One of the fastest growing clothing stores in Lagos is Desire1709. The brain behind it is painstaking Toyosi Gregory-Jonah. She also runs a fashion house called 1709thelabel and the inspirational Fashion Biz Academy alongside the store. Toyosi’s leap into full time fashion entrepreneurship began in 2012 right after she graduated with a Styling Diploma from The British College of Professional Styling. Today, what seemed at that time like a gamble with a little bit of savings, has grown into a business with huge profit yearly. Toyosi shares her fashion industry story and how her background shaped her life, with Azuka Ogujiuba
Choosing fashion designing as a career
I have always been the girl everyone would ask ‘does this fit’? What do you think of this combination and all through university, everyone wanted my clothes and complimented my style a lot. This feedback helped me gain clarity about my talent and passion for fashion.
Favourite part of being a fashion designer
Watching people beam and radiate so much joy and confidence when their outfit fits and they love their outfit is my favourite part of designing
Guiding business principles
When you start your business, never sell on credit. Secondly, invest in personal development, seek knowledge and nurture relationships. Self-awareness is important to succeed in everything. When I started, I was selling stuffs to people on credit and it literally almost killed the business.
Worst day in business
One day, one of the people I sold to on credit attempted to beat me up for complaining about her overdue debt. Selling on credit cost me a lot of relationships and it nearly crashed my business totally. I literally had to struggle back up and since then, I never went that route again.
I wasn’t born with a silver spoon
Like every normal Nigerian home. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon. My parents are everyday middle class entrepreneurs who ensured they gave us what their pocket could carry but never compromised on education and taught us the best values of life of which number one is integrity.
Recruiting for my company
I pay a lot of attention to ‘personality’. I know most of people consider the right skill set first, but I’ve since learned that skills can be acquired (if the person has a teachable attitude) but a great personality cannot be acquired, so it is important to consider how the candidate’s personality aligns with the daily job tasks.
My defination of fashion
It is a way of life, a way of expressing one’s self through style without speaking.
Advice to young designers
The success of your business is not determined by how many collections you released, especially if you release a badly done and not properly thought through collection just because of pressure. More than anything else, don’t let the pressure get to you. Stay grounded, be realistic, be in tune with your clients, the economy and the culture of the country where you are operating so that you are not off track at any point. Also, find a mentor who has gone ahead of you to hold your hands and help you navigate the murky waters of fashion entrepreneurship and never forget the God factor.
I grew up making and buying clothes for people
I have always loved making people look good and helping them choose what to wear, I grew up making and buying clothes for people as a hobby. So, it is natural that I transit into it fully as a means of livelihood after I left my banking career. Another thing that helped is the fact that I grew up in an entrepreneurial family with a lineage of women who are business moguls. I was able to learn solid entrepreneurial skills that have helped a lot in starting, running and scaling Desire1709 from inception till date.
Lessons from my parents
I learnt a great deal of different things from both of them, even though I have always been a daddy’s girl and my dad is the most stylish one. So, I would say I took the stylish and style conscious side from him, but my mum on the other hand is the business brain, who is constantly in the brain zone of how can we multiply this X amount to be 10X amount. So I would say I took entrepreneurship from her. They both also taught me integrity. I remember my dad would always say ‘whatever you do, never forget the child of whom you are and never let short term benefit make you lose your integrity. You will regret it in the long term.’ It stuck with me and that is one of the things people remember about me.
I was 27 years when I got married and it was such an amazing experience. The year before (February 2009 ) my husband had proposed to me in Dubai on one of our trips, and unlike other people, we didn’t sit down to plan anything majorly after then till the January of the new year and by July 2010 we got married in the most intimate gathering of family and friends and we are blessed with two boys.
Running my businesses on auto pilot
Relocating to the United Kingdom and leaving my business back in Nigeria was such a difficult thing for me physically and emotionally, but I’ve since conquered that pain and fear by proper planning and structuring my business to run literally on auto pilot and it’s been two years with zero regrets. It was a lot of work that had to be put into creating the structure and troubleshooting it for efficiency and all, but to God be the Glory, everything is so far working according to plan.
Indelible high points in my career
When I launched my ready to wear line in 2017, the love and reception was unbelievable as I was initially afraid people would not warm up to it since we were initially known for importing clothes. So, I was consumed by fear and doubt, but it turned out so well and here we still are thriving and growing.
My biggest fear in life
It is not fully achieving and maximising my God-given potential because of self-doubt and limiting beliefs.
Things I still desire
To see my business become the largest exporter of made in Nigeria fashion Merchandise
I’m all about rich mindset
Abundant mindset is the place where it all happens. When you have an abundant mindset, you’re able to create multiple streams of wealth, live a peaceful live and generally flourish because you are not in that ‘hustle competition mode’ that causes people to run around like a headless chicken.