By Ayo Alonge
Adesina Ojengbede is Chief Executive Officer of a leading clothing company in Nigeria, House of Desina. He spoke to Sunday Sun recently about how he built his business. He also suggested a recipe for a thriving Nigerian textile industry in the global era.
Ojengbede, who hails from Osun State, also had one or two words for parents and their wards.
How long have you been in business?
I’ve been in business for the past 13 years now.
What has been your firm’s staying power these past 13 years?
God’s grace, really. It has to be grace. For those who don’t share this perspective, I have a quote from wise men and it reads “Your dream may give you sleepless nights but it is that same dream that will keep you going if you dare to dream and hold on to it”. Sometimes, with all your efforts, the money may not come immediately, but from the picture you have for the future, you can achieve your goals.
Could you tell us about one major breakthrough you’ve had in your business?
That could have been many years ago, say in 2015, back then in the UK. I can’t say exactly when that happened because we could have made it in pounds sterling in the UK. Most of our earnings come from corporate clients. If you are talking about that, I can recall we once had to make ties for hundred groom’s men. That was the longest groom’s men train I have ever seen who needed hundred red ties. The occasion was the late Oba Okunade Sijuwade’s daughter’s wedding.
What do you find most challenging about Nigeria’s industrial sector ?
A major challenge in the sector is a dearth of entrepreneurial skills and intelligence required to run firms. Most talented people are not necessarily good businessmen. In some cases, there are rich people who just venture into business but the challenge now is how to grow the business.
What lessons have you learnt from your foreign partners?
A Jew who was one of our dealers in the ready-to-wear line in London, back then, taught me a lot. Another, who is a Turk, taught us the rudiments of making good trousers and waistcoats. These are quite valuable.
How do you handle competition?
Well, I’ll say rivals try to do it better, visionaries try to do it differently. We try to do it differently. I see some works and I try to surpass them. When you have a goal and you are focused you become different. That helps you to create your own niche and determines the size of your bottom line . It may interest you to know that we hardly advertise; most of our patronage come from referrals. One satisfied customer certainly brings new business, because you can’t just not be satisfied with our brand. Our service is our selling point.
Service? Could you pleases expatiate?
It’s all about how you deliver it which entails delivering customer satisfaction. We do everything to keep you within. I value having a big wardrobe of suits, ties and other wears. Corporate branding where companies seek advice on how to wear. We don’t just make clothes for you, we teach you how to wear them. We have quite a good spread in the fashion industry that helps you with whatever your wardrobe or tailoring needs may be. Sometimes, customers call me to ask how to dress for an event and right there, I would just explain the combination they should go with for the event. So, it’s not just about making clothes for you, we are also interested in how you dress.
Some believe Nigerians only imitate western fashion. What’s your take on this?
Don’t forget that we were an English colony. The same argument would ensue if I ask you why can’t bankers wear track suits to the office? Look at Nigeria’s music industry which was dominated by foreign artistes before the likes of Tu Face, D’banj and their ilk who are now the cynosure of all eyes even overseas. We must attain that feat in fashion designing and the textile industry too. I look forward to a thriving export market driven by our fabrics and fashion sense. In recent times, we’ve seen Beyonce in ankara which is purely African. To answer your question, it’s yes and no, but Nigerians have a way of putting things together and it can never be bad for patrons.
What’s fashion to you?
Fashion is how it’s done. It’s a lifestyle thing and when you are looking at Nigerians compared to, say, Ghanaians, there is a way we dress, talk, do our things. All of these are encapsulated in fashion. Fashion is how you converse with the world not just about talking. I once wrote an article titled Dress as you want to be addressed. It’s all about how you look. We are not just fashion designers, we are also into image consultancy and having studied it at length in the little time that we have done it, what was enough for yesterday may never suffice for today and that is why I’m also a student of fashion.
What differentiates Nigerian dress sense from others beyond our borders?
Boldness, I would say. We are bolder. It’s only in Nigeria that a man will bring a fabric that’s far from being suitable for a traditional wear and make it work. We are bold enough to try. Some of our women are willing to pull it off. Let’s call it “fashion complication”. The different colours and patterns you are able to put to work implies the number of complications you have. It’s our dressing. We dress to show off. We don’t dress modestly, but some of us do, anyway. You walk into a store abroad and someone buys and buys and they are already suspecting that person must be Nigerian not Tanzanian or some other African. If Nigerians have their way, they’ll wear three wristwatches on the same wrist.
Where do you hope to be in the nearest future?
Sitting atop a chain of stores in major cities in Africa and Europe. Lagos, Accra, South Africa, London, New York and Dubai.
What’s your message to the teeming Nigerian youth?
My message is for the youth and their parents. I hope I am working towards a future when people would ask about my profession and I would just respond I’m a tailor. It would be a thing of pride for me, because now, some see tailoring or fashion designing as some have dubbed it as a thing for dropouts , one of those things you do when everything else has failed. Just like a banker, an engineer or doctor is proud of what he/she is, a tailor should declare what he/she is one with all sense of dignity.
Having said that, I’ll support fully anyone who wakes up one morning and declares “I want to be a tailor”. So, for anyone that wants to do it, please come along, but the most important thing is let there be that desire to be and everything else will fall in place.