GTB Keeps Its Eye on SMESs

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With the clamour for banks to redirect their lending towards the retail segments of the market, Guaranty Trust Bank appears to have taken the lead with the successful hosting of the glamorous and impactful Fashion Weekend, which was aimed at propelling small and medium businesses in the fashion and creatives sector. Raheem Akingbolu reports

A pragmatic step was recently taken by Guaranty Trust Bank, to rescue the economy and reawaken the Nigerian youth populace. Though, it was designed to boost the Small Medium Enterprises sector of the Fashion industry, the two day event achieved more than that for both the brand and participants, who were mostly youths.

For the brand, it was another opportunity to create a robust affinity with its patrons. And for participants, the event remained an eye opener that would redefine their entrepreneurial spirit. Above all, by Sunday when curtail was drawn on the event, it was obvious that the economy was the biggest beneficiary from the initiative.

Aside creating an opportunity for participants to learn how to make profitable businesses out of fashion from local and international fashion industry leaders, there was also a showcasing of a diverse range of affordable and luxury apparels, footwear, accessories, beauty items and much more from bidding.

Before now, GTBank footprint in the area of SME was believed to be bold, as the lender has supported and nurtured arguably the highest number of SMEs in all sectors of the economy, and in all the socio-economic zones. The bank has supported many one-man-businesses to large industry players and national corporate and even supported many of them to become publicly quoted at the national Bourse, the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE). It is believed that the bank’s commitment to mass market has tremendously helped many Nigerians to get their brands fully entrenched in the market.

On why the bank focuses on commercial and retail segments of the market, its Managing Director, Mr. Segun Agbaje said the decision to identify with the segment was informed by the need to develop the small businesses and grow the economy. He however pointed out that the bank still satisfies the need of its corporate customers and others in the market.

Commitment to SMEs
For a Bank that has shown commitment to supporting small and medium scale businesses in Nigeria, the Fashion weekend should come as no surprise. The event brought together some of the most promising, talented and recognised fashion designers, brands and retail enterprises from across Nigeria and abroad to showcase latest fashion trends and products to a large and diverse audience of consumers, fashion lovers and industry professionals

According to Agbaje, “The fashion weekend is our way of growing SMEs in a sustainable manner that is not driven by profits but focused on empowering the bank’s customers and growing the Nigerian economy collectively. In a way to further enhance SMEs, we set up the fashion master class sessions as highlights for the weekend. It would offer entrepreneurs the unique opportunity to learn from global fashion industry leaders. On the other hand the retail exhibitions would showcase the wares of dozens of SMEs within the fashion industry for patronage from guest.”

He explained that the event was organised to promote enterprise in the SME sector of the Fashion industry, adding that the not-so-short answer would begin with the fact that GTBank actually has an extensive footprint in fashion that goes back several years.

“The bank has sponsored two of the country’s leading fashion events, The Arise Fashion Week and The Lagos Fashion and Design Week, for a combined period of five years. The bank has also contributed significantly to raising the international profile of African fashion through collaborations including the Ndani Installation at Selfridges and the “Double Club” Collaboration with PRADA,”

The GTBank Fashion Weekend was thus an extension of the bank’s long tradition of supporting the local fashion industry and African fashion in general. However, the weekend extravaganza was much bigger than whatever the bank has done in the past to support fashion because it not only aims to celebrate African fashion but to directly boost both the expertise and exposure of small businesses and create a platform that will truly serve the stakeholders in the fashion industry

According to one of the participants, who simply identified herself as Chioma, the fashion weekend Master Classes had renowned and successful fashion entrepreneurs who shared their stories of building viable businesses with budding entrepreneurs. “It created an opportunity for participants to learn how to make profitable businesses out of fashion from local and international fashion industry leaders,” she said.

From any angle one chooses to look at the event, the organisers sure planned to organise an international forum to boost the entrepreneurial spirit of Nigerian youths. Entering the venue, one is heralded by the walk-in stall where artisans are working on ‘Adire’ designs, – (tie and dye) indigo-dyed cloth made in southwestern Nigeria by the Yorubas, using a variety of resist-dyeing techniques to create beautiful patterns- already infused into the works of Maki Oh, Orange Culture, Tiffany Amber and more.

Just beside the hall is the lush open lounge for guests to refresh and snack on finger foods and ice cream set at a corner by popular Lagos vendors. Outside felt like an open market for everything good; the modern African-ness of the venue comes appealing.

A venture into the main hall housing a parade of items from different brands lights up the venue which gives every brand a chance to show off offerings on sale; Ituen Basi’s lush intricate detailed floor length dress on a mannequin immediately reminds you the hall is a mix of fashion and beauty display, all the way to the end of the hall where Hans & Rene nests just before the hall (another inside the other) where the masterclass sessions are held.

Lagos as a fashion capital

Paris, Milan, London and New York are the “Big Four” of global fashion. Everything that happens in the world of fashion, from the disruption of old fashion styles to the setting of new trends, often begins or at least take shape in these cities. Of course, there are other major players, of which Berlin, Barcelona, Tokyo, São Paulo and Los Angeles quickly come to mind. However, one thing that is glaring within the global fashion space is the total absence of any African city in the top echelon of fashion destinations. With the fashion weekend, Gtbank seems to be saying that Lagos can change this narrative.

Lagos has just as much characteristics to be a global fashion city as any in Europe or the Americas. There is hardly any nationality or culture across the world that does not have some form of representation in the city of over 20 million residents. Richly diverse in culture and taste, Lagos also has the economic wherewithal to drive the emergence of a global fashion power. The city accounts for over 60% of the industrial and commercial activity in Africa’s largest economy. With a GDP of over $90 billion, its economy is actually the 7th largest in Africa, bigger than that of Ghana and Kenya combined.

In spite of the enthralling prospects highlighted above, Lagos has thus far been unable to fulfill its potential to become a global fashion city. To understand the reason for this, one only needs to look at what the established fashion cities have done that the former is yet to do.

Globally, the estimated net worth of the fashion industry is $1.2 trillion; more than a quarter of that sum is contributed by New York, Paris, Milan and London. Apart from having very strong economies and large cosmopolitan populations, these cities also share the common trait of having strong corporate involvement which has powered their fashion industries.

Mercedes, Audi and Cadillac are some of the global brands that have deeply invested in making the big four of fashion what they are today. For eight years, New York Fashion Week was known officially as Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week; the luxury car maker remains the title sponsor of fashion weeks in Moscow, Berlin, Sydney and Istanbul, as well as one of the leading sponsors of London, Milan and Paris fashion weeks. Mercedes-Benz and Lexus are not the only brands involved: Cadillac threw its weight behind the menswear scene in New York while Singapore’s biannual fashion week was known officially as Audi Fashion Festival.

Although Lagos has come a long way in improving its fashion standing, it is obviously in great need of the kind of corporate touch that made the big four flourish. This is why the just concluded fashion extravaganza was seen by observers as a welcome development for Lagos. This is so because the event brought the most promising, talented and recognised fashion designers, brands and retail enterprises from across Nigeria and abroad to showcase latest fashion trends and products to a large and diverse audience of consumers, fashion aficionados and industry professionals.

Redefining CSR

The concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) developed alongside the emergence of corporations more than a century ago and is now practiced by most companies and institutions around world. While corporations may vary in their level of commitment to CSR, their practice is largely focused on corporate philanthropy such as donating to charities, supporting causes or sponsoring individuals, groups and programmes. However, some companies, intent on making their CSR impact more effective, are rethinking this approach. Among these companies is Guaranty Trust Bank (GTBank) plc.

GTBank has always been heavy on CSR. The bank maintains a clearly defined Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy with targeted focus on Education, Community Development, the Environment and Arts. Among its landmark CSR programmes are the GTBank Adopt-a-School programme through which the Bank has taken over the provision of facilities to some public schools across Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones. The Bank also sponsors three annual secondary school football tournaments—The Lagos State Principals Cup, the Ogun State Principals Cup and the Masters Cup—all of which have become major grass-roots football competitions in the country. The bank’s backed Orange Ribbon Initiative is the foremost Autism-focused initiative in the country providing support and raising awareness for people living with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Not resting on its CSR feats, the fashion weekend was another way of telling its patrons that it cared by going beyond traditional corporate philanthropies to intervene in key economic sectors to strengthen small businesses through non-profit consumer focused fairs and capacity building initiatives that serve to boost their expertise, exposure and business growth.

The first big example of this new approach was the Food and Drink Fair which the bank organised in May. Although the event had all the flavoursof Food festivals, with world-class chefs such as Marcus Samuelson and Raphael Duntoye serenading cooking masterclasses, its raison d’étre was to boost the enterprise of indigenous SMEs in the food sector. In that front it succeeded quite remarkably with over 25,000 guests attending the fair and the over 100 SMEs seeing record sales of their products.

GTBank has now repeated what it achieved with the Food and Drink Fair in the Fashion sector. “We are thrilled to be the first in the Nigerian financial sector to pioneer an initiative that will assist in unlocking growth opportunities for businesses in the fashion industry,” Agbaje, said, adding the bank was committed to growing SMEs in a sustainable manner that is not driven by profits but focused on empowering its customers and growing the economy collectively.

The weekend, it was understood, had all the glitz and glamour of fashion events but at its core was the theme of promoting enterprise, which was achieved through the Fashion MasterClasses for entrepreneurs and designers as well as retail exhibitions to boost the sales of local SMEs.

Given the depressed economic situation in Nigeria, and indeed across sub-Saharan Africa, GTBank’s new approach to CSR is an apt response from a company keen on boosting the general economic fortunes of its community. Small businesses, on which the economic growth and development of most African states depend, need not just financial empowerment but also capacity building and access to market, aspects that GTBank’s CSR-tweak does address. The company’s new approach to CSR also shows that far from just innovating for business growth, companies and organisations must always evolve how they give back to their communities to ensure that their CSR programmes continually make its desired impact.

Consumer focused initiative

Beyond its Corporate Social Responsibility function, the fashion weekend appeared to be a consumer focused and capacity building initiative to boost the expertise, exposure and business growth of small businesses in the Nigerian Fashion industry through Retail Exhibitions by small businesses and Fashion MasterClasses facilitated by industry leaders. Themed ‘Promoting Enterprise’, there were eight MasterClasses, each facilitated by one of the headliners, which covered relevant topics and addressed challenges and opportunities across the entire industry value chain.

During the various MasterClasses, Bethlehem Alemu and Okey Maduewesi, both of whom have created thriving fashion brands in very challenging environments, shared lessons and experiences from their remarkable entrepreneurial journeys. Dylan Jones, who has been involved with lifestyle journalism for three decades, and Claire Sulmers, whose fashion blog, Fashion Bomb Daily, is an authority in the industry, led discussions on the global trends shaping fashion and style.

Caroline Rush, who is responsible for organising the globally renowned London Fashion Week, offered insights on how to successfully position a fashion brand, while Bijou Abiola offered retailing tips from her experience as a fashion buyer for top brands. Tracy Reese and Sam Fine brought their amasing blend of talent, entrepreneurship and innovation to bear in sessions on how to create sustainable businesses in the fashion industry.

At the end, the bank thus reaffirmed its leading role in Africa’s banking industry. In the last few years, the GTBank brand has been regarded by industry watchers as one of the best run financial institutions across its subsidiary countries and serves as a role model within the financial service industry due to its bias for world class corporate governance standards, excellent service quality and innovation. With the successful hosting of the fashion show and the MasterClasses, it is obvious that the brand is not living anything to chance in its determination to become the market leader.