Ex-beauty queen and Rikaoto boss, Maryam Elisha dreams Nmulti-million business empire

‘Yes, I want to be a billionaire’

FORMER beauty queen, serial entrepreneur and MD/CEO, Rikaoto is really thinking big.  She wants to be a billionaire!  The Kebbi-born ex-Miss Valentine, who is gradually building a lucrative business that spans fashion, merchandising, real estate…revealed this in a rare interview with ENCOMIUM Weekly.

Speaking with us on Thursday, April 11, 2014, at the poolside of Protea Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos, the maiden brand face of Zain (when it was Vmobile), Sterling Bank and Delta Soap disclosed the amazing progress she has made so far in growing and branding her seven-year old fashion label, Rikaoto, Urban Lifestyle magazine as well as her other business interests.

Maryam Elisha also opened up on her not-so-rosy love life, promising she would only get married when the right man calls.

IMG_7498xYou’ve built a fashion brand that is growing rapidly, how did you do it?

I will just say it’s God because when I started Rikaoto, I didn’t know that people would appreciate the brand this much.  Now, it’s really big and I feel elated about it.  I think I’m lucky and happy about it.

How long have you been running Rikaoto?

For about six, seven years now.  I started when I was in school. I started with less than N100,000, for a sewing machine and was operating from my house.  The rest is history like they say.

How did you coin the name Rikaoto?

It is not a coinage per se.  It means fruitful, it’s my second name.  It’s a name from my dialect.  I’m Hausa, from Kebbi, so it’s like my native language.  Rikaoto is like when something is producing.  So, the brand is really manifesting its essence (laughs).

Who are Rikaoto’s clients?

I can’t really start mentioning names because we have a lot of clients that transcend all spheres.  Some are in Nigeria, others in and outside Africa.  We are global. But, of course, top celebrities, the working class and other class of individuals patronize Rikaoto.

You started small but your brand is now worth a couple of millions, how does it feel?

Who wouldn’t be happy if her business is doing well?  I’m really glad that Rikaoto has turned out to be a well-known brand.  People are massively patronizing us.  We hardly sleep these days because our factories are working 24/7.  We make sure we satisfy our customers.  I was really excited when I went to the New York Fashion Week, and I saw like IMG_0387atwo Nigerians wearing Rikaoto. I felt appreciated.

Still on the growth of Rikaoto, what would you attribute to it?

I will just say I’m happy and grateful to God Almighty to whom I give all the glory.  So far, I feel very lucky and happy to have gone this far.

We also learnt you now have outlets across the nation and can be reached online?

That’s correct because we are always on the internet.  You can find us everywhere.  We are on  Facebook, our website is always active and you can make orders anytime any day anywhere.  So, we also rely on social networks to sell our products.  Apart from social media, Rikaoto is also in the US.  We equally have a place we receive our clients in the UK.  Our clients order from anywhere in the world.  But, we produce in Nigeria.  We are for everybody, Africans and non-Africans.  It is a global brand.

Who is financing Rikaoto?

That is a very difficult question. I wouldn’t say any particular person or financial organization is financing us. Of course, you know the banks and our esteemed clients who patronize us are always there to support us.  My family has also been there for me.

So, no man is bankrolling Maryam Elisha’s business?

They said a man is behind it?  That is serious.  Anyway, men and women patronize Rikaoto.  If there is a particular man who buys more than the others, he should be a major financier then (laughs).

IMG_7489aAnother offshoot of Rikaoto is your lifestyle magazine, Urban Style.  How is it doing?

Urban Style is our fashion magazine brand and it is really coming up too. I have seen a lot of people buying the magazine while I’m in traffic and the report of our agents have also been positive.  It is a magazine that people should look out for right now.  Adverts have also been coming. That is why we appreciate our business partners.

What about the challenges so far?

There is really no major challenge for now except the fact that you can’t predict the market.  Those in the publishing market know where I am coming from.

So, what informed this magazine?

I’m a fashionable person, I’m a designer as well.  So, we thought about doing something to showcase African fashion, African people, doing their thing.  So, Urban Style magazine is all about showcasing fashion and lifestyle of Africans.

You are also into property, what’s your portfolio right now?

Yes, I’m into property but you don’t expect me to start unveiling them.  God has blessed me with a couple of them. In case you don’t know, we are property people in my family.  I have tapped from their advise and made modest investment in this sector.

You are a former beauty queen, a model and fashion designer, have you been a face of brands and products?

IMG_0397aYes, of course.  I started as a model.  When I started, I was encouraged by people who didn’t even know me at all.  I was just met on the road by a modelling agent who convinced me I can model and that was it.  From there, he took me to Rosabel Court for audition.  At the end of the day, I got the opportunity to be the first face of Vmobile (that’s Zain today).  I was paid a huge amount of money I had never seen in my life.  And because I was young, my sister signed my contract forms.  I was paid as much as what celebrities are being paid currently.  Interestingly, I was then the ordinary girl in the street. I was on billboards, TV commercials and print.  Then came Lucozade Boost, I also did MTN, Delta Soap, Sterling Bank and other top brands jobs.  But I don’t model anymore because the fashion business now takes a lot of my time, and with the pool of demands now coming in, I have to concentrate on pure business.

How is life for you at large?

Life generally for me has been up and down, full of challenges, but all these encourage us to work harder.  I will say life has been kind and fun too.  And I thank God for the opportunity He has given me.

You just returned from New York Fashion Week, how did it go?

New York Fashion Week was fantastic.  Though, I couldn’t showcase my products because I got there late, I had a lot of orders back home I needed to clear before travelling out, the event was great.  And of course, like I said I saw a couple of people wearing Rikaoto.  And that was inspiring.  After that, I went for Miami Fashion Week.

IMG_0403aWhat are your plans for Rikaoto?

To make sure Rikaoto continues to go global and become a world brand.

What more business interests are you pursuing?

I will add one more business soon, but I won’t tell you now.

What separates Rikaoto from other fashion brands?

I believe in modern African fashion.  It is in-between the West and the traditional African style.  I like to bring out the beauty of the African woman or man.  A man or a woman shouldn’t look underdressed or overdressed.  Our fashion sense is about appropriateness.

You design men’s outfits too?

Yes, I do. But maybe because I’m a woman I focus and promote more of women’s.

What really drives you?

God, hard work and integrity.

Don’t you consider yourself lucky to have joined the league of millionaires at a relatively younger age?

I kind of feel lucky, considering our environment where it takes young people lots of effort to make it.  Outside our shores, you see even teenagers hitting it big.  All the same, God has really been good to me.

Let’s talk about your love life.  There is this story that you are now engaged?

It didn’t work out.  The truth is that I know what I want in my man.  And when I have the right man, I will definitely get married.  I can get married anytime he comes.

IMG_0397aFormer beauty queen and AGN president, Ibinabo Fiberesima once told us her love life is standstill, is that your case now?

No o.  Ironically, Ibinabo is my client, I design most of her dresses.  My love life is cool.  I’m young.  I’m sure looking forward towards having the man I will live forever with and having a family sometime soon. I don’t know yet, but God’s time is the best.

What is your ultimate ambition?

I’m working hard to build a multi-million naira business empire.  In fact, I want to be a billionaire! (laughs).



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