|Why I dumped banking to make clothes
For many people, to get a banking job and stick to it is their ultimate desire. But not so for Mrs Ayotomi Rotimi, Managing Director of Xclamations, a Lagos-based fashion designing outfit. Mrs Rotimi two years ago dumped her banking job to make clothes full time.
Before going to work in the bank, she was making clothes as a hobby and had continued it even as a banker. Today, she says she cannot equate her gains as a clothe-maker with her working in the bank. Already, her designs are making waves in the country as well as overseas just as she plans to open more sales outlets abroad and to etch her Xclamations in the minds of every Nigerian.
I worked in a bank for about three years before I decided to set up this business. I had always had a flare for designing and making clothes since I was in school. Even when I was working in the bank I still had that passion to do this. So, as at the time I left the bank I applied to a fashion school in England and did a course in Fashion Technology before I came back to Nigeria and started this business. This was about two years ago, going to three years now.
Well, different people crave for different things. What is important to one person may not be that important to another. For me, fulfillment will be found in investing in this passion I have. I have had this passion for quite a long time. And I have laid my hand on it and have been successful.
For me, the bank job wasn't fulfilling. I made a lot of friends there, I met a lot of people there and I'm grateful for the opportunity and experience, but the passion I have for what I'm doing now is more important to me.
My initial challenges in this business is one, finding good people to make the clothes to my standard. Then, managing the customers was another challenge and convincing people because what I'm doing is what I had wanted to do and people, like you asked, could not understand why I should leave a bank job to start making clothes. So, trying to convince people that this is the right thing for me to do is a major challenge. Finding customers wasn't really a problem because I have been doing the business as a hobby to an extent a few people already knew I was doing it. But managing the customers, getting fabrics and, of course, getting money to establish the business to my taste was also a challenge. But I thank God that everything worked out well.
There is no fixed amount in starting the business. It all depends on the level you want to start. A lot of people don't want to start small. People want to start big, but I have always said that if you start big you make big mistakes. If you start small, you make small mistakes. This is because whether you start big or small, you are still a beginner and as long as you are a beginner, to mature you have to make mistakes from which you learn from. So, it is better to make cheap mistakes by starting small. But if you start from the top, you still have to make those mistakes down there. Even if you have the finance to start big, I would advise that you don't throw the money into one-big establishment. For me, I started small and I have always considered myself a modest person. And right now I have learnt a lot of lessons that have really helped me now to focus and maintain a good standard.
What makes you an expert? Technical training is still part of it. Having skills, having talents is one thing and managerial training is another thing. Even at that, I still advise that you don't take in too much staff in the beginning, don't rent a very expensive shop. Take to advantage all the favours, start at a very low manageable level so that by the time you get up there you have learnt a lot.
All my fabrics are sourced locally. I have a fabric supplier. He supplied fabrics to me on demand.
The qualities are good and it took me a long time to get my source. I tried a lot of other sources before I got this particular one. So, my fabrics are mainly cutton-based. I only deal in casual wears, for now, easy-to-wear, versatile clothes. So, I use mainly cottons and linen. I don't really use synthetic fabrics.
So these fabrics are available and my source of supply is quite consistent. I can order for the fabrics I want and get them when I need them.
Nigerians’ taste for foreign goods
That is another thing I really thought about before creating my line of clothes. Nigerians have desire for imported goods, but when it comes to clothes people really want things that fit well and look good. People want things that are unique, different and comfortable. If you meet all these, even when your products are not imported, you have your clients.
And as you know a lot of people have gone into the business of Dubai, bringing in Dubai clothes. Most of my customers are not pleased with those imported Dubai things because they don't last, but my fabrics last long. And imported clothes, to the extent we do it in this country, people bring in mass produced clothes, clothes that are common and all that.
So, Nigerians like imported things, but when it comes to clothes they are more particular about it being comfortable and lasting.
It is quite large. In fact, I am expanding now because I need to meet more demands of my customers. The kind of clothes I make are clothes that are very versatile, clothes you can wear to different occasions. I don't make suits, I don't make natives. I make casuals in my own designs. And the designs are such that people of various ages can find something for themselves. I say that my designs are ageless because whether you are 16 or 60, in fact, that is the range of customers I have. I have customers who are in school. I have grandmothers that wear these clothes. So, I don't make them to appear so exotic that people will start complaining. I make them very, very simple and comfortable that people of different ages can wear them. At the same time I make them in such a way you could wear them to different kinds of occasion. You could wear them to a naming ceremony, to church, to social clubs, to the office on Fridays and to everywhere.
A lot of people like them because they can invest certain amount of money on them and can wear them to different places. They don't need to buy again special clothes for church or other occasions.
Well, I'm proud to say that we are not cheap. It's not my aim to make cheap clothes because that would affect the quality of the clothes. But all the same, our clothes are affordable. Like I said I have students buying my clothes which tells you my clothes are not only for the upper-class.
Can somebody with N10,000 buy your clothes?
Of course, easily. You may not leave with a suitcase load of clothes but you will definitely leave with something reasonable. And we make different kinds of clothes. So, you could buy just a shirt, trousers, there are different kinds of clothes and they are priced accordingly.
I have a factory. I have tailors that work for me, I don't contract out my clothes. I have my tailors so that I can supervise them to my own taste and standard to satisfy my customers.
Well, I don't have a retail outlet for now, but my customers come to meet me at home. However, some people buy from me in bulk to resell, both here and abroad. So, a lot of people get in touch with me here and order for their clothes.
I do sell on wholesale price to those buying from abroad so that they can also make a reasonable profit margin. So, definitely my retail and wholesale prices are a little bit different.
The responses from sales abroad is quite good and I'm quite impressed. It is just that they have this weather factor over there that affects the order. Once it's winter sales go down because the clothes are really summer clothes. But when it is summer sales go up. For instance, last summer was quite a long one in England and the sales there was fantastic.
I'm still in it and I'm not doing badly. So, It's not bad. Anything that has to do with creativity you put your price on it. So, that's why one person's price can be so low while another is high, it depends on the value you put on your creativity.
The reward is not just money-wise. In terms of monetary reward, I will say I prefer now to when I was in the bank. When I was working the salary was fixed and except the management decides to increase your salary, which does not happen often, you don't have anything in addition. And no matter how hard you worked you are getting the same pay. But now I can give myself a target. I can strategize, I can change my marketing style, everything is in my hand and under my control.
As a business person, the first thing you learn about business is that you do not determine the profitability of the business based on how much profit you are making on individual clothes. But what you consider primarily is your turnover, how much sales you are making and how much money is passing through your hand.
When you are working in a bank or whatever establishment, your costs are different from when you are on your own. Right now, I don't spend much on clothes like I was doing then. I don't spend much on petrol like I did then by moving around everyday. And even I don't spend as much on hospital as much as I did then. So, there are so many costs that have gone off my books. So, the value I get in terms of my time – the time I can now use to take care of my family, my husband, my son – that is a shield value that I can't put money on.
I want to make Xclamations to be a household name. And I would want my export market to be much bigger. I would want my Xclamations to go abroad. I would want to have more shops to stock our things there. Equally, I will like to expand my sales here, I want Xclamations to be a household name in Nigeria.
By CHIDI NNADI
I went to the University of Lagos. I have a B.Sc. in Business Administration. And I'm currently almost completing a Masters Degree at the Obafemi Awolowo University. And I also took a course in Fashion Technology at London Central Fashion Studies.