The fashion industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the country today. This is because a lot of Nigerians are beginning to look inwards for fashion trends. This change in direction has led to an increasing demand for indigenous fashion designs, and so, the fashion industry has become a fertile field for some people to plant.
One of such people; blessed with a creative mind and skillful hands is Tiwatope Adetoye. She is the creative head of a fast-growing Nigerian fashion brand named Sapphire by Tieri, a brand which has become known for its elegant designs for women of all ages. The wide appreciation of Tiwatope Adetoye’s designs is helping her grow her posture as a fashion expert.
Tush Magazine got to interview her and this is the excerpt of the interview:
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Tiwatope Adetoye. I grew up in Sagamu where I had my elementary education before going to Babcock University to study Economics; after my graduation, during my service year, I got my ACCA certificate. I served at PwC and went on to work for some other companies. I was always in the finance department anyway, before I resigned to go into fashion fully.
How did you pick up interest in art works?
I think I have always liked arts. I did Fine Arts in school even till school certificate level and then for tailoring, I learnt because my tailors were always messing up my clothes. I thought about how I could start to make my clothes myself and so, I picked up interest in it; it is a lucrative and viable business. I have always like business, I grew up staying at my mom’s provision shop, I even went from door to door selling bread, she used to sell nourished bread at wholesale price, it used to be stocked in the shop, so on weekends I take them from house to house. So I liked business and then picked up interest in fashion. I now merged my interests into fashion business.
How long have you been in the fashion business?
I would say 2 years. The first year was from my house, I was still working [as an employee] and I used to sew on weekends. Then the second year I stopped working [as an employee] and was sewing from my house. Then I moved to my own store.
Why did you choose fashion business over economics?
Did I choose it or it found me? I think I am a hard worker, I hardly go late to work, sometimes I even take work home but I was getting bored. For instance when I was in the audit department, even though we go from client-to-client, it is basically the same things we were checking out for – the same control measurement and same accounts. So that’s why I started learning to sew, initially it was not easy because you cannot learn everything in one day but I enjoyed the challenge. Sometimes I have that design in my head and I think how I would do this. It was exciting for me to challenge myself to create something. Then I got married and later pregnant. I hear the ugly stories about house-helps, so I thought to myself that I needed to create time for my family. Then I literally resigned, when I put to bed, I did not go back.
How has your knowledge of Economics been helpful in your fashion business?
Oh yes, especially the accounting aspect. From day one, I have put in control measures, I have my receipts, I do my book keeping, I have my financial statements, I have my statement of affairs even when it was like a one man business in quote, when I did not have any staff. Anytime I borrowed money, there was a record for it; I was able to separate my business account from my personal account. I have learnt plough back, meaning you do not just operate from hand to mouth. I started from my house, I started from a room in my house, I had only one rack, I sold the clothes I had from my house before I got this space. I used to sew from my room; I converted our two bedrooms to one bedroom because I took one for my business. I have learnt to manage sometimes when there is not enough and I have learnt to abound too when there is much.
How did you manage the issue of raising capital for your start up?
Because I started from my house, I did not need so much and because I started with buying and selling, I got someone who could give me on credit, at little quantity for me to sell. Then I would go back for more, making sure I paid for the previous supply. So it went on and on, and I grew the business like that.
Do you miss you job as a finance expert?
Not for now. I used to, when I initially started the fashion business and the sales were low, but I’m comfortable with the fashion business.
Let’s assume you’re back at the level of graduating from the university, if you had to choose between getting a job with a company or pursuing the fashion line, what would you go for?
I think I still would have worked a while. I learnt a lot. For instance, while I was working with a logistics company, I was in charge of receivables; going after clients to pay. So I need to talk to people, I needed to be patient, because a lot of people’s salaries were on my neck. So when people owe me, I know how to follow up with them and I learnt that while working. So I think I would still have worked a while before venturing into business.
What is the central source of the ideas for your designs?
I try to think for my target audience. I would say, if I was 18 years old, what would I want for my outfit. I realized that an 18 year old would usually care less about comfort, she prefer attention. She just wants people to say, wow this is nice. Then I think like a 30 year old and say, I want comfort and I want to look wow. Then there is the 70 year old category, which is usually about comfort. That’s what I follow in creating my designs.
Tell me about your Apotieri collection.
Apotieri means ark of covenant. The name is an indigenous name. A lot of the fabrics are locally made but were used to make English styles. So it is like mixing our culture with the western culture and coming up with something glamorous for different phases of one person’s life. It is like I am a female and I have grown from 18 to 40 and then I grow to 70 and I am still fashionable. So that is what the Apotieri collection is about.
What is your working principle in building a fashion house like this?
Honestly we pray every day and our everyday prayer point is that we want to add value to people’s lives. So in all that we do, even if it is a design, even if it is the approach to how we welcome our customers. In everything we do, we try to add value to the lives of our clients. That’s my secret of building a fashion house.
Have you styled any popular name?
Well, I have co-styled some stars. I was on a project with Eclective Styling Agency; her name is Alero [Arafiena]. She was the stylist for a TV series titled Therapy. We styled Caroline King; we styled Lydia Forson, Scarlett Shotade and some others. She [Scarlett Shotade] happened to be the model for the Apotieri collection; it was on the Therapy project that I met her.
What is your vision for your brand?
I hope to have a shopping hub where three set of generations can go into and shop and leave happy. I mean the teenagers, the youths and the elderly i.e. a daughter, her mother and grandmother. I also want to operate on the international level.
So do you sell only your works, or you have other designer wears for sale?
Well yeah we have some other designer wears for sale. I told you earlier that I started by buying and selling wears, so I have not yet phased out that part. I stopped importing last year so I still have some of those imported wears in my store.
How do you cope with having to market your business on social media, since it is the new market hub?
I had to cope. I was anti-social, I did not even have Whatsapp before I started business but I have learnt to manage that aspect of business.
Asides the art aspect, do you get to add up on your knowledge of business and economics?
Yes, I still take time to study. Just before I started, I read a Richard Branson book, and you know, he did so many things and failed but he rose back up. Then you hear stories like that of Steve Jobs, they had a couple of fails but they did not stop and they also learnt a lot. Studying helps me in terms of thinking fast, it helps me get updated information and I know that you have to learn all the time from mistakes, so I get to learn from others, sometimes by reading and being open to learning.
What would be your advice to someone who wants to choose between getting a job and starting up something, knowing that backgrounds differ?
Well, my advice to such person would be to take a calculated risk. In all honesty if I was working in somewhere like Shell or Mobil, I do not know if I would have left but that is not to say I was not well paid where I worked, well, I was, it is just that the love for this was more. Then I have a good support system. If I was not married, it would have been easier because I would not have to cater for more than myself but if you’re married, I’d advice that you take a calculated risk.
Were you sure about success in pursuing your dreams as a fashion designer, at the point of entry?
I don’t think anybody was sure before they pursued their dreams; only God was sure when he created Adam and Eve. One just has to deep his/her toe in the water, not jump, at least, deep a toe, try. For me, I started out weekends, sewing and selling, before I took it up. Although it might not be the case for people who have start-up cash somewhere, but if you do not have start-up cash somewhere, just try.
Visit her page to view more lovely collections.
Culled from Issue 17