Growing up, his mom’s sewing machine inspired his passion for tailoring and today even though this young aspiring chap studied Public Administration in the university, his interest in fashion is immeasurable. Adejare Adejobi in this interview with Mary Ekah, talks about how he has been able to convince Nigerians to buy made-in-Nigeria products with his works
Why the interest in fashion?
I’d say that my clients from my other business inspired fashion in me as a business. I was running a dry cleaning business when I was in school, and a majority of my clients used to have complaints about their tailors. I just saw that area as an area of need, and I wanted to tap into the opportunity; that was how I started, basically. And right now, I’m meeting the need by providing speedy and innovative design and tailoring services to several clients.
Could you give us insight into your formative years?
Growing up was just amazing for me. I grew up in a family where my father had eight wives, and my mom was the youngest. I have three brothers from the same mother though my immediate elder didn’t live with us for a long time. But we were just three boys and all those years were not too good moments because my dad died while I was still growing up. I was very young when my dad passed on so there was nobody to take on those responsibilities. It was just with my mom. Growing up with a single parent, we had to struggle to do everything.
So, that really shaped me to learn how to live independently through the days of my schooling, my survival instincts came alive at an early age. That was one of the things that awakened my entrepreneurship drive. That entrepreneurship spirit was forming gradually. And just recently, I was thinking about how come I decided to do fashion as business or what really spurred me. I could remember that when we were young, possibly because of the cost of patronising tailors, my mom used to have this sewing machine and that possibly inspired those instincts.
So growing up was very wonderful in the sense that throughout my schooling days I was one of the best. In my secondary school, I had excellent results. I was a pretty tough guy when it comes to reading and all that but when I got into the university I decided to hustle to break into other areas besides just reading, reading, reading and reading. Reading was favourable when it comes to the grades but it wasn’t really catering for all my expenditures. Meeting needs, the income wasn’t coming frequently from home because my mom had to cater for my brother and other things, so I just had to find something doing. So that was it basically.
I had this big dream of becoming a medical doctor or a neurosurgeon; you know those days of Ben Carson stories but along the line, I just discovered that sometimes the environment and people around us can plant ideas and dreams in us that don’t necessarily reflect our entire world of possibilities. You know, our parents always saying things like, ‘oh my child will become a lawyer, my child will become a doctor’ and all that. Eventually, I discovered that I had been wired to be the pay guy and not the one waiting to get paid by the end of the month. That’s how I decided to go into business, and it’s been fun.
Who are those that you look up to in the industry, both locally and internationally?
I’d been looking up to a couple of people, but because of the standard I am looking to set up, the standard I am aspiring to, I have not really seen any fashion designer that has consistently stayed on the pedestal. Mudi for instance is someone I admire, an excellent and thorough entrepreneur but I believe and know there are still more that haven’t been achieved and I look forward to that more in the industry. Internationally, I simply look forward to bringing to bear excellence in the delivery of our rich cultural heritage, and becoming a globally competitive brand with fortunes in the billions.
What aspect of fashion design do you enjoy most?
I enjoy the creative part, illustrating. I like to sketch. I sketch out a lot of designs because I try as much as possible to imagine what the creation is going to look like in the end. Before we start to produce, I like to have a picture of what it’s going to look like. I like my clients having an idea of what their attire is going to come out like, so I love that part of the business, that part of creation. And then another part I like is relating with my customers; having to collate their ideas, having to get them to buy what I have for them and then feedback after we produce. Getting to understand what they like about the job and if there are any complaints or if there’re other things they have in mind for future businesses, etc.
You feel you are really good at what you do; why?
Yeah, I’m still perfecting anyway because I continually seek knowledge on how to improve my business processes for greater efficiency and effectiveness, but at the same time I try to deliver the best, the best of the best.
In creating a wardrobe, what’s the minimum price range?
For wardrobes, it depends on the kind of clients. Let’s not go into the details. Depending on the number of items of each product line you’re requesting for. Your budget too will determine. So, it can be a wardrobe for work, etc. You may also want premium, which happens in most cases. Because 500 thousand may deliver just five sets of things to you and for somebody it may deliver ten in total. Ten pieces or 10 sets of things, for somebody else it may deliver three. Sometimes, I call it fashion around purpose.
Have you ever designed for local celebrities or politicians?
I love more, clients who understand to an extent what they want or need. Though, I would also be patient to attend to the ones who don’t have their briefs all put together. The only reason I would turn down a client’s job is if I can’t readily access the resources needed to actualise the client’s brief, especially when time is a major constraint. I’ve worked for a couple of celebrities. Also, my goal is to give all my clients the celebrity feel.
Are your jobs confirmed to international standards?
When you say international standard, Nigeria is international when you are in the UK, UK is international when you are in Nigeria, do you understand? I have designers and clients who are abroad, who patronise my products and the feedbacks are great.
What are things that have kept you grounded so far?
What has kept me grounded, or humble like you call it, is understanding the fact that I am coming from somewhere, I am not where I want to be, at the same time I have a history. I have a background. I have a wealthy background but I didn’t grow up enjoying that wealth. I have a wealth of experience, hustling, more than enjoying the affluence. So that keeps me going, that helps me understand what people are going through, that helps me relate to different times and seasons.
Looking at Nigeria and our quick adaptation to what is not truly ours, how does that influence you as a fashion designer?
I’m one person that likes simplicity. I like something being unique and simple. A majority of my clients also believe in that; they like simplicity, as much as you’re going to make it very stylish, we keep it simple. Most of the time I don’t follow the trend, I don’t appreciate just following the trend. I create from inside, I create as inspired. The trend can be motivating but you know we have what is ours, we have a gold mine on our inside as Africans, as Nigerians, and as a Nigerian designer, there are things that the world has not seen before and I like to venture into new things, I like new things, I like things that are crazy. I like adventure.
What drives you?
My passion for people drives me. I’d like to be remembered for my contribution to this industry especially and to managing people. Because another thing the fashion business has taught me is managing people. You meet people with different emotional intelligence quotients, people that can easily flare up, people that are very calm and reserved so it’s a mixture, it’s a babel of different tongues like Leke Alder would call it.
Do you design your fabrics yourself? Do you import or buy locally?
I work with some local manufacturers, because, as I said, I love made-in-Nigeria, and I would love to deal with made-in-Nigeria and I don’t just say it, I like to do it. There are some quality and some wonderful creations here and I try as much as possible to work with as many as I can. I patronise them, sometimes based on request. I also get to import and I work with suppliers who are out of the country, so it depends. If I’m creating something for someone who relies on my strength of creativity, I can add an indigenous touch to the production and all. It’s what I’m creating with it that matters most.
Most international products are cheaper than our locally made ones. Why?
We have not gotten the technology right for mass production, we don’t have it as it were. Even the textile industry in Nigeria, at the moment, is nonexistent and until all these other infrastructures are revived, I think we can’t compete yet in terms of pricing.
The Nigerian fashion industry is a platform for all to spread their ideas, how does that affect you?
I think the uniqueness of our personality is displayed in the things we create. We have different world views, so it determines our output, that’s one. Then two, for those who see it as a place to spread their bed, you know it’s up to them; for those who see it as place for them to increase their bank accounts, it’s also their choice. So everybody is in it for different purposes. I am in it to add value and to get value in return.
How do you intend to convince Nigerians to patronise made-in-Nigeria products?
I think excellence is key, quality and excellence. Once it is excellence-driven, people will buy. People know excellence when they see it and when they’ve experienced it. If they experience it once, they’ll come again. So you get people to come again and again once they can guarantee that they are getting value for what they are paying for.
Every Nigerian wants to buy something that is expensive if it will deliver what it promises. So I just basically deliver what I promise and give people value for their money and they keep coming, again and again.