Nothing suggested she would quit her corporate job in New York City. Lara Lape Cameron-Cole is the founder of CC Interiors Limited. For over a decade she immersed herself in the American finance industry. But the adventurous and eclectic lady suddenly took to the arts, FUNKE OLAODE writes
“I love both worlds. I think some creative people feel like they can’t be in business or science. But it’s not always true, our brains are dynamic. I had started out as a fashion degree major in my undergraduate before I switched to business. So the desire for the arts had always been there. At the time, I was ready. I had spent years at Citigroup in New York trading mortgage-backed securities and in 2007 the market crashed. It was the season to ask: do you still want in or out? So I made the leap. My parents weren’t surprised but were concerned at the start. They remained supportive nonetheless. I still love finance a lot. I didn’t leave it because I was tired of it. I just wanted to try something I had always wanted to do,” she said.
Lara Lape Cameron-Cole is an entrepreneur, working in the creative industry as co-founder of CC Interiors Limited, a multiple award-winning interior design business, CaxtonAlile Living and Apparel Partners Limited, an apparel manufacturing company. She is also a consultant. Armed with a master’s degree from the University of Arts, London College of Fashion in Fashion Entrepreneurship, focusing on Apparel Manufacturing and a bachelor’s degree from Howard University, Washington, D.C. in International Business and Finance, Lara Lape started off her career in the Citigroup Corporate and Investment Bank, New York, working as a bond-trading analyst.
She did this for several years before making the move into the creative industry to specialize in interior design – she has not looked back since then. The interior design queen has dominated her newfound career focusing on residential and commercial spaces. She is the co-founder of the Pan-Africa Interior Design Summit (PAID Summit), a virtual summit that has brought together over 40 speakers from more than 10 countries in Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe, delivering knowledge, and experience in the design field and beyond to hundreds of participants.
Being a multifaceted human, Lara Lape is working on living out her dream of building an apparel manufacturing business, providing mass-production capacity to clothing designers and makers. As a consequence of this interest, the British Council UK has sponsored her on two occasions to tour and document findings at several different garment-producing factories in India and Sri Lanka. These research expeditions led to her co-authoring ‘The Sourcing Handbook for UK-India Apparel Manufacturing’, a guide and handbook currently available in the British Library.
In addition to serving on the advisory board of the Dorcas Cancer Foundation, a non-profit organisation for children living with cancer, she also serves as the chairperson of Serving with Love Foundation – her most recent project being the Digital Life After School Programme (DLASP) designed to provide free ICT classes for children from low income backgrounds. It was launched on May 14, 2018 as a well-furnished ICT lab, teaching 100 students weekly. She’s also an associate of Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ) of which she served as a panelist at the 2016 annual conference.
Burdened by the unemployment rate of youths in Nigeria, Lara Lape founded Work on Me, a service that works on CV reviewing and interview coaching for free, helping young people have a better chance at getting a job. Since her foray into her childhood passion, she has continued to make waves creating a wow effect for both residential and commercial. How does she get her inspiration? “Sometimes it is really tough, when you’re stressed out or very busy on several projects and another lands, coming up with the ideas can be challenging. Having a good team around you makes sure you don’t lose it. We employ other designers in-house so we team up to design spaces. I also get inspiration from the clients, when they are talking about what they want, it starts to give me ideas, makes it easier sometimes even. It’s also good to travel often, see what others are doing. Visit studios and stores,” Lara Lape pointed out.
She added: “What many really want is for their home to look like ‘America’ as I like to call it. Not that they want ‘wow’. They just want it to look and feel different – and we do this with the style of furniture, choices in wall finish, light selection, heights of objects in the room and so on.” Her range of clients ranges from the super rich to the low income earners. “We have space for everyone. I have two interior design businesses: CC Interiors and E-terior Spaces. CC Interiors is a full service interior design business: detailed floor plans, construction drawings, full design services everything. E-terior Spaces is an internet-based design service for people that just need a little bit of help sprucing up a section of their home or office.”
Apparel Partners Limited is a new concept on her stable. This is a multimillion-naira business that is associated with countries like China, Vietnam, etc. Does Nigeria have the capacity or ready-made market for that? “Oh yes! Nigeria does have the capacity for it but to be really successful, the government has to play a big role. The reason the Far East are doing well is because of their government’s support. They give them money, land, buildings, tax breaks, and loans. Some of the factories are co-owned by government agencies. There are apparel factories that already exist in Nigeria but it’s a very tough business.”
Recently, she, in collaborations with her partners organised a Pan-Africa Interior Design Summit (PAID Summit), a virtual summit. Throwing more light on the motive she said it was to bring knowledge and education in the subject and also to bring the -industry together. “Many interior designers are self-taught, and very few have formal education in it because as of today, there is no undergraduate degree for it in Nigeria. There are only a few universities in Africa that offer it so to really get that education, one has to travel out. We brought over 40 speakers from over 15 countries to speak about different parts of the industry, including the financial and book keeping aspects, project management, staying profitable and finding your niche.”
In all of her endeavours, how has her background in finance helped to push these initiatives? “The kind of “finance” you need to run a business is ‘accounting’. I was a fixed income trader. I didn’t do accounting. Have you seen really successful investment bankers that have poor personal finance habits? It’s something like that. However, it has helped me to stay on the money even if I don’t understand accounting like an accountant would. No one can give me the run around when reading financial documents,” she said.
As a busy mother of two, Lara Lape still finds time to get involved in several non-government organisations. How does she juggle that with other things? “I just take my NGO work like it’s another business. I also have more help as there are several other executive council members that share the load with me. It’s always easier (on the mind) to run an organisation if profit is not the goal. That hustle for financial success in life can get very real. My NGO work brings me a different level of satisfaction and I’m happy to work hard at it,” she disclosed.
With everyone going according to her dream, will she ever go back to the corporate world? “I’ll never say never –I might be the one building the corporation,” she responded.