The soft spoken yet delightfully assertive nature of founder and Editor-in-Chief of Exquisite magazine, Tewa Onasanya, exudes the kind of confidence that you cannot help but fall in love with.
Diligent and dedicated, the pharmacologist turned entrepreneur is also probably one of the most passionate women you would ever meet. Her passion for writing, fashion, beauty, and inspiring people, especially women, helped birth Exquisite magazine in September 2003 while she was still in the UK.
“I love celebrating people, I love celebrating people’s successes. I’m so happy when the next person comes with exciting news of what they’ve been able to do or achieve or whatever it is. I mean, it brings me joy. And I try to do whatever I can to inspire the next person, to be the best version of themselves,” she says.
Also a motivating factor for starting Exquisite magazine was the urge to do something about a situation she was not quite comfortable with in Essex, England, where she lived before moving back to Nigeria, rather than complaining about it.
“Then, there were just two magazines for black women,” Onasanya reveals, adding that she wanted to create the kind of magazine she was looking for, one that would be focused on celebrating and inspiring women.
So, with no formal training in either publishing or journalism, the passionate entrepreneur set out to work on Exquisite magazine, a print and digital media outfit that would later hatch two more positive and inspiring projects: ELOY (Exquisite Lady Of the Year) Awards and EMAC (Exquisite Magazine against Cancer Walk).
She assembled a team of people who knew “how to put a magazine together, knew what they had to do and then we got different people to put the content together and that was how we got the magazine in September 2003. So we did the pilot and by January 2004, we released the first issue and this year, we’re going to be fourteen years.”
Fourteen Years of Quality: Certainly Not a Walk in the Park
But fourteen years of consistently operating a media outfit more focused on quality than on quantity in Nigeria has certainly not been a walk in the park. Onasanya discovered this early on in her career as an entrepreneur upon her return to the country, where finding good printers to meet her demand for quality was a challenge.
“So when we started the magazine or when we started selling in Nigeria,” notes Onasanya. “We used to print in England and bring them over. We eventually found that it wasn’t making any business sense and the cost was a bit too high. So we had to now source our printers locally. We found a few eventually; we found that they were not serving us the way we wanted them to serve us because we’re very big on the quality of the print of our magazine.”
That challenge, however, has been overcome one way or another over the years, she admits. Still, there were other challenges, including finance and staffing, that she had to deal with when Exquisite magazine was established in Nigeria. And adjusting to a system totally different from the one she was used to in the UK was not particularly easy.
She explains, “It took us a while to be able to get staff that are dedicated and diligent enough and passionate about what they’re doing as well; to be able to, you know, be with a magazine. I’m the kind of person that loves people who work with me to be like family and I treat them like so and I would like to be treated like that as well.”
But by employing a method as unique as having prospective employees fill out questionnaires to determine their psyche, she has been able to overcome the staffing challenge to a large degree.
The mother of two, who is grateful for the support of her family, insists that these challenges have not in any way deterred her from forging ahead, not even “with the economic situation in Nigeria.”
She adds, “Every challenge is meant to grow you, if you don’t have that challenge, you wouldn’t know that there are other options. Learn from the challenges, be persistent and determined to rise.”
ELOY Awards: Celebrating the Exceptional Woman
Onasanya’s interest in helping women perhaps stems from the fact that she is the first of seven daughters from a close knit family. Through projects such as the annual ELOY Awards, organised by her magazine in 2009, she focuses on not just celebrating exceptional women but on empowering, encouraging, motivating, and inspiring them in a society where men are more celebrated than women.
“I realised that there were many award ceremonies that were celebrating men,” she is quick to point out, “and maybe a handful celebrating women. And I just thought, you know, asides from the fact that I’m a woman, I know women who are doing exceptionally well in different fields and those women are assured that they need to be brought to the forefront so people can see that women are succeeding at whatever it is and be able to, you know, emulate them or see them as an example for them to push themselves harder. That’s how the Eloy awards started.”
“We want to reach as many women as possible” with EMAC
Determined to help Nigerian women in all areas of their lives, including health and wellbeing, the inspiring entrepreneur established the EMAC walk foundation to offer free cervical and breast cancer screenings.
“The foundation is to raise awareness for cervical cancer and also to prevent cervical cancer,” she states. “In Nigeria, Cervical cancer kills one woman every hour, and we feel at Exquisite magazine that that is unacceptable, especially for a cancer that is 100 percent preventable, especially for a cancer that also presents a pre-cancer stage before it becomes full-blown cancer.”
“We thought it was unacceptable and decided to put that as our corporate social responsibility. So the whole Exquisite babies are all intertwined one way or another, to educate women, celebrate women, inspire women, motivate women. I know I keep saying women but then again, I’m a woman and the core of our readers are women, so we do things to celebrate one another and support one another.”
Prostate cancer screening for men is also one of the free services offered by the foundation. Although the core focus of the foundation is cervical cancer, breast and prostate cancer screenings have been included.
The good-humoured Onasanya explains why, “Because a lot of men thought we were a bit biased and, you know, we’re always doing things for women, the ELOY awards for women and now this…. And we just thought seeing as our partner clinics or our partner doctors do this test anyway, we might as well add prostate cancer test to it for men over 40. Then the breast cancer… the breast cancer screening is pretty easy as well. Once you’ve done your cervical cancer screening, it is easy for the nurses to do a quick breast examination for you. And we just thought, why not kill two birds with one stone?”
Her goal is to reach thousands of women and help kick cervical cancer out of Nigeria. “I can’t say because we’ve screened 1000 women, that’s it – our goal has been reached. No! We want to be able to reach as many women as possible ….. We’re still growing. Once we say we this year we want to do a thousand and we’ve achieved that, next year, we would push it a bit further….We feel like we have this mandate to get to as many women as possible.”
Persistence is Key
For the hard working Onasanya – whose drive for excellence was influenced by her parents’ hard work, humility, and respect for education at an early age – persistence is what has brought her thus far in her career and is key to attaining success in any field.
She advises younger entrepreneurs to “be persistent – I say persistent because you will knock on so many doors, not every door is going to open at one go. You need to keep knocking on that door or build a door, if that door doesn’t want to open and you have to be committed to whatever it is you want to do.”
According to her, believing in oneself is another important key to attaining success because it makes all the difference between only dreaming about your goals and actually achieving them.
“I would say, believe in yourself,” she says. “That’s the first thing. When I started the magazine, I was just driven by the fact that I believed in it. And if you don’t believe in it, when you’re speaking to people about it, they won’t catch that vision. You really need to believe in it, so that when you’re speaking to them, they would either want to help you or just say this is not for me and then leave it. And some people would also try to advise you not to do the business but if you believe in yourself you will be able to say, okay, I hear your advice but the vision is not your vision, it is my vision and I see it better than you can. So you’ll be able to work with it.”
Commitment and consistence, she asserts, are additional keys to success in entrepreneurship. She adds, “You need to be committed, you need to be consistent as well, you can’t come today and give a good package and tomorrow it’s watered down. People won’t believe in you.”
Using herself as an example, she continues with her advice thus, “I’m the kind of person that if I know I won’t be able to do something, I won’t even say it because once I say it, I feel obligated that it has to be done. Because I want you to know that you can trust me to that extent … and that’s the thing about commitment as well … So if you’re saying you want to go into this kind of business or that kind of business, be committed to seeing that business succeed.”