In our bid to support the growth of black-owned businesses, we are always on the lookout for creative talents who are building their dreams as entrepreneurs and excelling in their respective fields of interest. In this exclusive interview, we chat with Lola Banjo of Silver & Riley, a luxury accessories brand, as she shares her passions, motivations, the journey so far, tips, and her future goals. Black Owned Business.
Meet Lola Banjo, as she shares her journey into the world of luxury accessories…
SR: Tell us a bit about yourself. Who is Lola Banjo?
I am a dreamer and a doer, who sees possibilities in everything. Being raised by entrepreneurial parents, especially a mother who owned several businesses, it seemed sealed by fate that I would become an entrepreneur myself, however, the journey was anything but straightforward. Black Owned Business.
Since the idea was conceived almost a decade ago, life took me through several twists and turns as I refined, saved up for, and planned the execution of the brand. After years of market research, Silver & Riley was finally born in October 2019. The brand, which is dedicated to my late mother, is all about producing luxury timeless accessories that combine style with function while not breaking the bank.
On a personal note, I am a global citizen and have been privileged to travel to over 100 countries and immerse myself in various cultures and ways of life, all experiences from which I have drawn inspiration. Lola Banjo
I consider myself a lifelong student, though, in terms of traditional education, I have earned a BS in Materials Engineering and Mathematics (from Rutgers University), an MS in Financial Engineering (from NYU), and an MBA in Strategy, Finance, and Decision Sciences from Emory. I have also studied at business schools around the world including (FGV) Rio (Brazil), (WHU) Koblenz (Germany), (RSM) Erasmus (Netherlands), The London School of Economics, and (SDA) Bocconi (Italy). Black Owned Business.
In addition to running Silver & Riley, I have a full-time career as a Corporate Strategy Executive at Salesforce, one of the world’s largest tech firms. In that role, I am part of a small team of leaders, strategists, design thinkers, and innovators who advise and partner with the C-Suite of client firms on their business strategy. This comes after years as a Strategy Consulting Executive at Deloitte and Accenture. My list of past clients is extensive and includes major brands like Estee Lauder, Kellogg’s, Coca-Cola, Bacardi, Hostess, CVS, Best Buy, and Bank of America. Lola Banjo
My passion for and commitment to serving others has led to my work as Board Director at Mouse.org, an organization that supports youth from underserved demographics via a technology education; Board Director at Aleria Research Corporation, an organization that conducts charitable and scientific research in areas related to Diversity & Inclusion; and as a committee member of FACE Africa, an organization addressing water and sanitation issues in sub-Saharan Africa.
I am also a writer and an avid photographer, and proud of my Brooklyn, NY roots and upbringing, and, of course, my Nigerian heritage.
SR: Considering your bio, you are quite the achiever. What drives you?
What drives me the most is my sense of purpose for creating pathways to empower our community economically. This is what I am most passionate about. I have seen the devastating effect that not having resources can have, and I want to positively contribute to changing this narrative within our community.
I also want to create a legacy that can be carried on from generation to generation.
SR: So, last year you launched your leather goods brand. Tell us, what inspired you to start Silver & Riley? Black Owned Business.
Working at my Mom’s bakeshop was one of my favorite activities growing up. My Mom was the consummate entrepreneur, owning and running several businesses including a kerosene shop, a jewelry trading business, a tailoring business, and more (in fact, some of my elementary education was at the school she founded, Cambridge International Primary School). Other than indulging in delicious pastries, what I loved most about working at the bakeshop was watching how Mom treated her customers.
It was my very first lesson in Customer Intimacy 101. I’d watch as she greeted each customer with love, whether they bought 1 or 100 donuts. She remembered important details about her customers such as spouse’s names, kids’ activities, and birthdays. Every customer walked away smiling and feeling like they were the most important customer. I was only about 8 or 9, but I knew right away how important that was.
From then on, I knew I also wanted to create a consumer brand, but I didn’t know what it would be. Then about a decade ago, I started traveling weekly for work (as a strategy consultant) and began to observe people’s frustrations with their travel gear. As an engineer by training, I would always think of how to make things better, so I began to ideate on travel products that make life easier, and that’s where the inspiration behind Silver & Riley was born. Lola Banjo
SR: What makes your brand stand out among your competitors?
The products are all designed with the brand motto of creating stylish and functional pieces that stand the test of time, but beyond that, I am passionate about the social mission of the brand. As an ardent supporter of women, it was important that the brand is built on empowering and supporting women. In addition to being conscious of working with (majority) suppliers and vendors who identify as women and POC, the brand’s Buy 1, Give 5 program directly supports female entrepreneurs by helping them launch, grow and scale their businesses. 5% of every sale is retained and awarded as $1000 grants to women-led businesses.
The plan is to grow and scale the fund into a fully functioning fund that grants up to $100,000 awards to women-led companies without taking an exorbitant amount of their equity-like most venture capital funds do.
We awarded the first set of grants to three women-led businesses in March and just awarded the second set to three black women-led businesses.
SR: That’s quite impressive! How would you rate the response Silver & Riley has gotten since October 2019 when you launched?
The response has truly been incredible, first from my family and friends and increasingly from the world! I remember the first time I got a repeat customer, I was ecstatic. That kind of validation for an entrepreneur is incredible. Recently, we have received press from FashionBombDaily, NYFW, Fashion Week, and Fashionista.com so more people are starting to get to know the brand. Everyone especially loves the bucket bags and the executive convertible bags. Those have been the two best sellers since launch. Lola Banjo
SR: As a budding entrepreneur, how have you been able to rise against obstacles and the normal roadblocks in business?
My early and formative years are incredibly pivotal to who I am today. I was born in and spent my earliest years in Brooklyn, but soon moved to Lagos with my family. We lived in a part of town rife with poverty and heartbreak. Growing up in Agege taught me a lot. About grit, about pain, and the perseverance of the human spirit. Lola Banjo
At a young age, I saw what it meant to be forgotten by a system meant to protect and provide. I saw what it meant to suffer. I saw what it meant to be hopeless. The period that had the most influence on me was when I started secondary school around the age of 9. We lived about a mile away from my school and I would walk to school every morning. My parents would give me and my brother money for lunch, but I never made it to school with my money because I gave it all to those begging just for a chance to eat and survive. I would eat nothing throughout the school day because I knew no matter how hungry I was, I was still fortunate enough to go home to a bed to sleep in and a table with food to eat.
Those early experiences still humble me today. Whenever I get sad or feel frustrated, I always think of how blessed I am to be in the position I am in, and how I can help create opportunities for others. That motivates me and keeps me going.
Something that my Mom used to say also helps me get through tough times. She used to say “No condition is permanent.” I always remember this and know that whatever it is, this too shall pass.
SR: Your story is really inspiring. So tell us, what products does Silver & Riley currently offer?
Functional, stylish, and affordable luxury leather travel and fashion accessories like the handmade Oxblood leather duffle bag and the Going Places belt bags. Examples can be found on our website.
SR: So let’s talk leather! What, in your opinion, are the key leather characteristics a customer should check for before purchasing any leather product?
When I started out, I conducted a market research survey to find out people’s opinions about where the best leather comes from and overwhelmingly, Italian leather won out. That said, there are still various grades of leather. Full-grain leather is the highest quality leather available. This leather comes from the top layer of the hide and includes all the grain with it – hence the name full grain. Lola Banjo
This type of leather retains the inherent toughness, as well as the imperfections because there are no surface alterations or splitting. It is the highest quality leather and thus, it is also the most expensive. This leather gets more beautiful over time as it develops a patina as it ages––a characteristic that attributes to its popularity.
Next is top-grain leather which is still beautiful but only retains the grain at the top layer.
A lot of bags on the market are made of genuine leather, which is a tricky name. People assume when they see “genuine leather” that it is describing that the leather is genuine, and they equate that with good, but it is the lowest (and the cheapest) grade of leather available that still passes as leather and is used by many fast fashion brands to create cheaper accessories. This kind of leather typically does not last long.
Silver & Riley bags are made of full-grain leather. Black Owned Business.
SR: Our readers are going to love you for this knowledge you just shared! Not sure about fast brands though. Lola Banjo
SR: Bet our audience would want us to ask, can you share a tip or two on how to care for leather bags to guarantee durability?
Your leather bags are an investment and with proper care, are meant to last a lifetime!
- Clean with a soft, dry cloth
- Protect from direct light, heat, and rain
- If the bag becomes wet, dry it immediately with a soft cloth
- Avoid damaging the interior of the bag with liquid cream, hand sanitizers, makeup and perfumes
- When not in use, fill the bag with tissue paper to help maintain its shape and absorb humidity
- Store in the provided dust bag
- Do not carry heavy products that may affect the shape of the bag
SR: And back to your brand, where do you see Silver & Riley in 5 years?
As a household name! And with the Women Entrepreneurship Fund fully established to the point where we are giving $10,000 to 20,000 grants.
SR: If you had one piece of advice for anyone hoping to start out as an entrepreneur, what would it be? Black Owned Business.
Never give up. I got rejected by 136 manufacturers when I started out (because my order quantities were too low for them due to being self-funded). As demoralizing as that can be, I kept trying and eventually found two to work with me. Never give up. Every ‘NO’ is one step closer to a ‘Yes’. Keep going for your dreams.
Thank you so much for this interview. I love Style Rave!! Lola Banjo
Lola, it’s been great chatting with you and getting to know your story with Silver & Riley. Here’s wishing you all the success in the world!
Visit Silver & Riley online at www.silverandriley.com.
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