Dr Loretta Adams-Aliu, a medical doctor and fashion designer, is no ordinary woman. As a wife and mother, the CEO of LBL Couture has not just successfully managed the home front, but has also combined her passion to heal with her desire to tailor beautifully crafted wears. In this interview with Chiemelie Ezeobi, the designer who recently released her Spring/Summer 2020 collection themed the Unstoppable Woman Collection, relayed her journey into the fashion world and how she started her clothing line out of desire to provide better tailoring services
How did this fashion business come about?
I started this clothing line out of the desire to provide better tailoring services because at the time, I had become tired of the kind of services I was getting from different tailors. And it just occurred to me that I could provide timely service without disappointing customers, the idea continued to grow and grow and now we have a full blown out clothing line.
What does LBL stand for?
La Belle Laurel means beautiful laurel. Actually, my name is Lauretta and Lauretta is from the Italian word Laurel. So that’s where the brand name came from.
Who is the LBL woman?
An LBL women would be a career women, her target age would be from 30 and above, middle-class and upper-class.
What is the recent released collection about?
LBL released its Spring/Summer 2020 collection themed the Unstoppable Woman Collection, which celebrates women who are unrelenting in the pursuit of their dreams, and resolute in understanding that the world makes room for the man or woman who knows where they are going.
The new collection features a unique and interestingly diverse blend of elegant and exquisite outfits curated to complement the multi-faceted fashion needs of the upwardly mobile woman. A common thread in this collection is elegance depicted through the use of deliberately aligned lines: vertical and horizontal lines that accentuate her feminine features in a demure way, whilst drawing attention to her strength and the versatility of her dress-sense.
In this collection, LBL used a lot of vibrant colors for outfits (dresses, jumpsuits, high-waisted pants and skirts) that can transit from power work-wear to an after-office party style. This collection also showcases some hushed tones in outfits that give form-flattering silhouettes.
Finally, the fancy side of this collection features, damask, lace and tulle fabrics for events dresses that allow her to play up or down jewelry and fascinating hairpieces.
How did this journey start for you?
I am multi-talented, and my gift finds expression in so many ways, so fashion is one of those ways.
Coincidentally I never thought of myself as a very fashionable person, it all just started out with wanting to provide better services and then I started to design.
Then when I started the clothing line, my friends would say ‘oh, you have always been fashionable, you have always had an eye for lovely clothes’, and I have never thought of myself like that.
I first started out out-sourcing. So I would source from factories that produce while I was still working but as the business grew and I invested more capital into it, I realised that it became steadily difficult to manage the people and my resources.
So, I had to quit my job to be able to run the business and build structure because that was most important at the time and I realised that to be able to scale up the business and take it to another level, I needed that structure. So right now, I am fully on ground running my business and creating very good structure, I intend to go back to my job as I still work sometimes like once a week as there is a hospital where I consult.
Tell us about the medical angle
When I got into the university in 1998, I was admitted to study Medicine and while I was in medical school, I had some challenges and so I was actually withdrawn from medicine. So, I graduated from the department of Medical Physiology.
But medicine has always been my passion and then I had always felt that something was missing, because this has always been something, I always wanted to do but just couldn’t do it.
So, I got married and had my first child and I was pregnant for my second, when I had earlier applied to study medicine, so when it clicked, I started in Direct Entry Medicine. So I had to be in Medical School and graduated.
How do you cope?
On being able to cope, the honest truth is that it has been very tasking, a daunting challenge for me and I know that it is not just me, but there are so many women who are in my shoes. I realised that when you are a career woman and that you are married with kids, it can be very tasking as you begin to rise.
So it calls for good organisation, lot of support from family and friends and I am thankful I have that support. Especially from my husband, he is extremely very supportive even when I went to medical school, he supported me and when I decided to go into the fashion business, he was hundred per cent behind me. Because a lot of times I worked till very late in the night and sometimes I work till 11pm at night and had to rely on family to care for the kids.
It has not been easy but there is something that Fela Durotoye said in an interview a couple years ago, because there were times I used to feel sad when I couldn’t be there for my family.
She said something when she was asked that question about work-life balance. She said there really is nothing like work-life balance, because it is seasonal.
So, there is a season where you invest yourself a lot in work and there is a season where you have to invest yourself a lot in your children. So that really encouraged me so, those times when i was overwhelmed with work, I remember that you cannot have it all, you cannot eat your cake and have it.
What are the inherent challenges in running a business?
Running a business in a firm is a herculean task more so when you have to run that business in Nigeria, the challenges include finding skilled labour as lot of times, when your tailors come, the only thing they need to do is actually just to peddle the machine and sew.
You have tailors who are good but the challenge with those ones is that they are really expensive, but if you find such tailors you find out that your overhead raises really high. And to use tailors who are not so skilled like the regular Nigerian tailors that we have around, are not good with finishing, they just ‘join the pieces together’ and they are good like that.
But if you’re running a fashion label and you have a standard then it becomes increasingly difficult because you’re constantly training and they are constantly leaving, so you find out that it is just like a vicious circle that never ends. And you are almost spent when you have trained them fully and you think that you can rest, they all can go, so that is a very big challenge.
There is the other challenge of finance when you want to scale up a business, a lot of times at the initial start of the business, nobody trusts you enough to give you a loan. You have to source for funds from friends, family, savings, selloff things, so that in itself is a challenge, there is the challenge of power.
In the past two weeks, I have been my own ‘power generating company’, we have been running on generator for 12 hours unending and you can imagine what that does to your overhead cost. So, it is quite challenging.
Any advice for upcoming entrepreneurs?
My advice to upcoming entrepreneurs on finding a way out is that the way out isn’t actually a way out, it is just something to encourage you. It is something that every entrepreneur or budding entrepreneur should know, you need to have a lot of grit, resilience, they should imbibe the ‘never give up attitude’, as it is so key in business as there are many challenges that are there to ensure that you give up. But as a business person, you must have a thick skin.