Ogunsakin asked herself, “What is it about me that I can offer to this world? What can I do?” Bags were her answer. What was meant as the darkest point in her life produced a light blub moment attributed to her evergreen business: The Retro Bag.
She started with an online presence for her bags with an e-commerce business. After Ogunsakin could not match a residency in New York, she moved back to Toronto and continued doing cancer research for two years at Princess Margaret Cancer Center at University Health Network.
“I was having so much fun selling online and I wanted to get feedback from my customers. Like, ‘Hey, what do you like about this bag? What would you like to see from us? Is this pocket too big? Would you like it here instead?’ I craved that so much that I started to research ways to do that,” said Ogunsakin.
Local markets were the best way to get customer engagement and feedback, so she did as much as possible. “My customers are my people!" referring to her loyal customers who support her brand and her appreciation for the opportunity to speak with them in person.
Ogunsakin still challenges her medical side by working at a pain clinic and assisting other attending physicians while doing her bag business full-time. She’s in the business of helping people, and that can come in many different ways. One is helping people wear items that make them feel good.
“We want to bring something different to the market,” says Ogunsakin. The Retro Bag offers a variety of bags, from wood and straw to beaded, leather and vegan leather, bamboo, and more. “We just want you to be able to express yourself through bags,” says Ogunsakin.
Ogunsakin says she started with her designs, drawing from other bags’ styles and finding ways they can be better visually and functionally.
After a London, Ontario market in April of 2022 that she found out about from her community of small business owners, Ogunsakin says that she received a welcoming, warm vibe from her customers who brought their friends the following day.
Reaching for the stars, Ogunsakin, in a spark to further her brand awareness, told her customers jokingly that she would open a store in London’s mall and allow The Retro Bag to exist in a space that would welcome her with open arms.
Ogunsakin took a leap of faith and randomly reached out to Masonville Mall. “I thought it would go in their spam folder, but they responded the following day like, ‘Hey, we think you're a great company. We would absolutely love to have you,’ says Ogunsakin.
“What’s the rent,” was her next question Ogunsakin laughed. “I knew inside of me that it was the right decision. It was my thing to do,” adds Ogunsakin. So Ogunsakin began to raise funds and knock on doors. One of these doors was Futurprenur, in partnership with RBC, an organization that helps small businesses, whether that’s making a business plan, securing loans or finding a mentor.
“They have someone to guide you to make the best out of [the loan],” says Ogunsakin. “And helping me strike deals too because I’ve been able to do a couple of things that I wouldn’t have known to do.”
Speaking on the importance of initiatives like this, Ogunsakin says that systemic challenges exist in retail industries that don’t support entrepreneurs who look like Ogunsakin. “My name isn't just like a Tiffany Parks. I have a very strong African name. So I have all these things built against me,” says Ogunsakin.
Ogunsakin says it's been a journey of perseverance and standing tall. “[Futurpreneur] has not just been a company that gave me a loan but pivotal and instrumental components of this journey to bring my dreams to life,” explains Ogunsakin.
The Retro Bag opened its doors to its first brick-and-mortar store in August 2022–4 months after its debut at that market in London, and already it’s making a name for itself. With seven interns helping her run the company, Ogunsakin’s vision remains to draw young people–people who bigger companies may reject—but have a strong, pure passion. “It’s literally the effort of young people,” says Ogunsakin.
Ogunsakin says she’ll be working with a group of summer interns from Western University with a background in graphic design who will play an integral part in the bags’ designs and bring fresh and new ideas to the market.
To those who may be facing a fork in the road or not knowing whether jumping into the entrepreneurial side of the sea would prove to be worth it, Ogunsakin says there’s a high chance that you will be able to do it.
“If it’s your dream, if it’s inside of you, go for it. It’s not going to be easy either way. You’re still going to have to grind it out. Surround yourself with positive people and influences. Channel your mind in a positive way,” Ogunsakin affirms.
To those who may want to plant a seed in Ogunsakin, aka investors, she says, “holler at me.”