From engineer to entrepreneur: how Lady Bamboo built a sustainable furniture business in Nigeria

Toluwani Omotesho


People are motivated by different things: money, recognition, fear of failure, or the need for stability. For Zigwai Fanda, it was a passion that defied logic — read as: her parents — which led her to start Lady Bamboo.

Lady Bamboo produces sustainable vintage bamboo and cane furniture for interior and exterior decor suitable for homes, restaurants, bars, cultural centres, hotels, and resorts.

Lady Bamboo furniture

Founded in 2016, Lady Bamboo has won several grants, including a $2000 award from UpGreyed Her, and has expanded to three branches nationwide: Kaduna, Abuja, and Lagos.

But running a furniture business wasn’t Fanda’s original plan.

Her journey to discovering her love for bamboo and building a business around it can best be described as making the best of a bad situation.

When Zigwai Fanda returned to Nigeria from the UK as an undergraduate of chemical engineering for an internship program, she had high expectations of getting practical experience. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bad case of “what I ordered versus what I got”.

She explains, “When interning in the UK, you work like a full time staff, complete with your job description and key performance indicators (KPIs). But in Nigeria, I found myself running errands, buying food and whatnot. I thought it was really weird.” Unhappy with this, she started refusing the errands and instead offered to assist the company with its mass balance approach to add significant value. Sadly, she was turned down. A frustrated Fanda promptly ended her internship with the company.

“I decided to do something else to justify my day, at least,” Fanda says. “And that’s how I started selling bamboo for decking. And at the time, there was no one selling bamboo in Kaduna, so I decided to focus on it.”

But her parents weren’t in love with the idea.

Fanda’s father felt she was disgracing him. Although she had the support of one aunt, the overall lack of support from her immediate family caused her first major problem.  “I had saved money from my time in the UK but lost all of it because I was too trusting. Whenever someone asked, I sent them money. I wasn’t street smart.” she says. “Since my family didn’t support my business, I couldn’t tell them how I handled my money.”

Discouraged and cash-strapped, Fanda returned to the UK, where she graduated from the University of Aberdeen, then returned to Nigeria to work as a process engineer in an oil and gas company.

Also read: An immigrant's guide to starting a business in the UK

Two years later, Nigeria experienced a downturn in oil and gas, which made her realise that regardless of the effort she put into her work, her job security wasn’t guaranteed. “I decided to revive my bamboo business, and I don’t regret that decision,” she says.

Lady Bamboo furniture

Zigwai Fanda works specifically with bamboo because she believes it to be the “new gold” due to its sustainability. “I don’t think bamboo has been explored enough in this part of the world,” she says. This plant can be used in any industry: pharmaceuticals, transport, food, and chemicals,” Fanda also adds that her goal is to establish herself and her company as an authority figure in the bamboo industry.

How Fanda relaunched Lady Bamboo

Unlike the first time, Fanda didn’t have the money to start or run a business, but she believed having a solid idea was enough. Through a referral, she landed a Turkish client wanting to set up a modern, eco-friendly lounge. “I think what you need is confidence, passion, and faith in God,” she reflects. “When the client met me, he trusted that I knew what I was doing and paid me in full for the project right away.”

She used the profit from the project to kick-start her business, and since then, she has been consistently securing projects and grants that help her scale. She notes that applying for the UpGreyed Her initiative and being a runner-up taught her never to give up and push past her limits. “I got the link two days before the deadline. I remember coming from the site that day tired, but I stayed up till 3 am to work on the application. When I received the call that I was selected, my mind was blown because I wasn’t expecting it,” she recalls.

Moving forward, Fanda will open showrooms across Nigeria and abroad. “I want to have my own bamboo plantation and expand my business to include bamboo clothing”, she adds.

Also read: How AutoGirl breaks gender stereotypes and thrives in Nigeria’s difficult transport industry

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