Algeria, May 7, 2018

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Nigerian fashion space now multimillion dollar industry’

Tell me about your business.

Damsco started as a dry cleaning firm in the University of Lagos and eventually became a fashion brand. Having self-trained myself through YouTube, I started out doing fashion illustrations for designers who took interest in many of my designs. In June 2013, Damsco Clothings was established, with core focus on corporate wears for both men and women, including footwear. In 2014 ‘clothings’ was removed from the name, leaving it as Damsco and shifting focus to strictly men’s wear with much emphasis on suits. It was not until 2015 that other aspects of men’s wear, aside suits, were incorporated.

And then, we kicked off Damsco Consult, which involves teaching fashion start-ups the business of fashion and addressing the questions on the minds of fashion lovers across all social media platforms.

What inspired you to set up the business?

It was my love for fashion, which developed as an extension of my love for art. Being a very talented artist from childhood predisposed me to doing a lot of sketching, much of which were ideas of cloth designs. However, my love for fashion as a profession became glaring towards the end of my second year in the university because, at that time, I was the only student in the whole of faculty of art that was allowed to take practical creative art courses as an elective course. No doubt, I was even better than many of the core creative art students. It is a common saying that talent is never enough, so I was also inspired by the numerous biographies of entrepreneurs I exposed myself to. I had always known I was never going to tender my certificate for a job, so I gave in to reading a lot about business and entrepreneurship, which is still a major thing I do till date.

Why do you think most start-ups fail after five years of being birthed?

First, some start-ups have little or no understanding of the industry and the local bosses. Next is lack of professionalism in the small things. Professionalism has to do with how you conduct yourself in your business affairs. Breaking new grounds will require that the entrepreneur, no matter how small the business is, adopts standard methods of running his organisation. The day to day running of your business is what combines together to represent what your brand is evaluated. The way you deal with your customers, by keeping your word, delivering services and quality is important.

What was your initial start-up capital?

Zero capital. My mentor Vusi Thembakwayo, a young South African venture capitalist said, “If you need funding to be an entrepreneur, you are not an entrepreneur”. The interesting thing about being an entrepreneur is that they make it work. Denzel Washington says that you do what you have to do to do what you want to do. Therefore, my take is that real entrepreneurs don’t need capital to start; they only need capital to grow. My first business venture started that way. I found a gap within the campus that law students needed their white shirts to be frequently laundered. So I walked up to a few of them with very little charge. I got people to do the washing and I paid my roommates to do the ironing while I took the orders. Before we knew it, our orders became too much to handle.

The fashion industry is highly competitive. What have you done differently to ensure that you remain in business?

Innovation is what has kept us in the game. The world of fashion is highly dynamic with trends changing in less than three months as against what we used to have where fashion trends would last for years before they went out of vogue. The information age has influenced the nature of trends in fashion. Platforms like Instagram gives the consumer a wide range of options, leaving him or her with the only option of quickly and consistently changing their style. Therefore, we as the brand have continued to be ahead of our clients, creating exclusive pieces that keep them coming back and referring us to other prospective clients.

We also have a good understanding of the consumer behaviour. When it comes to fashion in Nigeria, people don’t buy clothes just because they want to buy and stock them so they can have varieties to choose from. They simply buy because they have an occasion to attend or it’s a special day for a ceremony. Therefore, what we have done as a brand is that we have identified some of these special occasions like weddings and we have positioned the brand in such a way that those who want to attend these special occasions will definitely contact us.

Does Nigeria’s fashion industry have what it takes to take over Africa?

Definitely, Lagos (after Johannesburg) is the second major hub of fashion in Africa, arguably the first because 70 percent of African fashion in the Diaspora comes from Nigeria. Lagos plays host to some of the biggest fashion shows in Africa, like the just concluded Arise Fashion Week, which hosted the likes of Ozwald Boateng and Naomi Campbell. Today the likes of Mai Atafo, Lanre Da silva, Tiffany Amber Lisa Folawiyo, Maki HO and a long list of other designers have through their excellent work continued to put Nigeria on the world fashion map as a force to reckon with. It was, however, not surprising that Michel Obama frequently wear Maki OH designs.

The Nigerian government is talking about diversification. Do you think the fashion industry can help the country in that direction?

Until about 15 years ago, fashion to an average Nigerian did not seem to go beyond the idea of a tailor making wears for different customers. In recent years, the story has tremendously changed as fashion is now recognised as a fast growing multimillion dollar industry. Although still limited to Lagos, fashion in Nigeria has blossomed having highly creative designers who are not necessarily tailors, big time fashion schools, fashion photographers, fashion editors, professional stylist, makeup artists, international runway models and yearly fashion shows like Africa Fashion Week Nigeria AFWN, Lagos Fashion & Design Week, LFDW.

What are the challenges confronting your business?

I believe the inconsistent power supply is a common challenge with every entrepreneur in Third World nations like ours. Imagine having a population of about 190 million people, which is four times the size of South Africa, and we only generate just about 16 percent the power capacity of South Africa.

How would you say your business has grown since starting?

My business has gone from moving from one tailor’s shop to another to learn the basics of garment production and begging them to create my designs, to signing up for online trainings with very little customer base to sell fashion illustrations. Today, we have grown to become an established brand with the sole aim of changing the narrative of fashion in Africa through the production of quality made in Nigeria men’s wear. With the help of social media, our customer base has massively expanded beyond Lagos, bringing us orders from several other locations within and outside Nigeria. What we produced for the entire year in 2015 was produced in two months in 2017. Our work force consisting of both contract and full time tailors have continued to be on the increase as we now have more experienced hands who work with us. Many of the fashion start-ups who signed up for our consulting sessions are now thriving fashion brands within the industry.

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