Knitting and crochet have long been confused for each other for as long as one can remember. People would crochet and call it knitting. I learned to crotchet as part of the Fine Art syllabus in secondary school, but it was called knitting. At some point, we all have interchanged knitting and crocheting. But one thing we can agree both have in common is the beauty of the craft. It is no wonder Omolade Kolade Mayowa decided to pick up a crochet pin and some colourful yarn.
Omobolade is a crochet artist who refers to herself as a crochet architect. She is the founder of HookedbyLade, a luxury crochet bag brand based in Lagos, Nigeria. Lade picked up knitting at a young age from a neighbour. “She [the neighbour] would knit yarn into belts, using broomsticks. It was fascinating. So I asked her to teach me,” she recalls. “We often sharpened broomsticks to use as knitting pins.” This became a hobby for Lade at the time. Later on, she proceeded to study architecture in school. While in school in 2015, she learned about Fiverr, a freelancing platform, and started what would form her first experience in entrepreneurship. She began freelancing as a writer and progressed to animation and software development. “If I wanted to pivot to tech, I could. There is money in tech. But I do not know if I will be happy doing it,” she notes.
Lade never imagined she would be interested in textiles. Her passion for knitting would only resurface after being inspired by nature during her service year in 2017. Lade got posted to teach in a small community in Ahoda west local government, Rivers state. Seeing she had ample time to spare, she resumed knitting. “I was enjoying a different scenery; gentle breezes and tranquillity. It seemed the ideal setting to pick up the craft again,” she says. In no time, she had the children in the village coming around to learn the craft. She taught them using the broom method. “They [the children] made it fun. I would research different stitches like the crocodile stitch and introduce it to them each time they came around,” she recalls.
She returned to Lagos after her service and began working remotely for a construction firm based in Dallas, Texas. It seemed a dream job, especially as it marked the beginning of her career. But after almost two years of working with the firm, she quit. “It was not coming to me as naturally as it should,” she says. She decided to concentrate on freelancing because it was doing well. With more time to spare, she started working with yarns again. Only this time, it was with a hook, a crocheting hook. And she was determined to grab it by the horns. “I told myself, it has to work. So, I put in the work, ” she says.
The crochet bag architect
When Lade started HookedbyLade, she did not know what to expect. Her first set of bags did not sell. So she decided to invest in improving her craft and creating better products.
HookedbyLade bags are vibrant, intricate, and sophisticated. However, creating such high-quality products is time-consuming and often begins with customer consultation. “I get to know my clients and note their style and preference. So I can work better for them. It is the architect in me coming to play,” she says.
Because the bags require a lot of creativity, Lade does her best to avoid repetition because it can kill creativity. “I always try to sieve projects that I take on. I often chip in creative ways to serve customers. Even when they request a viral design, I suggest ways we can make it unique. It is even better when a client tells me to be free with my designs,” she says.
After designing the products, Lade moves on to the production phase. Making the bags require the use of quality materials. The yarns must be of good quality to avoid weak and bobbly products. But sourcing quality yarn in Nigeria is difficult. “I wish I could say I use locally produced yarn. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. It is difficult to find quality yarn made in Nigeria,” says Lade. Lade has to import quality yarns. In 2021 alone, Nigeria imported horsehair yarn, wool, and fabrics worth $259.12 thousand.
Some bags take up to eight hours to produce. Others can take up to four days. “It depends on the style and size. Big bags take a longer time. But I love to work on big bags. And most of my customers request for big sizes,” she notes.
Lade wraps up each product with a video. “I enjoy making videos of my bags. When I finish a bag, I want to showcase it so that the buyer is proud of it,” she says. Her videos are created with Instagram Reel, a feature she says launched at the right time for her brand. It takes about two hours to get the right photo shots and video clips, even with her brother’s help. “I do not make videos for every bag, but I do my best to be consistent,” she says.
HookedbyLade’s team comprises Lade herself, a business developer, and her brother, a web developer. Lade designs and crochets alone, and at a time, requests got overwhelming. “I would get so many requests. And it seemed like I was selective of the people that got their bags.” So she started a 30-day waitlist. “It was easier to come up with the waitlist. Customers can see their numbers moving up on the queue,” she says. Her bestseller, the comfort bag, a $150 royal blue bag with silver accessories, has a waitlist of 651. “I have been fortunate to have patient people who understand the value of what they are getting,” she adds.
Building a crotchet empire
Like most businesses, HookedbyLade has had its share of hassles, especially with only a few luxury crochet businesses serving an existing template. “Every situation presents its own set of challenges. Initially, it was getting my customers to trust me enough to pay before production began. Especially those abroad who constitute my major clientele,” she says.
Lade has also had to deal with difficult customers. “I once had a situation where a US-based client had a delayed order. I granted her request for a refund. But when the bag got to her, she refused to return the chargeback. I was quite hurt. I had just started the business, and every penny was important,” she says.
Still, the most important factor for HookedbyLade is rendering utmost customer satisfaction. “Even if we have a hundred requests, each customer must be satisfied. It does not matter how much the customer is paying,” she says. “In three years, customers should be able to remember the service they received from HookedbyLade. That is very important to me,” she adds.
Lade is in the early stages of building her brand. And she hopes to scale to include an academy. “Many people want to learn crocheting. I get emails from mothers saying I should teach their daughters. But I am only one person. I can not risk producing substandard bags because I took on more than I could handle. It takes passion and dedication from both teacher and student to get it right,” she said.
A business like hers, she believes, must be built on passion, hard work, and dedication. “One year ago, there was no way I would have known the brand would be where it is today. It looked like there was no market for crochet bags. It was not in demand. But I went from having 500 followers to 265k followers on Instagram and a current waitlist of over 1300,” she says. The brand also has a sister brand – the HookedbyLade store for crocheting tools and accessories. HookedbyLade has been featured on platforms like fashion bomb daily and can be seen on the arms of movie icons like Sola Sobowale.
Lade started her brand by outrightly pricing her bags in dollars. Her cheapest bag, a gold round bag named “Fola spike”, cost $90. The pricier bags cost over $300 dollars. “I worked as a freelancer for a while, so I know the importance of working in a stable currency. It makes it easier to stick with a price for a few months,” she says.
“I am building a luxury brand. Although there is a crochet market, people do not take it seriously. I see crochet blankets going for N10,000. People often do not think crochet is peculiar. I had to be intentional and place value on it. Not just the price but quality as well.”