On her childhood and early career/business journey
I grew up in Nigeria as the only girl sandwiched between two loving brothers. My dad is a retired surgeon so one of my past times- besides playing football and climbing trees- was devouring his medical books. I was fascinated by pictures of internal organs and skin diseases so I planned to become a surgeon.
I ended up studying pharmacology at University since I didn’t study well enough to get into medical school. My intention was to complete my degree and then go on to study medicine. In my second year, I got married to my best friend- we had been friends since our teens- and got on with the business of decorating our tiny one-bedroom apartment. Gradually, I swapped human physiology lectures for home-decorating stores, shopping for wallpaper and comparing shades of paint. I dropped out of university and got a well-paying job as a medical representative which I didn’t exactly love.
Following the birth of my third son, my employer was unwilling to give me suitable ‘working mum’ hours. My husband suggested that I did what I really wanted. The trouble was, I didn’t know what I was good at. But I happened to be reading a book where the author answered the question, “How do I know what my gift is?” Her answer? “Your gift is that thing you do so effortlessly yet everyone thinks its a big deal.” For me, that was interior design. My friends loved my home and regularly stole me away to redecorate theirs.
So I enrolled in a couple of design courses and shortly after, started a residential interior design business. I had been running it for less than a year when we decided to emigrate to the United States. In the process, I purchased a beautiful baby and children’s furniture store.
On the birth/start of the Baby Cot Shop?
Running the shop was exciting, it was thriving. The recession of 2008 came swiftly and with little warning, swept the business away.
We returned to England to weather the storm, convinced it’ll blow over in a matter of months and we would simply return and carry on where we left off. I also arrived pregnant with my fourth son.
By this time, I had become too exposed to what was possible. I had become passionate about craftsmanship and had fallen in love with running a business that combined my creativity with my intellect. I researched the UK market and discovered there wasn’t a business quite like what we had. So I started The Baby Cot Shop online, at the time it was called Punkin Patch. We opened our first location on the King’s Road in Chelsea, London just under three years ago.
On the one thing you wish you knew when you started your business
I have found that the most useful material in business has been knowledge- of self. I invested a lot of man-hours in the business at the beginning, which is always needed. I wish I had known that self-awareness and personal development was even more important. Often we end up using up time and energy on a task that should be done by an expert, then beating ourselves up for being rubbish at it. Self-awareness allows you to know early in the game what you should and shouldn’t attempt. There’s a saying that goes; Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.
On key high/low points of business
I have had a few high points, including being invited to a reception by Prime Minister, David Cameron at his residence. However, the one that I keep referring back to- especially when I’m having a challenging moment- is when I launched my website for the first time. Having lost the business, I had no funds to even pay a web designer. Bear in mind this was in 2008 when building a website really was rocket science. The only option I had was to learn how to and I did. “Toks, you learned how to build a website from scratch and you built one. You learned about coding without any foreknowledge.” This is the pep talk I give myself when I start to doubt my ability to overcome whatever it is I am facing.
Low points- that’s a difficult one, every single challenge has been a lesson teacher that went on to help me. I guess if I have to drill down, it’ll be losing my first business. But I have no regrets because losing it was the start of a transformation I am still enjoying.
On what a typical day in the life of Toks Aruoture looks like
A typical day has me up at 4:45 am, I spend the first hour in my private devotions and the second getting into my mind. I journal most days to unearth the thoughts I am carrying, I believe that my actions ultimately is determined by my thoughts. I send off a couple of emails to give myself a headstart and get ready to head out. I catch up with my husband as he prepares to head out and sometimes give him a ride to the station. I used to exercise in the mornings but have just switched to evenings three times a week. I chat with the boys as we all get ready, have a quick breakfast and head out on the school run. Usually, I travel to work by train and do some more writing during my journey.
My time at work runs from 9:30 to 4 pm and each day is different. Liaising with suppliers, designing nurseries or children’s rooms, meeting new suppliers or businesses to collaborate with are just some of the tasks that I work on. I leave at 4 pm and take the longest route home to give me some time to unwind a bit before I get home. We try to have dinner together most days so we can all catch up. We have three teenage sons and one tween and it's interesting what goes on in their minds. Next, I address school-related matters such as permission slips and the likes. I plan the next day so I don’t start the following day flustered, go to bed at 9 pm but read for an hour before nodding off.
I value time spent in solitude. Reading, watching a good movie or writing- I write a lot. It’s how I get into my mind to correct wrong or misleading beliefs. There is so much we believe without trying to. From time to time I travel out for a few days by myself. I use that time to catch up on outstanding work, then truly relax for the rest of the trip.
On go-to style
It’s funny that I grew up a tomboy, but now I can’t get enough of dresses. I love the Thalia dress paired with trainers!
On style icons
Gabrielle union- her style is relaxed and versatile. She knows how to dress up or down while remaining effortlessly stylish. I also love Michelle Obama. I love that as First Lady, she was purposeful even in her choice of outfits. She chose designers who were underrepresented yet American, I love all things Michelle :)
On most powerful piece of advice to other women
Be yourself. It is tempting to want to be like those that have been bestowed the title of expert or guru in your field, don’t. Your personality, voice and skin colour beautifully embellish the product or service you are offering to the world making it unmatched. Don’t strip it back to try and fit in.