Octagon Session: Can our fashion industry become the next Nollywood?

The Octagon:

Welcome to The Octagon. We appreciate you taking time out to Join this Chat Session which will end in 1 Hour. We have two moderators in the room who will only offer guidance where necessary. Please feel free to openly share your thoughts and experiences.

Let’s begin with some introductions before going into the discussion. Can everyone let us know who they are and share a bit about what they do ?

Thank You.

Kelo: Hello everyone, my name is Kelo and I’m a Fashion Entrepreneur.

Tolu: My name is Tolu Olafimihan. I’m a Fashion Entrepreneur and run a clothing company called GNATION.

Ifeoma: I’m Ifeoma Odogwu. I’m a Fashion Consultant and Magazine Editor.

Seju: Hey folks…Seju Alero Mike…I run an e-commerce platform that features art & clothing – Osengwa.

Kelechi: Hi my name is Kelechi Ekeghe I am a fashion entrepreneur and I run an ecommerce platform – min.ng (Made in Nigeria).

Tinuade Soile: Hello everyone. I’m so sorry I’m late. Internet issues. My name is Tinuade. I run a female clothing brand called Adey Soile.


The Nigerian fashion industry is primarily centered around the designers. However, there are various sectors that make up the fashion industry. Also, beyond the popular/mainstream designers, there are other fashion labels and designers that have their own consumer bases.

According to an article written in 2011 by Zainab Al hassan,

“The fashion industry is divided into the creative and the sales function, that is, design and production on one side and sales and distribution on the other.¬† In Nigeria the creative part is present but there are not enough platforms for the sales functions.¬†As an emerging industry, Nigeria‚Äôs fashion industry should be a determining factor in our economy and for this to happen we need to clearly understand how it can work.Currently in Nigeria, there exists a lot of untapped territory, we are yet to see proudly Nigerian High Street stores, and while some designers may be heading towards this direction, there is a need for the industry to create platforms in which they can survive and be profitable. However, there is the link that exists between the fashion industry and the larger economic environment. The fashion industries which we use as a benchmark, have certain structures in place, which we are yet to have.”

Question Set 1 – Do you think there’s a disconnect between the creatives in the parts fashion industry and the sales/distribution/business side ?

24/09/2016 17:11:00: The Octagon: Do you think we are ignoring the ‘other’ important parts of the industry ie. Models, Stylists,¬† Media (Fashion Bloggers et al) ? What role do they play in all this ?

Ifeoma: There is definitely a disconnect between designers and the public. For this industry to reach its full potential, it will have to be a collective effort. I don’t think that the average Nigerian cares about buying or wearing local brands or even the designers. And the ones who care always talk about how expensive or overpriced the pieces are. In addition, the media has a lot to offer to the Buy Nigeria campaign. I was watching an episode of Ndani’s skinny girl in transit when lead actress had a photo shoot and was raving about how excited she was to be wearing Ejiro Amos Tafiri.  I thought it was awesome not because I know the designer,  but because folks who are far from the industry will watch it and become curious. I thought how cool it would be if we have more of that. In the movies, News casters and so on wear Nigerian brands etc.

The average Nigerian needs to think of Nigerian brands first when they need stuff. So I’m getting married why take my money to Zuhair when i should be looking inwards. This is where the media needs to come in. People need to know that stuff is available here and possible here. If I need a T Shirt I should think of a Nigerian store first rather than take my money to Mango.

Tinuade: I think that for most creatives, we hated math and finance subjects in school, so going into fashion to realize that it’s an important factor is very daunting. This is especially apparent in a country like Nigeria where things are even harder and 2 + 2 isn’t always 4. I think that to run a successful brand you need to become business savvy. It is so important. You can be the most amazing designer, but if you can’t run a business, then you will be a hungry designer and the brand will not survive.

Kelo: I think the market is the market and will always be. Designers are the ones with the disconnect. I believe if you create items that appeal to the larger market and not the 0.1%, then you have something. Once you have something that the market NEEDS, then trust me, the other components necessary to build an industry will pop up. Nigerians are very enterprising. Let’s take a cue from the music industry. We need to lose this “Buy Nigerian” mentality. If you create dope merchandise and provide great quality service, people will buy.

Ifeoma: I don’t even think the Buy Nigerian movement is where it’s supposed to be. Yes Kelo if u produce dope stuff then you can appeal to anyone but people will buy who and what they know and are familiar with. Its that simple.   If they dont know you how are they going to shop your pieces.  If I need running shoes I Will go to Nike because I ‘know’ they are the best for what I need.

Kelechi: Very true @kelo Just like every business skill isn’t enough … players in the industry do not set proper structure to connect with and thrive in the market. Skill isn’t enough. You must understand your market, create products that appeals to them.

Tolu: I think the disconnect between creatives and the business side of the fashion industry is quickly bridged once the 1s and 2s needs to add up. The creatives from the fashion designer  to the models, to the bloggers all need each other to make a profit. No matter how fantastic a designer can create, or a model can walk or a blogger can write, if no one buys the designers pieces, he/she isn’t going to sell anything. If the model doesn’t get to wear any clothes on a showcase, she’s just any other girl. If the blogger has no content, it’s an empty blog space.

Seju: I agree with that there is a bit of a disconnect between the creative and sales function…actually maybe I’m wrong on that..as opposed to a disconnect the issue is there isn’t enough of an established separation and acknowledgement of the different distinct roles that each side needs to play. The current set up is that creatives are the distribution chain…and because creatives don’t necessarily have a full grasp of the business end of production and distribution they stall.

I believe if you create items that appeal to the larger market and not the 0.1%, then you have something. Once you have something that the market NEEDS, then trust me, the other components necessary to build an industry will pop up. Nigerians are very enterprising.

Tinuade:  I don’t think that it’s that simple. There are many designers worldwide who are hungry, but Zara makes a lot of money copying designs because he understands business. Understands distribution, sales, marketing etc

Kelechi: Pricing is also another issue… must “designers” want to be premium brands for the HNI. Because there are more people in the  mass and upper mass market.  I am a promoter of made in Nigeria, but we need to understand that the market is not driven by sentiments but by demand and supply. There is also an orientation  issue here – even those who produce here think that it’s better to set high or unreasonable prices to build their brand. They go for  high margin, not market share.

Tinuade: Hmmmm pricing. I feel like there are different brands with different price points and target markets. There are brands like Eve and Tribe that offer less expensive pieces. I for one will definitely use a local garment production company if it was reasonable priced with good quality.

Seju: Yes…yes and yes. Pricing is an issue, but from my experience working with designers, pricing is an issue when they produce overseas. So your costs are in FX but you intend to make revenue in Naira…this disconnect is a major part of the problem with the Nigerian story as a whole. And because of this I am definitely a supporter of the “Buy Nigerian” movement. However I also agree with Kelo that great products, excellent customer service plus the right marking strategy and you can appeal to anyone. So in as much as I support buy Nigerian and I’m also firmly in the improve the quality camp.

The Octagon: Taking from the conversation so far, is production the biggest challenge in the fashion industry vs sales?

Ifeoma: The truth is that the prices here are not very pocket friendly and how everyone can win here is by embracing Garment construction companies. Nigerians don’t see it, but it can be huge.  These companies are way cheaper to produce your stuff from. And will in turn reduce the prices of pieces on the racks. Not every designer needs to run an elaborate Atelier with  tailors who may decide to take off any day and trust me I’ve heard stories.

Kelechi: I agree with you. You see Nike didn’t get their market share in one day…. if they don’t know you today…they will know you tomorrow, if you have a good marketing plan.

Tinuade:  I think that production is the biggest challenge. At least that has been my experience. Producing abroad has become nearly impossible if you want to keep decent prices. So, I agree with Ifeoma about the need for local garment manufacturing companies. Currently, producing here with local talent is extremely difficult and inefficient.

Seju: Yes. In my opinion it is. I think our present inability to mass produce with consistent quality levels is one of core of the problems in the industry. You can achieve high street brand status if you can’t produce the same garment enough times to meet the demand that having that type of status is certain to attract.

Tolu: I agree that production is a major issue when quality manpower, quality raw materials, the juggernaut – POWER. …are not readily available in prices that make it all worth the work to give reasonable prices to the final client.

Kelo: Funding is the biggest challenge if you ask me. We keep targeting little niche markets and segments and that will never attract the right kind of funding. The music industry was never attractive to big money till Tuface and them showed that they could do the numbers. Then people put money behind it, and every other thing kind of grew around it out of necessity. Stylists, video directors and producers, photographers, etc. Music and fashion are sister industries. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

Kelechi: I like to talk to this funding narrative because I have seen that if we create a dope products and a scalable business model we can overcome this issue. Many creative people fail in business because they don’t have business  approach to their work. Going to fashion school is not enough. Can your structure support growth? We need fashion houses with a project management approach to product. As players in the fashion industry we need to study and copy models used by other industries eg. tech startups.

Ifeoma: What I think the fashion industry especially media needs to do is start packaging the industry as one thats viable enough to attract big investors who do not necessarily need to be creatives. We need these garment construction companies. A lot of them. Designers especially high street brands  need this. So everybody come design , produce your pieces let it seem like everyone is a designer now That’s fine, its what the market needs. Eventually consumers will pick favourites and stick to designers whose pieces appeal to them.

Seju: Another major issue I think is folks(creatives) tend to be short sighted. The conversation almost always revolves around producing for sale solely within the Nigerian market, but I believe when you start to create and produce with a mind set to approach international buyers it immediately elevates the production quality…it leads to heightened attention to detail and a focus on consistency. Some of the most successful Nigerian brands I’ve worked with have done exactly this.

The Octagon: Great point Seju. It has been observed that the Nigerian fashion has gotten great international recognition in recent times. However this has not translated to the same level of patronage by Nigerians living in Nigeria. What is responsible for this and how can this be addressed.

Tolu: I think people need to approach this fashion industry not just as a creative venture but a business. And in a business everything needs to come together from production to sales to marketing. Also, the future of any business requires a long term plan with thoughts towards expanding ones market.

Ifeoma: When it comes to the  business side of running a fashion brand. I will say as a designer, if you don’t have the required skill please don’t try to do everything yourself. Don’t even.

Tinuade: I think it is important as a designer to understand your business. Except you are working for another brand as its designer. If not you will lose your business. Understanding the Biz even helps you make informed decisions when you are designing.

Ifeoma: Absolutely but at the end of the day you need there to be division of Labour otherwise it will eventually get too hectic

Seju: I don’t think media is the issue here…if you produce beautiful things you automatically create beautiful content – Media loves beautiful content.

The issue with attracting investors is not the inability for media to portray the viability of the industry it’s in the inability of the numbers to show the viability to investors. And from working with folks who manage money I can say that what attracts money is the prospect of more money. Investors will come if you can guarantee quality and consistency. And of course this takes us right back to the production conversation.  

If you even want to use companies like Zara as a benchmark let’s look at what Zara does best…it’s production and distribution not design. They have mastered the art of understanding their consumer so much so that they can identify a demand and go from ideation – production – distribution within a week. And this is because they’ve laid the foundation and put the right infrastructure in place to achieve that type of  turnaround – it’s why it’s called “fast fashion”. Naija is light years away from this. The talent the creativity…it’s all there, but the infrastructure is where we are lacking and I think that’s where investment needs to be focused in order to grow the industry as a whole.

Kelechi: In addition we need to explore other aspects of the business #valuechain. We also need data. If you sell on min.ng for instance we provide you data that can help you know what the market needs, so your business decisions will not be based on emotions.

Yes Kelechi! Give onto Caesar what belongs to Caesar…let the product pass down the supply chain in the appropriate manner. And let each man focus on strengthening his piece of the value chain so that it indeed becomes that – a value chain where each link adds a bit more value to the product – from creative forward thinking design to high quality production down to efficient marketing and finally sales channels that can handle delivering with high customer service levels directly to the individual consumer.

The Octagon: How do we encourage this level collaboration in the fashion industry to help it achieve the level of success expected of it?

Seju: I think conversations like this are exactly the perfect starting point. Everytime I get into a room with other industry professionals you hear the same stories and folks get a chance to share their woes. When you know what one person lacks and have a proper grasp of what your deficiencies are as well, it makes it easier to identify how you can help and support each other.

The Octagon: What do you suggest will be great solutions with regards to the following ; mass production, mass distribution within Nigeria and sales outside Nigeria.

Kelo: If you are a designer, focus on making the best quality clothes you can, everything else will fall into place in due time.

Ifeoma: Media is very important. In the last few years There’s only been a handful of media supporting the fashion industry. And it has produced a considerable level of interest from average nigerians and served as a source of information and education about the industry and the opportunities available.

Garment production companies. Management consultants may also need to look at fashion design businesses because to be quite Frank for some managing the business side of things has been quite daunting.  Also someone mentioned earlier that people need to approach fashion as a business not just the creative side of it. People need to come together more and float small fashion companies just like with corporate startups. The people at Eve and Tribe did just that.

Tinuade: I totally agree with division of Labour. You can’t excel at everything but you need to understand and be able to run the business properly. If I use banking as an example, for you to be considered for the MD position you have to have worked in and understand the core money making roles. You can’t have spent your entire career in the bank governor hall as customer service and expect to run the bank successfully. To make informed decisions, you need the understanding of the business. There is no short cut and this is where a lot of people get it wrong. If all you want todo is design, then work for an established fashion brand as its designer.

Tolu: To succeed in the fashion industry, be knowledgeable in every aspect from the creative creation to the nitty gritty REAL BUSINESS of it especially in the context of Nigeria and expanding to the world.

Kelechi: The truth in all of this is that, the fashion industry has the potential of being bigger than the entertainment industry – you can go without  entertainment but you can’t go without clothing.


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