MRS. Tewa Onasanya, the editor-in-chief of Exquisite magazine is living her dreams. 10 years ago she took the bold step and started a fashion magazine popularly known as Exquisite. They have been through thick and thin but the magazine is still standing strong.
She also uses the medium to create awareness for cervical and breast cancer, hence, the Exquisite Walk Against Cancer every September.
ENCOMIUM Weekly had an interview with the mother of two children on the success story, why she graced the cover of their tenth edition and much more…
How do you feel about Exquisite magazine at 10?
It feels great and wonderful. I am happy at the point we are now. We can only get better. We waded through storm and all the challenges. Now, the sky is just the starting point for us.
How will you describe the journey so far?
The journey has been like a roller coaster, up and down, back and forth. We started the magazine 10 years ago with the passion to put out a magazine for women of colour and then in the end, we had to get into the business of running a magazine and the business of running a publishing house. It has been fun and exciting. It has been a very great learning experience.
What are the challenges of being one of the top fashion magazines?
Apart from finance, which everybody talks about, it is staffing and dealing with other people who are in charge of putting other things together. We have had cases of vendors who were destructive. Then other things associated with people outside. One way or the other, we have been able to mingle and merge. We are now at a comfortable level with everyone we work with. It has been fun and interesting.
What about the gains of publishing?
The gains have been seeing people opening the pages of the magazine and reading it. There was a time I went for an event and saw a lady reading a magazine. I was just wondering and asking myself which magazine was the lady reading. By the time I got there, I realized it was Exquisite magazine. I was so happy. That is the kind of thing that makes me happy. Or when I introduce myself and they can identify the person. All of those are the gains.
In terms of the pains, let me start with the financial reward. I am not at the point I want to be yet because we are passing through a lot of things but I am comfortable and I thank God for that.
What was your print run when you started?
I can remember that I had this exciting idea of printing a 200-page of a 5,000 magazine, my friend had to bring me back to earth. When we started, our first issue was 24 pages and it was a thousand copies. From there, we produced a hundred pages with 2,000 copies. When we came into the Nigerian market, we printed 3,000 copies. Now we do 7,000 or 10,000.
When was the turning point for you?
When I started Exquisite, I was still working as a clinical data manager. I couldn’t leave paid employment just like that. I had to, one way or the other, balance the act. I was working in a pharmaceutical company and still running Exquisite magazine. I left paid employment when I had my daughter. One day, I woke up and made up my mind that all I wanted to do was to edit the magazine and bring out another issue.
For me, it wasn’t a job, it was something I just love doing. I think that was the turning point. I spoke to myself that I wasn’t going back to paid work, that I will continue with the magazine.
Will you say it has been worth the while?
It has been. When I was in England, Exquisite magazine was not for the mainstream market. It was for women of colour. In Nigeria, Exquisite is for the mainstream, it is for everybody. We still sell in England till now. I will say it has been a good journey.
Were there decisions you took at the beginning that are still working for you or otherwise?
Yes, decision like making the magazine a platform for empowering and to inspire people. We started with that and it is still on. That is one of the things we are doing right now with the magazine. Another thing is to stay relevant and consistent in the market. We have been able to do that effectively. In the last 10 years in Nigeria, a lot of magazines have started and stopped because of one reason or the other. Even with the challenges Exqusiite had seen, we are not going to give up. We will continue plugging on, that is why I say to people that whatever you do, make sure you are passionate about it so that you can keep going even at the face of challenges.
What was your staff strength when you started and what is it now?
When we started, we had this dream of setting up a publishing house with a lot of people. We started with about 10 people but eventually, we realized that not everybody should be full time and in house. Most people could be freelance and contributors. That was how we were able to put the magazine together.
How are you coping with the trend in things as regards the economic hardship facing the country?
We are coping well, thanks to God. It is all to God. There is nothing we can do by ourselves. Even though the economic season is harsh, even though there are different things we need to put in place that are not yet in place because of the economic situation, we are still working, we have not given up.
Can you tell us some of the elements of a good fashion magazine?
A good fashion magazine must be able to turn out different pages of creatively laid out work, fashion items, trends, happenings around the world, etc. It must be able to bring fashion information to readers, not just fashion on the entertainment level but on the business side as well.
Why did you decide to grace the cover of this new issue?
It is a big story. Before we decided to do the cover, we were brainstorming on whom to put on the cover. We wanted somebody that has a story that will inspire and motivate somebody else to want to say that this is the business I want to do and I will go ahead with it. A lot of people don’t know the story behind Exquisite. We decided to tell Exquisite story. I wanted people to know what we have been through, how I sat on the balcony crying because we couldn’t print the magazine. I wanted to tell people what they need to do, especially in believing in themselves. That is why the cover caption says, ‘If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody will because everywhere you go, people will want to put you down.’ But if you believe in yourself that you can do it, trust me, you will.
What are the marketing strategies you adopt for your business?
You think I will tell you that, of course not. But we are loyal to our subscribers and readers, that is a big marketing strategy and we keep them close to our heart.
What level do you intend taking your magazine to in a couple of years?
The next level should be bigger than the sky. It is bigger than me. God has great plans for us and I am going to follow His plans.
What separates your magazine from others?
Exquisite is in the league of its own. We appeal to readers, we do what our readers want, how they want it, whichever way they want it and it has been working for us.
As an entrepreneur, mother and wife, how do you juggle all these roles without one affecting the other?
I am not perfect but I am doing it well with God on my side and my very supportive husband. We wouldn’t be here today if my husband was not supportive.
At that point when you exhausted your savings, was there a point he told you to call it quits?
There was a time he said it was enough but because of my looks and how dejected that sounds, he then gave me a deadline. Luckily anytime he said that, God has been faithful and he has come through for us.
Was there any time you felt like quitting?
There were times when I felt, should I just leave this and do something else. That was when my husband gave me a deadline. I remember that day that I prayed to God. I told God that I love doing what I was doing. I really wanted the magazine to be a success. We got to the deadline and things started changing. Here we are today.
What advise do you have for people looking up to starting their dreams?
They should be sure of what they want to do, what they want the magazine to focus on. In terms of target audience, be clear and make it defined. If you say you want to focus on business, do and don’t move. Focus on your core, dedicate time to it and be patient. Because you have to prove to the world that you can do it.
– SHADE WESLEY-METIBOGUN