Funmi Lawal, Entrepreneur, Founder &CEO, was born in the UK, and grew up in Nigeria. Graduated at 19 with a BSc in Economics, and later attended the London School of Economics, she gained a MSc in Admis.
She worked in the UK civil service for 10 years, then moved to Dubai, and worked at Orga card systems. Then, she moved back to the UK for medical reasons in 2002. She is a British of Nigerian descent.
What were your initial years of growing up like? Tell us about your life before starting your corporate journey/venture/initiative.
I had a very good education in Nigeria, I attended one of the best primary school and secondary schools. I often stayed with my grandma who adored me during the week and joined my parents at the weekends which was the best arrangement whilst I attended primary school. My secondary schooling was an eventful one as I attended 2 secondary schools and one for A levels. They were all fantastic schools. My university was good and I graduated at 19.
When I arrived back in the UK in 1987, it was a culture shock and the weather needed getting used to it. Racism, misogyny and sexism occurred much in the UK, I am glad to say that it has improved greatly. You can’t imagine the difficulty I faced in the early days of my arrival in the UK. Everything was against me a black Muslim woman.
I eventually got a position as an admin assistant in the civil service and rose up to executive officer through promotion. The civil service has been detailed as being institutional racist. My other black colleagues and I were at the receiving end.
Then there was a get-out event where my husband got a post at Ajman university as a lecturer. I resigned from my job and moved to Dubai with my son. I enrolled my son at Jumeriah English school in Dubai. We all lived happily as a family. I then fell pregnant with my second pregnancy and came back to the UK as it was a complicated pregnancy. What happened later changed my life.
My goal in life is to impact everyone that crosses my path and grow my business such that it will make people with limited mobility and the elderly lives simpler. if I can lift others, then I have achieved my goal.
I am interested in disability activism, diversity and inclusion as I have been at the receiving end of both. I strongly feel no child should go hungry that is why I support works vision for the past 24 years and Muslim aid for the past 10 years.
My role model is the Prophet Muhamed SAW, he had so many adversities and he wasn’t survived by any son only a daughter and he is remembered all over the world. I have been poor, comfortable, had a stroke, had dialysis, and lost parents 364 days apart, I have a transplanted kidney, lost my only son at age 22 and separated from my husband for the past 16 years. Not as bad as the prophet, but he didn’t let every misfortune distract him from the focus which was delivering God’s message.
Was there any turning point in your life that changed your journey? If so, what was it? Please tell us the backstory behind it.
In 2002, when suddenly and unexpectedly, 7 days after the birth of my second baby I had a STROKE.
Our two babies were both born prematurely, due to preeclampsia. What I didn’t immediately know was that the second bout of preeclampsia would have a long-lasting impact on my future health. On the eve of our second baby’s naming ceremony, just seven days after her birth, I developed a serious headache that paracetamol could not shift. Later that night, a sharp pain woke me from my sleep and I in turn woke my husband for help. It was then that I had a stroke, followed by a serious bleed on the brain. We arrived at St Thomas’s Hospital, in central London, to discover that there was no neurosurgeon on duty because it was the weekend. I was critically ill and while the hospital staff were conducting a CT scan, my heart stopped. My family was informed that I had little chance of survival and even if I did manage to survive, it was likely that I would be disabled for life. Luckily for me, I was later moved to the Atkinson Morley Hospital near Wimbledon, which had become one of the most advanced brain surgery centres in the world, and I did survive!
I eventually started a rehabilitation process, which I found to be very difficult and strenuous. However, after six hard months, I was talking, walking and using my right hand which enabled me to return to family life with limited mobility and motivated me to qualify as a Prince2 Practitioner.
Like many stroke victims, I went on to experience a further serious health issue when I was diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure in 2007. Once again, grace was shining upon me as I managed to have a successful transplant in 2011 and used my past experiences to recover, continuing to live as full a life as possible and to bring Clip Knix to market for the benefit of those, who like me, live with limited mobility.
Every industry that is now a large-scale, top-notch business once started as a small idea in the minds of entrepreneurs. What was that idea that made you start this brand? How did such a unique idea strike you, and what motivated you to “YES, go for it?”
After 35 years of independence, I was in a wheelchair, I couldn’t walk, bending down was painful and putting on underwear felt like a battle Every. Single.Day. I saw a chance to help people with limited mobility.
In 2002, when suddenly and unexpectedly faced with a future that required me to manage my limited mobility, the difficulties that I encountered when getting dressed started me thinking about possible solutions to make living more simple.
That is when I came up with a Clip-Knix which is Adaptive patented award-winning front fastening underwear for women of all ages. It negates the need to bend or stretch, just use our unique fasteners to wear it sitting, lying down or standing. It has a patent which means it is the only product of its kind on the market. Clip-knix aims to introduce a revolutionary way in which women’s pants can be worn with minimal effort.
Tell us something about your initiative or current role. What is it about, and what impact are you trying to make?
The initiative is to get the product worldwide by empowering women to take control of their privacy and independence. To encourage the elderly to feel confident. However, not to be defeated, I am taking the opportunity to support those, like myself, with limited mobility. For those people where everyday dressing is a difficult and often stressful task, taking up a lot of time and effort each day.
Providing the solutions to daily problems, I designed, tested, and tested again a solution that came in the form of clip-on underwear. Underwear that can transform the lives of millions.
As the first-ever supplier of this form of fashion item (front fastening underwear) globally, this adaptive design is certainly unique. Helping to support independence and making everyday jobs as easy as they should be. This underwear is revolutionary in the market.
This cleverly designed solution enables the wearer to clip the underwear on and off, offering style, practicality, durability, and an ergonomic solution for those with limited mobility.
Adaptive designs in the world of fashion not only allow for creativity and innovation, but they show that all designs can be and are fashionable – limited mobility/disability should not mean limited fashion choices.
Boosting confidence while allowing consumers to get back their independence, adaptive design clothing represents a large, and at present, relatively untapped market. Creating a positive move for fashion designers and high street retailers.
With more and more intelligent and empathic designs coming to the market, fashionable solutions should, and now can be available to all.Empowering people of all ages, careful and robust research will help inform the development of even more effective, attractive, and fashionable adaptive clothing. Clothing that works for everyone.
Everyone has their own set of challenges when starting an entrepreneurial journey. Still, the most essential part for others to learn is how you deal with those. Would you like to share with us your challenges and your coping mechanisms?
Funding is a nightmare for any entrepreneur, finding funding would be a never-ending endeavor. You are always scouting for venture capitalists and investors. I had a major setback when I started, having spent a year perfecting my product, when it came to bulk manufacturing, they used the wrong ridge. It was the last shipment out of the country before that country was locked down due to Covid. It may have been rushed. On getting to the market, there were complaints from customers that the ridge was too tiff and cutting into flesh. We had to make the very painful decision to send the entire order to the landfill. Lessons learnt from the episode, I couldn’t have seen it coming as it took a year to perfect it. There was no contingency plan, all my entire capital was spent setting up the company. I am a spiritual person, so I prayed for blessings, low and behold, the chancellor announced BBL. I took the opportunity to change production to turkey with the lifeline and we are back up and running.
In sales, advertisement and marketing, I learnt the hard way by paying fancy companies lots of money for doing something I could do myself. A word of advice, don’t pay anyone for doing anything at the beginning of your start-up, you probably can do most things yourself. Maybe later, you can bring in people in order to grow.
While the global pandemic of COVID-19 is associated primarily with adversities, it has also brought about a true boom in startups, with successful entrepreneurship in many countries. The pandemic has impacted all of us in one way or another. Would you like to share your experience on a personal and professional level?
I was deemed extremely vulnerable in all the lockdowns, therefore, during the first, I didn’t even go to my front garden, it was just the kitchen and bedroom. I had a TV in my room and I listened to the daily briefing by Downing Street. The government sent food parcels home if you are in that category. On the other hand, Covid saved Clip-knix from bursting as the BBL came in time for reviving the business from doom.
Your journey and your vision are very inspiring, but are there any achievements or accomplishments you would like to mention?
Received my patent in April. Won speciality clothing of the year 2020/2021. Finalist in the Sheinspires award, keeping fingers crossed for that .
Would you like to share with our young budding women entrepreneurs the change you would like to see in the world if given an opportunity?
I want to live in a world where there is no class and everyone is equal. No racism, misogyny, homophobia, sexism and ageism. Where everyone is treated the same way irrespective of colour, race, gender and religion. Coming from a spiritual background, God loves everyone so we are we to judge one another.
Let us unite and fight this ill in society to make the world a better place.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your personal life and professional journey? What is your personal motto in life?
Learning is not static, you learn something new every day. You can’t separate professional and personal learning, it moulds you, it is who you are. My motto is what goes up will certainly come down. If there is a problem, there is a solution, hardship will be eased, discomfort will be followed by comfort and so on. No situation is permanent , some people have had it worse, be grateful for whatever you have, it may not be what you want but always be thankful for life.
Women are a growing force in the workplaces worldwide, standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. There are cracks in glass ceilings everywhere, with many women breaking through to carve out a space right at the top of the pyramid. What are your thoughts about women’s leadership today?
Feminism is good but it can put pressure on women wanting to be superwomen. We are created different from men in some aspects. You want to be the breadwinner and at the same time, you are the cook, the driver for school run, you are laundry cleaner, most men don’t do this only handful. So as much as possible, get a nanny, a cleaner etc so you can face your career and get to your full potential. However, most women would want to be everything and break down in the process and thereby not achieve their full potential.
With your grit and determination, you are making a considerable impact, breaking through, and serving as role models for many budding entrepreneurs. What would you want to say to our young women leaders/audience reading this?
Leadership involves delegating, listening and organizing, don’t do everything by yourself, in all just stay Calm in storms because they will soon pass.