Fashion Means Business is our new Friday feature which looks at the business of fashion. Fashion has become a key source of economic empowerment to many entrepreneurs across its value chain. From retail to production, styling to design the fashion industry is becoming a key area for export potential.
However, what is required to run a fashion line in Nigeria? What niche areas are available? How is funding raised and what sort of challenges are current fashion entrepreneurs experiencing and how are these challenges being solved or at least hedged against…want to find out…read our Friday feature!
Iconola is the first RTW (ready to wear) company in Nigeria, established in 2003 out of a passion and desire to express creativity. It was incorporated in July 2006 as a fashion design and production business. It is a professional fashion company, dealing in manufacturing and distribution of garments. Popular celebrities such as Bolanle Olukanni, Zainab Balogun, Temi Otedola, DJ Cuppy, Monalisa Chinda, Funlola Aofiyebi-Raimi, Onah Nwachukwu have worn Iconola’s pieces.
Iconola exists to make people happy and beautiful, and to watch them flourish with grace and sophistication. The name “Iconola” means “the image of wealth and honor.” This image conjures beauty, honour, legitimacy, class and dignity that stand the true test of time. This defines Iconola and describes the brand and the customers.
Iconola’s CEO, Olamide Agunloye, tells us more about the journey of the brand.
IBG: When did you first decide to become a fashion entrepreneur and what led you to make this decision?
I: I was 13 years old when I realised that what I loved to do could be a business. I could draw really well but I found it easiest to sketch clothes. My older brother saw my sketches and encouraged me to keep on with it. It didn’t make much sense to me until I was in university studying pre-engineering courses. I had sketched all over my books and decided to take this passion further and change my major. I didn’t want to be one of those people who studied one thing and practiced another.
IBG: What was it about fashion that intrigued (and continues to intrigue) you?
I: I think it’s mostly the details. There is nothing new in design or any other aspect of life, but you can make a difference with the little details. For someone like me who not only has a wild imagination but a quick mind as well, fashion helps me express a part of myself.
IBG: What factors do you believe have made your Brand so well received by Nigerian women?
I: The combination of quality and value drives people to Iconola. We are a simple business making people beautiful on a daily basis without needing to break the bank.
IBG: Who was your first client and how do you market your business to them?
I: I was my first client. When I would wear my designs, people liked what they saw and would pay me compliments and ask questions. I give to others exactly what I expect to give myself, and that is value and quality.
IBG: You are clearly a fashion connoisseur yourself, but what are some the business skills you have needed to hone in order to become a sought after fashion brand?
I: I definitely had to learn to make my own patterns, and to cut and sew so I taught myself those technical skills. My major in university was more theoretical and more artistic than the usual sewing skills, so I had to acquire practical skills.Being an entrepreneur changes you in unimaginable ways. I get to meet a lot of problems and while troubleshooting, I become a better person both in business and in real life!
IBG: Business in Nigeria is never easy, what are some of the peculiar challenges faced by fashion entrepreneurs and how have you been able to surmount them in your business?
I: People face similar problems so I won’t comment on the obvious. For Iconola, the major thing is growing the brand image. We have spent the last ten years growing our brand image organically without a lot of funding and we are gradually getting there. The goal is to create a brand like Zara and H&M
IBG: There is competition in every business, what do you think makes your business unique and how did you identify/create these unique qualities?
I: We don’t like to think we have competition because we are an industry first. However, I want to say that we will inspire others as well as they inspire us. Our major distinctive factor is the value per wear we give the customer.
IBG: Every start up mentions finance as one of their top 5 challenges, just how much is finance an issue for fashion entrepreneurs?
I: Being able to express oneself is important to any creative person. Of course, to do this you need to purchase materials which can all together become expensive. So, without funding, we creatives cannot express our creative juices. Lack of funding affects this directly.
I: It is absolutely important! Best practices for us in getting and keeping staff including being a good example, setting proper work goals and guidelines to achieve and measure achievements and never settling for ‘not good enough’
IBG: What has been your greatest success as a fashion entrepreneur?
I: Hmm…I’m not near or close to where I envision myself. But, I’m grateful to be on the path to achieving it.
IBG: As the first retail fashion brand in Nigeria, what were some of the peculiarities of having first comer advantage?
I: Convincing people that was it was okay to like what another person was wearing and want the exact same thing…Nigerians are traditionally wary of being caught in the same outfit as someone else.
IBG: What were some of the important steps you’ve taken to scale up your business?
I: Dream big, and when that doesn’t work, dream bigger. I seek to express myself by all means necessary.
IBG: In Nigeria, you are definitely top of mind within the fashion industry, could you share with us some of your marketing and PR tips?
I: I think like a customer all the time. And so if i’m trying to satisfy myself, what would I want? How would I want it? If I were to associate myself with a brand, what image would it be? How would it carry itself? Then, I try and give my customers what I want.
IBG: Do you have any mentors in the industry? How did you pick them and why are they important to your business?
I: One of my mentors is Oprah Winfrey and that’s because I studied her business longevity process. I also like her evolution. P Diddy is someone I’ve studied because he’s good at what he does. I realise that if you’re good at what you do, you will expand your life and the lives of others.
IBG: If you could start your business over, what would you do differently and why?
I: No one ever asked this before! Hmm…I actually can’t think of a thing.
IBG: What entrepreneurship lesson have you learnt the hard way?
I: I’ve learned to BE MYSELF regardless. Sometimes we hide because we think it’s not acceptable to be who we are. I learned who I was a long time ago but I always kept a part of me hidden. NOW, I just want to BE.
IBG: What has been the best fashion business related advice you’ve ever received?
I: I take discouragement better than advice because it fuels me faster. But, the best thing someone told me ages ago was to learn to do every aspect of fashion that there is. It made me discontent with just sketching. I had to learn to cut, sew, sell and so on.
IBG: What is the one fashion secret you wish every woman knew?
I: If you like it…Wear it. There are no rules!