By Ayo Alonge
Seyifunmi Makinde is the CEO of SeyiMark Bespoke, one of the leading fashion outfits in Lagos. In this interview, he tells Sunday Sun how he struggled against all odds to succeed.The Ondo State born designer believes young entrepreneurs and starters need motivation for their businesses to thrive. Makinde attributes his success to hardwork, confidence and passion.
When and how did you start up?
I started professionally in 2013. Passion is what has kept me in the business, even as a student then. I was not fully into it and all I was doing was help people pick up designs to wear. I worked with Access Bank after graduation.
Why did you leave banking for an uncertain terrain?
After my national youth service, I tried to find my feet and I got married and my wife encouraged me. She noticed I was always particular about how I dress. I went to meet the guy that did my wedding suit and requested that he should train me. There was no money on me then because I had just had my wedding. To my surprise, the guy said he would train me free and that was how I went into it. I loved the fact that he is good and doing well for himself. I started with trousers and later started making shirts.
How long did it take you to learn?
I only wanted to learn how to sew and again learn the business. I was attentive for eight months before I started going out to get jobs. That was in 2013.
Just in three years you have really made it big in business. What’s the magic?
I think it is the passion I developed while training. I saw my boss as a mentor and he gave me direction. While I was under him, I was not satisfied with the whole process and that led me into making research on designers in Nigeria. I came up with so many big designers and started emulating them. I started dressing well so that companies I visited would see my designs.
What were your challenges while you were still struggling to make it in business?
The major challenge was that clients were not ready to pay even though they liked my work. They just thought I was seeking exposure.
You were lucky to meet someone who trained you free. Are you willing to give budding designers same opportunity?
Yes, I am thinking of training others too. I had a friend in Ghana who came back to Nigeria and told me he attended a fashion school in Ghana. I took him to the person who trained me and that was how we started-up together. I have plans to train people too, but I want to work out the time to develop them. It’s not about just allowing them work alone but mentoring them. I got to learn that cutting is like Mathematics. I did my research.
Can you recall the amount you started with?
I can say I started with nothing.
How? You would have started with an initial capital no matter how small…
I don’t think so. After my training, I knew I wasn’t the type that would depend on others. I had a house and my wife had a sewing machine she bought before we got married. I cleaned it up and started with it. As I got jobs, I tried to get a larger percentage of my charges from my clients so I could do the job well. Along the line, a friend took me to the chairman of his company, then a woman gave me a job to make some clothes for her husband and paid me N80,000 cash. That was the biggest for me then.
Could you tell us about your biggest contract?
I once won a contract of over N5 million and that was where I got my breakthrough. A friend of mine came from the US and patronised me with his younger brother. They brought out pictures of some designs and asked me to do 10 different designs from them. When he got to the US, he told me everyone loved what I did. That was how he gave me the contract to clothe his entire family, extended family and friends. He only encouraged me.He was a god-sent and subsequently I continued to advertise my works on social media and people liked them. I started charging dollars and consolidating myself.
What would you like to add to or subtract from your business?
There is nothing to add but only to encourage budding designers. I was only motivated while learning in the factory by top designers and I saw sewing as a big deal. That’s the same thing I tell budding designers.
What’s your business worth today?
I can’t really say. When I started my company, I had some money which I started with it. I only continued to improve and develop the business over time. I know a lot of my works have gone out there and people have been appreciating me in the country and overseas. I also got a loan.
How profitable is fashion designing?
There were months I checked and saw I made over a million naira. Some months, I don’t make up to that but I have never made less than N100,000 in a month.
What does a starter need to imbibe from you to make as much money as you do?
First, believe in yourself. I say to myself that if I cannot make it here, I don’t think I can do something else. I am not at the level I want to be but far better off at the moment. I cannot do anything else. It’s encouraging. Fulfillment is what you get when your clients love your job.
How do you manage difficult clients especially as they say “customers are always right”?
A lady once asked me to make a suit for her and I advised that she could make something to fit her instead of making the exact one she brought. After making it for her, she rejected it and I had to amend it six times. That was a serious challenge for me.
Do you plan to expand the business? If yes, how do you hope to achieve that?
Every time I come into my office, I think of how to expand the business. Being able to satiate the desires of every client makes you expand. I am working on having a more solid foundation before opening other branches.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I want to be a household name. You can’t be talking about make-up artistes and not first mention House of Tara and you can’t be talking about fashion designers and not first talk about Mudi and Yomi Casual.
As an accomplished entrepreneur, what do you think government should do to assist budding entrepreneurs?
The major thing is constant power supply. I once told my secretary to compute our expenses on fuel monthly and she came up with N115,000. If government can provide regular power supply, many businesses will grow.