[Interview] Sadia Sisay, founder of Africa-focused lingerie line, beingU
47 year old Sadia Sisay is a Sierra Leonean-born British entrepreneur who moved to the UK from Sierra Leone at 16, trained as a cancer nurse and worked in the pharmaceutical industry until 2008 when she left and decided start her own business, becoming the proud founder of beingU.
Would you please introduce beingU and how it got started?
beingU is focused on providing high quality lingerie for women of all skin tones with a particularly strong focus on black women and other women of colour and launches officially online in February 2017.
We launched our concept to the world in 2009 and gained huge support, press coverage and business awards.
I first attempted to launch the brand in 2011 but personal challenges held me back then. But that’s over now and I’ve regained momentum, and am more passionate than ever. My 21-year-old daughter is my chief inspiration for the beingU brand.
In which countries will this lingerie be available to women?
beingU will launch online at www.beingu.me on February 6th 2017, with offices in the UK and the US. We will be shipping directly to customers in any country we get an order from.
What makes beingU different from the several lingerie brands already on the market?
First, no existing brand offers the range of skin tones required across the spectrum, so the more of us that do it, the better choice there is.
We offer an inclusive lingerie solution to women in colours and styles that are specially designed to flatter their skin tone and body shape. We have considered our customer’s comfort all the way through the design process, and truly believe that our product is beautiful to look at but also amazing to wear.
We have also added a Solutions range of backless/strapless bras and accessories in multi skin tones, which is not available anywhere else in the market.
beingU is the only lingerie brand that has designed briefs specifically to fit the fuller bottom shape and has five styles of bra that work from a 28 to 44 back and up to an H cup.
Would you say that the African woman’s underwear needs are less than satisfied by the current market?
Access is a big issue; not many stores have an offering in Africa that satisfies the volume of customers. The lack of manufacturing of lingerie in Africa increases the costs and therefore not accessible to many women and girls who need them.
Do you believe female entrepreneurs have a harder time accessing business loans through traditional bank channels?
Yes. I found it extremely hard. I do not think the belief is just there, especially as a black female. You can make the best plans, do the best forecasts and it still may not be enough. I still have two banks who passed me between so many departments that I gave up! In all fairness, those were also hard times for banks so I cannot blame it all on the fact I was female and black. They had their own issues to deal with. I just started at the wrong time too.
On my second run, I did not even bother trying to raise money from banks. I have self-funded; not easy but I managed to get it done.
What is your business background before starting up beingU?
I trained as a cancer nurse but worked in the pharmaceutical industry in sales and marketing before starting my own business.
What can you say about the targets, plans and ambitions of beingU for 2017?
beingU aims to become your new favourite bra (and knickers)! We want our customers to feel special and more importantly visible, where they may have felt invisible in the past as their needs were not met.
We plan to add new colours and styles throughout the year.
We want beingU to offer the lingerie solution that all women need and want, regardless of skin colour, age, size – we aim to be as inclusive as possible.
How would you assess Sierra Leone’s economic performance in 2016?
In 2016 the economy grew by 4% which is in no way enough to deal with the loss of growth between 2014-2015 (22% then) caused by the Ebola crisis. The Iron Ore price drop and the fact the mines closed due to Ebola did not help our situation! We have a long way to go in all areas as a country
Which African countries performed best in 2016?
First two are obvious choices as the evidence is there and cannot be avoided!
South Africa and Nigeria. SA has mining industries that have proved resistant to economic fluctuations over time. Nigeria had a rough year, what with oil prices dropping so low, but they also did well.
Rwanda is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa and I always look out for them knowing the strife the country went through years ago. To come back from that is what I hope for my two countries, Sierra Leone and Liberia. I am half Liberian and half Sierra Leonean so I am pained to see them go through the hardships they have endured in past years.