Aisha Yusuf Ishaku: Promoting Made in Nigeria Brand

Aisha Yusuf Ishaku: Promoting Made in Nigeria Brand

Mrs. Aisha Yusuf Ishaku,  Chief Executive Officer\Creative Director of Designtactics Interiors Limited and the Proprietress of Design Tactics Academy, is a lawyer by training who was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2005. Interestingly, the native of Chibok in Borno State jettisoned her law degree to pursue her passion for interior design, a passion that birthed Designtactics,  an interior design and consulting firm that offers a wide range of bespoke services, especially with its recent significant milestone of launching a furniture manufacturing facility and made in Nigeria furniture brand recently in Yaba, Lagos. In this interview with MARY NNAH, the Designtactics Interiors boss says the initiative is in line with the firm’s bid to promote Made in Nigeria brands

You just opened a mega furniture manufacturing factory today. Tell us about it.

We are opening our furniture manufacturing factory today, promoting a Made in Nigeria brand.  It has been so good so far and it has enabled us to become employers of labour and allowed us to explore our creativity. We have amazing people doing extraordinary things in Nigeria, so why import when we can make it here and very good detailed furniture?

Designtactics Interiors is an interior design firm, we offer a wide range of bespoke services ranging from on-site consultation, project and survey analysis, space planning, design concepts, corporate designs, project coordination and management, furniture arrangement, furniture design and manufacturing, renovations and turnkey projects. We are all about creating aesthetically appealing functional spaces bearing in mind our client’s budget and style, thereby giving each client a personalised and unique experience. We pride ourselves in delivering affordable luxury and we love creating memorable experiences.

So, why have you decided to launch a Made in Nigeria brand at this time?

This routine started during the COVID period. We had a showroom in Lekki which had mostly imported stuff. When COVID happened, a lot of businesses had to go underproduction and because we were fully important-based, even after the COVID, we couldn’t even import. China shut down, Turkey shut down and we import majorly from these places. So we were like, why can’t we produce these things locally because we also do some projects where we have to use made-in-Nigerian furniture and then we used to outsource to other people and then we used to have problems with the quality because at Designtactic we pay attention to details. 

So, we said, why not do these things ourselves so that we would be able to handle our quality from the onset very well and coupled with the exchange rate, you know what dollar is saying now. By the time you import with so much huge exchange rate, you find it difficult to sell because now people are looking for money to eat and not for luxury. We then decided to get our machines and this facility started producing locally. We import the raw materials make the furniture ourselves and produce locally and it has been fantastic so far.

Before now, you used to import ready-made furniture from outside Nigeria to sell to your clients, and they are used to that standard of perfect finishing. Now that you are producing in Nigeria, do you still meet up with that same standard you have always had?

It has been great. I think majorly, God has been on our side. We’ve been lucky to have good hands and we have a good quality control department that checks all these things and I also get involved myself. We pay attention to every detail and everything that must go out because it is our brand going out, so we can’t afford to mess up our brand. So we pay attention to details. Any job you are giving us and is not up the our standard won’t go out there. So everybody knows about the standard that we have already set; even the people working with us know that this is something that we cannot and will never compromise. That has been the standard and it can only get better.

When exactly did you start your journey into the interior designing world?

I started interior design freelance in 2010 when I left my paid job. I am a lawyer by training. So after my second year of practising,  I felt I should stop working and pay attention to my family. It is just about balancing my work life, business life and my family life so that no one suffers. In Lagos, it’s either you choose your family or your work, so I had to let go of my paid employment. So I am now doing my business and I am happy. Interior design is something  I am very passionate about, so it is just like I am being paid for what I love doing and am passionate about, which is a plus for me. And I also have time for my family.

What was the propelling factor for you as a lawyer to become an interior designer?

I wanted to be an architect but along the line, we found one of my late daddy’s diaries where he had already written what he wanted everybody to be. So, mine was to become a lawyer. At that point, I had to leave  Sciences, go back to Arts and get a diploma in Law before proceeding because they didn’t want to accept me as I was a pure Science student. So, I lost a lot of years just to fulfil my daddy’s wish to be a lawyer. For me, interior design is something I have always been passionate about. 

So, when I left my employed job, I wanted to start something but my husband said go to Lagos Business School and learn about business. And the first thing they taught us is to do what you are passionate about. So of all the businesses, interior design has been my passion. So, I got stuck to it and I found out that it is almost like architecture for me because I had to learn some software, so basically I am not far from my architectural dream. We do a lot of construction and renovations, so for me, I am finding fulfillment  I am not an architect but I am doing things related to architecture and I have like five architects under my payroll.

We have other firms that are into what you are doing. What sets you apart from others?

Like I said, it is for you to know your onion;  become an authority in your field and you don’t have the fear of competition. When we were establishing our academy, people were walking up to me and asking if I wasn’t afraid of training people and that I was training competitors and I was like, no, the sky is wide enough for everybody to excel. So once you’re able to carve a niche for yourself in the industry, there shouldn’t even be any issue about any competition. Just be good at whatever you are doing and that’s all. We keep improving ourselves because we have to be braced for changes and we are also a work in progress, we don’t sleep, we keep developing ourselves.  

How do you conceptualise your designs?

Sometimes it by what our clients want because of course when you are building a house, you already have a visual of what you want to do but other people just leave everything up to us, so from their design concept we come up with a design for them. We give them a 3-D presentation of what their spaces will turn out to be and once they can see what the 3-D visualisation of their spaces will turn out like, we just pick it up from there, though we give them room to make small modifications. But if you can allow us to explore our creativity, the better for us. But we can also work with your own this and our own is to advise where necessary. So it works both ways; it’s either we work with your design or you allow us to come up with a concept for you.

Are there particular things that inspire the concepts you come up with?

Sometimes it’s creativity and other times, it’s inspiration everywhere. One thing about me is that I travel a lot and I try not to stay in one particular hotel when I travel, I tend to visit a lot of places including other interior design firms and studios. I also follow a lot of international interior designers, so I pick inspiration from everywhere.

Who are your target audience?

For now, we target the hotels – that’s the hospitality business as a whole and corporate entities. We have been doing offices of recent. We’ve done the  Plateau State new High Court complex. We are now doing an AIB complex in Abuja. We just finished furnishing a 36-room hotel in Abuja and it has been excellent. They happened when just started in November last year. You can see that everywhere is filled up and orders are still coming from other clients.

People are beginning to appreciate made-in Nigerian brands. Before now it has always been the mentality of people saying it must always be imported but when you put our products in a showroom and you see the finishing, you won’t even know it is made in  Nigeria. So we have good hands it is just to get the suitable materials to do the job.

What are your plans to grow this business in Nigeria?

We are taking one step at a time. We just launched into the market and so we are going to do aggressive marketing we are putting our brand out there and people will be able to see what fully made-in-Nigeria furniture looks like. So, I think for us business as owners, when you set a standard for yourself, everything just falls in place – be good at what you do because once you are good at what you do, even if you are under one bridge, people will always come looking for you.  We don’t even market aggressively any more because people are beginning to know the brand. And I even have to be careful with what I do because people are beginning to associate my name with my brand. It has been amazing and I am finding fulfilment in what I am doing.

Designtactics Interiors is a brand to watch out for because we are going global and diversifying into so many things. We are also on top of our game because we have a lot of competitions as well but we will keep improving all the time.

Do you have plans to collaborate with the government or other organisations to train people and create employment in this sector?

I’m presently talking with two states to train their youths. Our academy has graduated over 280 interior designers, who are equally doing well and are also creating jobs. So, I think the labour market is accurately represented. 

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