded by the U.S. government— where she donates 400 chairs made from wastes to schools and trains 800 students.

“You can imagine what 400 chairs can do in the students’ consciousness. And then we train 800 of them who can go back and train their parents, friends and their communities. The awareness has gone up. A lot of people are calling us to volunteer to learn,” she says.

The young entrepreneur believes that there is now a perception shift in Nigeria, as a lot of noise has been made concerning waste.

Olamide was selected as the Tech Women Emerging Fellow by the U.S. government in 2017. This is a programme where 100 women are selected to go to the Silicon Valley to intern for more than one month with top companies.

Last year, her work was showcased at the White House, the U.S., to many dignitaries. Also in 2018, she was selected as the Most Outstanding Social Innovator by the Union Bank. She is also a 2016 Tony Elumelu Fellow.

“We have got a lot of grants from different organisations,” she admits.

Olamide does not keep this knowledge to herself as she trains a lot of people on the business of upcycling (turning wastes into quality products). She plans to start making interlocking tiles from plastics.

“We have raised a lot of change makers,” she says.

“We have trained over 250 women. Ford Foundation sponsored 250 women for training last year. These people came from Abuja, Osun State, Oyo State and many other places. They are already doing these things in their communities and they are achieving the same purpose,” she discloses.

But how does Olamide get her raw materials—in this case, tyres?

She has partnered with a large number of volcanisers who keep tyres for her.

“We teach them the type of tyres we buy and we pay them N100 for one tyre. This encourages them to keep the tyres for us as they make extra income,” she explains.

“Our tyres go through a lot of processes. We disinfect and process them.”

Her products are becoming popular among Nigerians as she now has a shop at Jumia and markets through the social media.

Like other entrepreneurs, Olamide has challenges. First, she cannot export her products despite huge demand from several countries.

She laments that poor logistics chain in the country and Africa means cost of logistics is higher than whatever consumers are ready to pay.

She adds that banks do not understand her business and are reluctant to fund good businesses.

“Capital is not available. There seems to be little support for start-ups in Nigeria. Start-up hubs are not available for us,” she says. “Environment should be conducive,” she recommends.