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Uju Nwawulu: Carving a Niche in the Male Fashion Industry
Uju Tracy Benson-Nwawulu as the CEO of Tranons Clothing is a fashion designer that specialises in African designs, especially cut-to-fit African design for men. Although she is the daughter of Hon Nwawulu, a two-time member of Anambra State House of Assembly, Uju, who is known for creating clean-cut quality outfits, is determined to build her brand by dint of hardwork instead of relying on her father’s name. In this Interview with Precious Ugwuzor, she speaks on how she built her business from scratch, broke into the male fashion industry and how she has been able to manage and sustain a formidable relationship with her customers despite the gender difference
How was your growing up?
My growing up was very fun and memorable. I am the fifth child and first daughter of Hon Benson-Nwawulu of Anambra State House of Assembly. Despite growing up in the midst of four elder brothers with very huge age bracket, there was that cordial relationship between us, the love, the pampering as their baby sister. I grew up in Onitsha, Anambra State. My elementary education was done in Onitsha and partially my university education in Imo State before proceeding to Ghana where I studied Business Management in Zenith University College, Accra.
Why did you venture into fashion and designing business instead of getting a white-collar job?
First, I am an entrepreneur, and venturing into businesses is what I studied in school. There is no limit to what business I can run. As a student, I was a promising entrepreneur bagging the award of the Best African Student Entrepreneur of the Year in my college .
Venturing into fashion designing is more of a way to unleash my creativity skills, which is born out of my quest to unveil new ideas daily.
Your father was a two-time member of Anambra State House of Assembly, how has his political career influenced your business?
Well, to be honest, I have managed to keep my Dad’s political affluence or status totally out from my business. I would say that my Dad being in a government office has not influenced my brand in any way. He is a politician, I am a business woman. I run my business, built my brand and still building it. I made my choice to grow Tranons myself without his strings. So it has been a personal efforts all the way. It has not been easy, but I thank God for everything.
My Dad has his moral support for me like every supportive dad would but he isn’t of any influence to my brand. In three years of being in men’s fashion world, I don’t have a single client or referral from him.
As a lady, how were you able to break into the industry where you have a lot of male competitors?
There is these words I have lived on from my teenage life to my adulthood. It says ‘everything worth doing, is worth doing well”. Those words are what I have lived on in my aspiration to be a successful woman. Those words are literally the engine that keep my machine running 24 hours. I put in my best in whatever I set out to do. I am a chronic perfectionist. If I’m not leading in any area I tend to be restless so it’s mandatory that I deliver the best and nothing short of it. I want it done 100 per cent is the logic that goes to my brand and everything I lay my hands on. If it’s going to take my time it might as well be done well.
I don’t see myself that I have broken into Men’s Fashion yet cause I still have a lot of targets and goals that I haven’t achieved. So, while I’m working on getting there, the best is what I go for. Tranons goes for quality, Tranons goes for extremely unique fabrics that you will hardly be walking in the streets of Balogun Market and have access to it. Tranons is the brand that is willing to satisfy her clients notwithstanding the circumstances surrounding any purchase made from us.
Tranons is that brand that will never disappoint you when you need an outfit for one event or the other. It was built on deliberate credibility, assurance, good customer relationship, unique fabrics, quality fabrics, neat jobs and most especially customers satisfaction. If you say I have broken into the men’s fashion world, why am I not on Forbes list as the world’s best designer of the year? So we are working tirelessly to get there.
You have made clothes for a lot of prominent people, can tell how you were able to win their heart as their personal tailor and how have been able to manage them?
A good work sells itself. A good work I did for a client, brought a big client for me- the the popular Nollywood actor RMD. I believe I am doing a good job and people love to associate themselves with growth. Most times, all it takes is the ability to listen attentively.
If a client complains about a fitting that wasn’t done to his taste, I can go as far as as buying new fabrics and making that outfit over again till he is satisfied with the fitting. I listen carefully and learn every of my clients choice of fitting.They basically have different taste when it comes to fitting of the outfit, so for each client, I intentionally listen and understand how they want it, I stick to it and that’s how I keep them coming back for more. What client A likes is what client B will reject . It’s a roller coaster, understanding men but that’s the most interesting part of my job.
What was the experience like at the beginning?
My story is a funny one cause I mean it’s like a joke but actually set off Tranons.Well, I am a kind of that lady that loves to see her man dress well. To be honest, if I see a guy wearing fine kaftan, oh Lord, I will definitely look like thrice before I can remove my innocent eyes from him. I would look at the fitting, the finishing, the composure and all of that. I won’t even notice his face just his outfit.
Sometimes out of my curiosity to create new things, I redesign a man’s outfit on him with my eyes right in my head without saying a word. I would put the buttons on the flap, cut the neck of the top to be a round neck, take the buttons and put else where. All this is happening in my head within like two seconds. My friends will always tease me and say I like fine boys, it’s not the boy I am liking, it’s what he is wearing.
To cut the long story short, I woke up one morning and decided to get a tailor to make me some men shirts. I was in Lagos while the tailor was in Aba. I got his contact through a family friend, Gozak. I ordered about 10 pieces of just men Vintage Shirt. When the clothes arrived I had no one to sell it to, I just wanted to have it first and then I will start marketing, surprisingly, I sold out the 10 shirts in just three days.
All I had to do was post them on my whatsapp status, advertised to my neighbours and church members and boom-sold out. Then I ordered for more. I wasn’t even selling with profits. Infact some of the people who bought those shirts are still owing me till date, they never paid but I wasn’t after the money, I wanted to test the water, I did my market survey and I got the answers I needed.
I realized I was happy and contented just selling them and seeing people wear them. It gave me joy and a sense of achievement. I was passionate about it.So I saved up, got a shop, got tailors and I started creating designs. I would create a design and my tailors will be like ‘madam this design no fit work’ in my head this people don’t know who they are working for, nothing is impossible in my book. I started fearlessly and I never looked back. From shirts I migrated to all tailored outfits for men.
What is the major turning point of the business?
The major turning on for my business was when some big security companies contacted us to make hundreds of security uniforms for them, it didn’t end there. A lot more came and we produced over 100 pieces of clothes for these companies. The profits was good, we reinvested into the business with the profits made and we got bigger clientele base with the help of massive adverts and promotions.
My second turning point was also when the Legend Richard Mofe Damijo contacted us to style him, at this point I knew I was doing something right. I was so overwhelmed, I remember my first response to him when he texted us was ‘am I dreaming? Please wake me up’ He is a fashion King and for him to recognize my brand? It means a lot and still means a lot to me. When RMD reached out to us, I was like wow! Am I dreaming? He responded: “No you are not. Today is when your hard work and creativity spoke for you when nobody did. Thanks to James who wore it with so much style and panache.” At that point, I was super assured that I have a lot of work to do and I am doing it right. I am not there yet but it is certain that I will get there. His text motivated me and I am holding on to that to hit more jackpots.
Where do you see Tranons Clothing in 10 years?
In 10 years time, I will like to be in a position where I can boldly say that TRANONS is a house hold name when it comes to fashion for both men and women. Just like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Christain Dior and the world best known designers.
I expect my knowledge and skills to build Tranons, qualifying us for the position of one of the best world known designers for high calibres of people.
Would you say your decision of going into fashion and designing paid off?
Oh yes, it did. I have always been quite creative in the jewelry part of my brand (Tranons bead). When I discovered that I could also channel the same energy to fashion it was the bomb for me. It felt so right and I don’t regret it.
Who are your role models in the fashion world?
My role models are Deji and Kola, Yomi Casual, Africana Couture and David Wej.
As a very young and beautiful lady, how have you been able to keep things strictly professional?
The temptations are real. But first, I am a business woman to the core. To be honest, I knew what I was getting into before I ventured into the men’s business world. There is one thing every woman who is smart would know and that is the fact that mixing business with pleasure is a ticking time bomb that will explode in one second.
I made that decision not to entertain any form of sexual harassment, temptations or the likes of it in my business because I mean how many do you want to do that with? What reputation would that have on your brand? Would that break or make your brand few years down the line? A woman who has set out long term goals knows what best to do while thriving in a man’s world. And rule number one is ‘keep your legs closed’ or they are going to break it into pieces in a matter of time.
I have met calibres of men in my line of business and I can assure you that in as much as these temptations exist it is only about 40 per cent. Surprisingly, the other 60 per cent are scared to approach me because already in their mind ‘this girl will have and know a lot of men. They have it in their head that this beautiful Tracy is a hot cake and nothing will impress her anymore. So it’s self respect for them to order for clothe and go in peace.
Fortunately, I grew up in the midst of four elder brothers so I have my way of putting these 40 per cent in their place with ‘the more you look the less you see. ‘It’s called customer management, the process of managing the company’s relationship with potential and existing customers.
My top priority is to give each client value for the money paid to purchase an outfit from us. You will definitely keep patronising us. In all, it’s not easy running a business in the world of men fashion. I intentionally built myself to think like a man, I have to transform into a man’s mind to know or design what would fit him. So many times this comes with strong migraine. I learnt deep diplomacy in order to handle so many situations at work.
And after all that sacrifice, I won’t let a man lure me to something else in the name of patronising me. I am of more value than whatever he has to offer. So it’s actually not worth it.
What is your advise to graduates who have depended on white-collar job for survival?
Before you think of settling for a white collar job be sure you have a business your sons and daughters will run when you are no longer there. It’s called a Legacy. A white collar job is not a bad idea, perhaps, you can build a brand while at it. Keep your name alive for your generation to come. The system may fail you but your hands can never fail you. No matter what you want to do as a graduate, make it a life promise to be skillfully empowered. Learn a skill and be good at it. As long as your hands are alive, make money with your hands, it will never be empty.
“I don’t see myself that I have broken into Men’s Fashion yet cause I still have a lot of targets and goals that I haven’t achieved. So, while I’m working on getting there, the best is what I go for”