By Ayo Alonge, [email protected]
Having started out as a child, Olanrewaju Akinsiku, who is the creative director at Sevunteen Tailored, a fashion startup stationed in Lagos, tells his success story in business.
He spke to Daily Sun about his motivation from childhood, while also disclosing challenges, competition and profitability.
I am a graduate of Project Management from the Federal University of Technology Abeokuta. I have always been a creative person even before fashion design chose me. I have a little idea about drawing and a sizable colour mixture. These creative skills really made my journey into fashion much easier. I started my fashion business while I was still an undergraduate, in 2015. I actually enrolled to learn fashion design when I was in 400 level, in 2014, because I couldn’t get a good placement for my industrial training (SIWES) programme. Little did I know I was about to change the course of my life for good. The trajectory of Nigeria’s economy, unemployment rate and unavailability of jobs, although not as discouraging as now, were reasons I decided to sharpen my entrepreneurial and management skills, as these were the necessary skills needed to thrive as a businessman in not just Nigeria, but generally. I coined the name ‘Sevunteen’ from my birthday, I was born on the 17th of March. I decided I was going to focus on fashion business and I did that while a student. It was not so smooth initially because I had to combine work and studies. I am a fashion designer and a male fashion enthusiast.
Motivation and passion
I would say fashion chose me, I didn’t choose it. I have always had a thing for fashion even as a kid. My mom was once a fashion designer. My dad also once owned a fashion outlet. While in secondary school, I would use my mom’s sewing machine to readjust my school uniform. I have always been concerned about my looks. It is no mistake how I eventually got into fashion. The employment rate in the nation has always been on a decline. Although a negative force but that is exactly what fueled my drive to venture into fashion designing as a line of business.
Capital and loans
My family was of great help. I was able to secure a sizable amount to upscale my business. This is the friendliest source of loan one can get for an enterprise. I would advise startups to seek loans via the source I mentioned above. Loans got from agencies and banks may affect one’s business negatively, if not managed properly because of the high interest rate that is always attached to such loans. Although as a student, I needed little capital which was not a problem for me, as I had a couple of jobs I did that generated money to help sustain my business. I have never attempted to get a loan; perhaps in the future. Loans got from financial institutions, here in Nigeria, are not so friendly.
Major challenges facing fashion startups
There are a lot of challenges out there. One is the high cost of quality fabrics due to the value of our currency, naira. Another is the absence of quality assurance and control of what enters the country. It is as though anyone can import anything into the country. This is quite sad. Also, we don’t really have fashion hubs, where young fashion designers who don’t have the funds to set out can go to and still get their jobs done. This has really made the journey a hard one for aspiring designers. Majorly, fashion was not much appreciated in this part of the world but it is beginning to change now. People are now concerned about what they put on.
Fashion business in Nigeria
It was not a lone fight. It was more like a shift in dispensation with the advent of social media .As times passed, people began to understand the need to look good. The shift went from seeing clothes as a covering for one’s nakedness to seeing it as an opportunity to make a statement. It is no news, appearance can change ones life; looks can open doors, impression can snatch opportunities. This affirms the saying, “how you dress will determine how you will be addressed”. I would call fashion business in Nigeria a diamond in the rough. It is still not fully seen as a branch of art, in this part of the world, but we are getting there.
It is profitable, although it might not seem like it in the early stage. Fashion business is a unique one. It is one that advertises itself and there is no limit for a business like that. Fashion business has no walls and knows no bound. In the loins of every good outfit lies multiple jobs. I get referrals a lot of time. It might not even be a recent job. People from several states in the country and even outside the country have patronised me because of designs they saw.
Competition and patronage
Actually, there are a lot of designers here in Nigeria but this does not necessarily mean they are my competitors. The height has not been fully climbed. There are enough end users for every service provider. The untapped market is large enough and there is room for everyone. Monopoly has never been an advantage to any industry even though every firm wants it. As a student, I collaborated with several student designers. We worked on a few projects together. I think patronage dropped, not just in fashion but almost in all businesses. The standard of life dropped which in turn affects almost every service provider. Businesses need humans to function; the COVID-19 pandemic reduced human activities generally. Businesses had to look for alternative way to ensure continuity. The economy is even a bigger factor. It is the horse every business rides on. If the cost of living is high, people will be forced to face just two of the three basic human needs which is food and shelter, leaving out clothing.
Entrepreneurship and government support
We train aspiring and intending fashion designers. We organise classes and tutor our students in a well tailored manner. These classes are not free but we make sure we give value for what we get as remuneration. The government should focus rather on rebuilding the economy. Like I said earlier, it is the horse every business rides on. Friendly loans and grants would also go a long way in promoting entrepreneurship in the country. In recent times, people have been seeking ways to leave this country in search of greener pastures. It is kind of tough for a young Nigerian to climb due to the harsh economy and not-so-enabling state of the nation. This is why the government has to help build the nation so we don’t lose our best heads to other countries.