In Nigeria, many success stories involve individuals who deviate from their educational path to find a space where opportunity and preparation converge, leading to triumph. Charles Oronsaye, CEO of Africana Couture, exemplifies this narrative. From a boy who discovered his love for reading in the pages of Reader’s Digest to becoming a fashion industry leader serving the elite, Charles’s journey is a beacon of inspiration, determination, and a commitment to making a difference.
His transition from a brief music career and MTV VJ nominee to becoming a creative force, all while pursuing a law degree, underscores his resilience. Growing up in southern Nigeria, Charles always stood out, possessing a strong sense of self not common amongst his peers. It was clear he was destined for a creative life. His bubbly personality and star quality earned him an internship at a local radio station, where he demonstrated the drive, grit, passion, and focus of a successful young man.
“I couldn’t be these people. I needed to be ‘my person’,” Charles reflects. Enduring two years of unpaid work in radio, he was forced to find another way to make ends meet. His big break came with the financial support of his uncle, which he used to create his first set of designs. Charles had already been flexing his creativity in fashion by styling his looks and making sketches. Armed with money from his uncle’s generosity, he visited the market to find the best tailor to bring his designs to life and learn the intricacies of clothes-making.
Taking professional pictures of his designs, he shared them on his Blackberry Messenger status with his 5000 contacts.
Going further, he approached potential customers at upscale hotels, bars and lounges with his designs; for every ten people he met, one would make a financial commitment. “From that one payment, I added money and made designs for the remaining nine people. I had their cards and all their contact information; I went to their offices, took their measurements, and practically forced the clothes on them. They couldn’t resist because the clothes were good. So, I made money, and Africana Couture was born.”
Being an entrepreneur in Nigeria has its unique challenges, and Charles is not a stranger to these challenges.
“This fashion business may look glamorous on the outside but the intricacies of starting and sustaining a brand has made me rethink this my dream sometimes. One time I was unable to keep up with my rent and I ended up losing the space I was working out of. I had to move all my equipment and the tailors working with me, into the one bedroom where I was managing”, he said. King Africana was forced to go back to the drawing board and make better plans financially that could ensure the business stayed alive.
Africana Couture has since evolved from traditional Nigerian attire to urban clothing and accessories, with stores in Nigeria, Abidjan, and Dakar.
The brand positions itself as a movement of prosperity for Africans. Charles is delivering on his promise to be a powerhouse in Nigeria’s fashion industry with a global impact. His ultimate goal, in his words, is “…to be successful at something and to be able to share my knowledge. To say; ‘you know what? You like this so much, right? This is how I did it’. I want to simplify the complexities of building something—that’s my call as a human being. To find something my hand can do, do it well, and create a platform that duplicates my knowledge.”
Today Charles continues to push boundaries to ensure Africana Couture delivers consistent quality craftsmanship in every product. His advice to the younger generation of entrepreneurs is, “Master the art of questioning anything and everything; question it. Is it functional? Is it useful? Is it beautiful? Why? When you ask questions, you become a better creative—you begin to see loopholes.”