While the gross domestic products of economies such as Italy, France, United States of America, Great Britain and Japan enjoy reasonable contributions from the fashion industry, Nigeria –with rich fashion history– is yet to benefit from the fashion sector of the economy.
Prince Akanni Oyefusi, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Nobel Afrik International, an indigenous fabric designing company, says fashion business is not respected in Nigeria in spite of the huge potential in the industry. Prince Oyefusi who also doubles as the Director of School, Nobel Afrik Training and Dressmaking Academy, and the National President of the Fashion Designers’ Association of Nigeria, told FinIntell in an interview that his organisation is on a crusade to take fashion to people’s doorsteps, as well as educate them on the values fashion adds to life.
Could you tell us about yourself and the Nobel brand?
My journey into the fashion world started when I developed interest in designing in 1983. I later trained as a designer at the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, and Macs Institute of Fashion & Dressmaking, Lagos, both in 1986/89. I also studied Marketing Management at the Abubarka Tafawa Balewa University and Business Management at Lagos State University. I worked in three fashion schools in the late 90s before resigning to setup my own label.
I started Nobel Fashion in 1991 which later became Nobel Afrik in 2000 because of my love for African fabric. Nobel Afrik is more into indigenous fabric and Afrocentric designs. We have various designs ranging from couture line, ready to wear causal and executive caftan lines, fashion show collections, costume designs, and casual runway designs.
Our new love is training because of my passion in passing knowledge to others. We have been conducting training since 1993. And over the years, we have trained students in pattern making, designing, cutting and dress making; helping them to actualise their dreams. By the grace of God, we have trained thousands of people doing well all over the world. We trained the likes of Bayo Adegba of Modela Couture, who was the Nigeria best designer in the year 2004; One Stop Celebration; and many others.
How do you feel when you see people wear your designs?
I feel fulfilled because you know that your product is gradually becoming a household name. The future is to become a household name. People shouldn’t buy your design because they are related to you; they should buy because it is good on them. When I’m no more, the Nobel brand should still remain.
What is your assessment of the fashion industry in Nigeria?
Fashion industry in Nigeria is growing and will continue to grow. Despite the numerous challenges facing this country, Nigerians are still fashionable. We are stylish people. Our lifestyles portray fashion; including the way we love, dress, eat and drink. Nigerians are fashion conscious people. Wherever you see a Nigerian, most of the times, our appearance shows where we come from.
Our government only needs to work on its policies as well as reduce the corruption level in the country. Some of our laws need to be flexible.
In addition, government should make funds available to aid business growth. There are some sewing machines you see abroad that you’ll never see here because they are very expensive, and an individual can hardly afford them. So there must be accessibility to funds for businesses to benefit. We need to understand that if you empower a man or a woman in any industry, you have empowered a family. And when you empower a family, you have empowered a nation.
There is a lot of multiplier effects that is derivable when you empower a man and the man does well in his business. For instance, such a man would be able to provide for his household, pay his landlord and his children’s tuition fees. The landlord and teachers too will be able to provide for their own household. And when a man’s business is not doing well, there are also multiplier effects attached. The man will owe landlord, tuition fee and will not be able to provide basic needs of life.
...The problem of corruption
Apart from the issue of electricity which affects everybody, insincerity on the part of the government and financial institutions is a major challenge.
For instance, only a film maker has been officially announced to have accessed the entertainment fund. But I am sure that at the end of the year, we will be told that the whole money has been utilised. If those in the entertainment industry cannot have access to the bailout funds, the question to be asked is: who are the people getting the money?
I was in a meeting with some expatriates in a textile company, and they joked about a purported contract worth billions of naira that they got from the government. They said a government representative presented them a ‘fat cheque’ (a big dummy cheque) at a press conference which was well publicised, but several years after, they are yet to get the ‘small cheque’ (the real cheque). That was a clear case of corruption because they were sure the real cheque was issued out, though it never got to them.
I also watched an interview on TV recently on how a financial institution gave loan to one of my students to run her business. I met the lady some weeks ago and asked how she accessed the fund. The response I got was shocking. She said she hasn’t gotten the televised money till date. That was another clear case of corruption.
Corruption is not just stealing of money; it also involves using people to doctor your books. Many practitioners run away from all the so called accessible loans because nobody wants to be used.
As a nation, our core values need to be redefined. The element of greed noticeable in this country today is about the poor value system. A man that acquired 20 cars, built 10 houses –all for personal use, needs his value redefined. If such a man wants to go into commercial property business, then that is fine. You don’t need so much in life to live a good life or meet your basic needs. You don’t need to amass the wealth of one million people to yourself before you can live a good life.
Fashion industries abroad are well organised. Nigeria cannot to be compared with them in terms of structure. However, in the area of talent, Nigeria is not doing badly. We are talented and creative people. Given equal environment and opportunity to perform, Nigerians can compete with the rest of the world. There are Nigerian designers doing well abroad. If the money politicians have stacked abroad is used to develop industries in Nigeria, people will benefit from it. It is really sad the way our leaders are managing this economy. Nevertheless, in spite of all the challenges, I still believe in Nigeria. I have travelled far and wide, but I still prefer to live in Nigeria.
How helpful has financial institution been to the sector?
For all aspect of businesses in Nigeria, the banks are harsh when it comes to financial aid. Although we understand that banks are trying to secure depositors’ fund, but bank policies should be made to ensure entrepreneurs are supported genuinely. Lenders should not expect you to start a business today and have collateral to secure a loan. The banks need to be practical about their requirements for loan; not just asking for unrealistic requirements.
Accessing fund is still a limitation in this industry. We have people who have applied for loans in banks and were rejected. Personally, I don’t believe in most of these banks for support because they say so much and do little. I believe your knowledge or background should be your first collateral. On the flip side, people also need to put their books right so that they can access the opportunities that the banks claimed are available to them.
What are the potentials in this industry?
Nigeria is a nation of about 160 million people; this means that about 160 million people need to wear clothes. As long as human beings are given birth to daily, fashion business will continue to grow since every human being needs to wear clothes. It is only a mad person that works naked in public.
Fashion business is not respected in Nigeria. Fashion is a money-spinner anywhere in the world –a big sector that the government should invest heavily in. Fashion is just like consumption. It is a way of life. At every moment of your life you must have clothes on. Apart from clothing, fashion also includes the use of underwear, socks, handkerchief, bags, shoes and fragrances. A man is not complete without fashion.
Most people, especially women and children, change their dresses twice or thrice a day. Even men don’t go to bed in their office wears; they also change twice daily. Fashion business is one of the businesses that Italian government takes seriously, and that is why you get the best fashion accessories in Italy, particularly leather. Their government invested greatly in that industry because it is of economic importance to them, and they get a lot of revenue from the sector yearly.
There are a lot of businesses that can add value to the Nigerian economy apart from crude oil. The European countries know how much they generate from the entertainment industry which also includes fashion. There is money in anything about life that is developed.
What are your expansion plans?
To the glory of God, we’ve been able to start small and today we thank God for where we are. We have five schools in different locations. Our training schools are the best because we offer win-win packages to our students. You pay us to learn but you make the money before leaving. We help our students build a client base, so when they graduate they won’t be looking for where to start from because they already have a client base. Our training curriculum is very flexible and we motivate our students to success.
In the coming year, we intend opening three more schools. Our vision is to be visible in all the regions of Nigeria taking fashion to people’s doorsteps and educating them on what fashion is. Fashion is not just about putting pieces of cloths together; it has its own technicalities that must be understood. The purpose of fashion is to add value to your person, charisma and presentation. Fashion should make you look more than who you are. I am a fulfilled man today, but since I’m still young there is a lot more to achieve.
How do you relax?
In all that one does in life, it is important to create time to relax because when you don’t relax you don’t have time to enjoy what you’ve worked for. Despite my busy schedule, I still find time to close early so that I can be with my family. I believe in my children a lot so I play with them daily. Whenever I’m in Lagos and off work, I’m always at home. I have clubbed and womanised when I was young; there is nothing in that path of life because I’ve seen it all. Now, it is work and service to God.
Your advice to those coming newly into the industry
Those coming into the industry must understand that financial measure is not the riches that a man has; it is the value that you have added to people’s lives, your environment and your generation. Money is just a working tool that will come when you add value to life. Your pursuit for value must be greater than your pursuit for money. You cannot be adding value and not get money in return. For me, I believe in what I do and how it affects the environment and how it reflects on my generation.