Movers and Shakers | Sarah_Jemirifo | Hydration London
Sarah Jane Atinuke Jemirifo is the founder of Hydration London, a fashion label inspired by “my journey from a comfortable life in London to the slums of Nigeria and back again!” From luxury, jewel-encrusted velvet tracksuits to showstopping dresses, each piece in the collections is more than just a garment, it’s a narrative, a memory. For instance, The Chilli Pepper Dress is inspired by the affectionate nickname her mother used to call her as a child.
Tell us about you
At the age of 26, I bought my first property from the council. I lived there while I renovated it and then I sold it for a profitable sum. I took courses in plastering, painting, and decorating, and tiling to maximise my profits. While I relied on qualified professionals for electrical and gas work, I personally handled all the remaining tasks. Since then, I have repeated the same process many times with properties in London, Essex, Liverpool, Spain and Dubai and made a considerable amount of money in the process.
However, my lifelong dream of becoming a fashion designer, which originated in the slums of Nigeria, stayed with me. This dream served as a constant source of inspiration during my most challenging moments, and I wanted to make it come true. Hydration London was born!
What inspired you to start your own business?
I was working in Selfridges as a personal shopper. I had saved some money towards buying my council flat, but I was short by £30,000. My then-boyfriend generously gave me that money and the opportunity to transform my life. I’ll be forever grateful. When I eventually sold that home, I could not believe the amount of money I had made and used it to buy another property. I just kept repeating the success. I was estranged from my father, so it wasn’t until much later that I learned that I had unwittingly followed in his footsteps. My father had been a wealthy property owner before he moved us to Nigeria and lost all his money. Then we ended up in the slums. How strange that I had come full circle.
In terms of Hydration London, as a teen, I would sit outside watching people running around in the sun, cutting my clothes, stitching them, putting them together and changing the designs. If something was on sale, I would buy it, put a design on it, stitch it. I always knew I would eventually do something in fashion. I just needed the opportunity.
What were the first few steps you took to get the business up and running?
I’ve lost count of the number of hours spent researching. Eventually and when I was ready, I wrote my business plan and started contacting suppliers.
Are there any sacrifices you’ve had to make as an entrepreneur? Y
Yes, a lot. Being disciplined and focused on establishing and launching the brand took several years behind the scenes. Everything else was secondary during those times. I was like a hermit for ages honestly! I had to keep saying “no” to my friends every time they invited me out. I was totally focused on getting Hydration London ready for launch. Netflix and chill was no longer a thing!!
What has been the most amazing day in your entrepreneurial life so far?
The day I launched Hydration London. It was such a huge milestone, a real mixture of extreme excitement and a small sigh of relief! I imagined my 14-year-old self, standing in front of me. I smiled at her to say, “keep swimming, you will make it.” She smiled back to say, “thank you, I can’t wait for the future.”
What has been your scariest moment?
If scariest moment refers to having no regrets, then I would say the day I decided to fully commit to make Hydration London a reality. I have had the dream of creating my own brand in the fashion industry since I was 14. It was a lot of pressure.
How do you work on making your business grow?
Embedded on the business plan is a brand promotion strategy, covering multiple mediums across different media platforms. Given it is a new company, the focus now is on building brand profile in the UK and globally. At the same time, I will continue to design unique pieces and increase the product ranges the brand offers.
What is the best thing about being your own boss?
Being in full control. Being the decision maker. Having the freedom to follow my instincts and taking the risks alone.
What are the challenges of working for yourself and how do you tackle them?
Operational challenges can always be resolved if you have good and trusted supply chain partners. Nonetheless, the obvious one is managing the business risks alone. There will also be very challenging moments which make you doubt your commitment. I stay strong and focused and keep reminding myself on why I started the journey.
Who do you admire or look to for inspiration as a business owner?
Firstly, Folorunso Alakija, the Nigerian business tycoon. Her journey from being a secretary to becoming one of the richest black women in the world is amazing. She made her mark in the oil, printing, and fashion industries, showing mastery over the lot!
Secondly, Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man. He turned a loan from his uncle into a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate, Dangote Group, which operates in several African countries.
Thirdly, I look up to Oprah Winfrey, not just for her success as a media mogul, but also for her journey. Raised in poverty, she faced numerous obstacles and yet managed to become one of the most influential women in the world. Her story motivates me to believe in myself and my dreams, no matter how big they may seem.
Finally, Rihanna rose from humble beginnings to become a global icon of music, beauty and fashion.
They all remind me that where you come from doesn’t have to dictate where you’re going. They’ve taught me to see my humble beginnings not as a limitation, but as a source of strength and motivation.
What piece of advice has had the most impact on your business? And who was it from?
The most impactful piece of advice that has truly shaped my business journey came from my grandmother, who lived through various hardships yet maintained an optimistic perspective on life. She used to say to me, “The world will not hand you success. You must learn to bend it to your will. Persistence is your most powerful tool.”
This advice has been my guiding light in every phase of my career. During the hardest times, when I was just starting to build my property empire, her words echoed in my ears, encouraging me to persist. Later, when I stepped into the fashion industry with Hydration London, I harnessed the same spirit of tenacity and resilience.
Her wisdom made me realise that the path to success is not linear. There will be roadblocks, detours, and bumps. But the key lies in persisting, in continuing to strive towards your goals, regardless of the challenges that come your way. It’s this enduring spirit that has enabled me to transform from a girl in the slums to a woman leading a property empire and a fashion brand.
So to every aspiring entrepreneur, I say: Believe in your journey, persist in your passion, and always remember that every challenge you encounter is not a setback, but a set up for a comeback. This mantra has been my lifeline, and it is the greatest lesson I have learned and the one I most fervently wish to pass on.
What are the three books, websites or resources (professional or personal) that you would recommend to other business owners?
“The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. This book was a life-changer for me. It’s simple yet profound message about following one’s dreams and listening to one’s heart resonated with me deeply. The journey of Santiago, the shepherd boy, mirrored my own aspirations to break free from my circumstances and see what the world had to offer.
“Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki. This book opened my eyes to the importance of financial education, something I did not receive growing up. It made me understand the significance of building assets.
“The Woman I Wanted to Be” by Diane von Furstenberg. Diane’s autobiography wasn’t just a story about fashion; it was about a woman’s determination and ambition in the face of adversity, which mirrored my own journey from the slums to where I am today.
It also gave me the courage to pursue my long-held dream of launching a fashion brand. I identified with her passion for creativity, her will to make something out of nothing, and her desire to inspire and empower other women.
What other passions do you have away from your business? How do you relax?
I love travelling to unwind. I’ll never forget my brother and sister-in-law and me having traditional Arabian food around a fire in the desert. Some Arabian music came on and we danced under the stars. These moments are precious. A great night out dining, dancing and spending quality time with family/friends in London/ Dubai is a good way to recharge as well.
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