Pretty When We Win: Omotola Akinbiyi, Bon Femmes

Pretty When We Win is a series that seeks to reconceptualize pretty by draining it of its negative power. This first iteration highlights inspiring stories of entrepreneurs who identify as women; it hopes to encourage contemplation of the word pretty and explore how we use it in our daily lives.

I stumbled upon Bon Femmes a few months ago and immediately fell in love. An online art shop that features womxn artists? Sign me up. Omotola Akinbiyi, the woman behind the brand, has the most effervescent personality. Her enthusiasm for supporting women artists is inspiring, and her super-chic apartment and adorable cats are just too much! Can we be friends IRL, please?

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m a Nigerian American woman who’s way too passionate about too many things and decided to turn one of my passions into a business.

Please name a woman who inspires you and why.

Every single mom out there working from home and caring for their children. They all need to be awarded! Every time I see videos of these moms doing creative things to keep their children entertained, I’m so incredibly impressed. It’s truly motivating because I think to myself, if this woman is taking care of another human life and completing various tasks throughout the day, I can probably answer one more email.

What served as the impetus to start your business? Was it a career switch for you?

There wasn’t an aha moment when I decided to start Bon Femmes; it all came together really beautifully. I used to have artist spotlight interviews on a previous website. Eventually, I realized I wanted to support some of these artists with more than sharing their stories. I wanted to share their art because it was dang beautiful, and I wanted to share it with the world.

I’m still working a 9-5, so I wouldn’t say this is a career switch. I’ve had past jobs in e-commerce and still currently work in e-commerce, so it seems I was unknowingly setting myself up to do this.

What is the hardest part of doing something on your own?

The answer is in the question, haha. The hardest part is that you’re on your own. It involves a lot of confidence because you’re the only decision-maker. Yes, you can get opinions from others, but it all falls on you. If a decision has bad consequences, you have no one to work through it with but yourself. However, that’s a gift because you learn from doing things alone, and I truly believe it makes you stronger.

What keeps you up at night?

Very, VERY silly or embarrassing things from my past, and then I laugh myself to sleep.

What struggles have you encountered that you feel are unique to women entrepreneurs? What’s the toughest part of being a woman entrepreneur?

I haven’t dealt with any struggles with Bon Femmes specifically because I’m a woman, but man, oh man, I find myself on the struggle bus way too often, haha. A unique struggle that I have no control over is people freaking out when they see my name and doubting my legitimacy. YES, it’s shocking that in 2020 this is still something people with non-English names have to deal with but here we are. However, I’ve decided that I do not want to work with anyone who isn’t giving me a chance or responding to an email simply because they’re taken aback by my super cool name.

What kind of weight does the word pretty have for you? What does pretty mean to you?

The word itself doesn’t mean much to me and isn’t really part of my lexicon. However, it can be belittling depending on how it’s used. As you mentioned, we’ve all heard the annoying phrase, “you look pretty when you smile”. No sir/madam, we all look fine no matter what our facial expression is! So I don’t think the word itself is bad, it’s just unfortunately connected with this awful phrase that (mostly) strangers feel the need to say to us.

Just start!! Yes I know that is so vague, but as soon as you make that first step, it becomes easier to start making riskier and bigger moves.

Where do you find strength?

My aversion to failure is greater than my need to take a break, haha. Just kidding (but not really), I do take enough mental breaks, but I do refuse to fail (if I have control over a certain situation) and will do what it takes to succeed. I’m so incredibly inspired by the women I purchase from and want to continue purchasing from them.

What inspires you?

It changes daily…one day it’s a photograph, the next it’s a poem. One day, lost in the beauty of one of my plants, I decided I wanted to introduce green into my brand identity…inspiration really comes from all aspects of life.

What’s your favorite way to connect with your clients/partners/customers?

Thank you cards! I know it seems so simple but a handwritten note means so much to me, and I hope it’s the same for others!

Can you offer some advice to other women who are looking to start their own business and/or make a career switch?

Just start! Yes, I know that is so vague, but as soon as you make that first step, it becomes easier to start making riskier and bigger moves. Also, DON’T GIVE UP when things get hard. It won’t always be a walk in the park, but it’s extremely fulfilling. There might be a lot of tears, late nights, and talking to yourself to make yourself feel better about a questionable decision you made (speaking from personal experience, haha).

Feature photo credit: Omotola Akinbiyi

For more from the Pretty When We Win series, visit the Entrepreneurship section of The Mocha Minimalist.

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