Blessing Ebere Achu, managing director/CEO, 360 Creative Hub, an innovative startup ecosystem developer is enthusiastic about the African fashion industry and developing African innovative organisations with cutting-edge tech solutions. She is passionate about supporting the development of women and young-owned/driven SMEs in the African fashion industry – from cotton farmers to retail stores. In this interview with MODESTUS ANAESORONYE shares her vision for Nigerian and African creative economies, empowering enterprise and employment creation. Excerpts:
You have built a brand that tackles issues related to start-up fashion designers, for example, financing and a working space with quality equipment. What and who motivate you as a business person?
I draw inspirations from people and events that I have come in contact with. I have been privileged to observe various founders, builders and entrepreneurs from various backgrounds and economic realities in Nigerian and abroad, and their stories inspire me; the hard work that goes into building, and laying the foundations for the success that people admire on the outside.
Years ago, I was part of a telecommunications company called VDT. We took on the pursuit for ISO Certifications and I got to experience the agony and intense pressure attached to actualizing ideas into a reality. I observed how the Managing Director, Biodun Omoniyi lead us through that period – he is one of the people who inspired me.
What life occasions prompted the initiation of the 360 Creative Hub as Nigeria’s first co-working space for rising fashion designers and creative entrepreneurs in Nigeria?
I got to know about co-working spaces during a tour in Europe with StartupBus. This was four years ago, 2016 to be precise. I realised that the sharing economy had caused a great paradigm shift. I then decided to conduct a research and discovered that unlike IT & Tech, co-working spaces are rare in the creative industry. The designers I spoke with confirmed that conducive environment, electrical power, lack of access to quality equipment, inadequate funding, etc. were the major challenges they faced. I further inquired if they’d be welcome the possibility of a facility that will solve these problems and provide the needs which they seek. Their response, thus, led to the origination of the 360 Creative Hub right here in my country home – Nigeria.
You have been familiar with the fashion industry for a considerable length of time, what would you say is the present status of the industry in Nigeria?
The Nigerian fashion industry thrived on outstanding creative designs mostly for events, ceremonies and outings. With the COVID-19 pandemic and its halt on these social occasions, we are forced to view things from a different narrative and expand our focus. We are at a phase that requires strategic structuring. Designers have to embrace the work and investment needed to put the right structure in place towards achieving this shift. Even more, the industry needs to position itself on a global scale and take advantage of the demand for sustainable and ethical fashion that is on the rise globally.
What do you figure emerging Nigerian fashion designers can do to direct or draw in their brand or businesses to be perceived or praised globally?
Before you begin, carry out a research. Find out what people need, what they complain about the most and what is the most reoccurring problem. Google Trends for instance is an app that will give you ideas of what people are looking for. From your discoveries, draft a precise plan of how these problems can be solved and develop your brand from these results. You need to come up with uniqueness for your fashion brand to stand out from the crowd and be intentional about it.
There has been a high reliance on digital means since the coronavirus outbreak and many organisations have been utilising this with positive outcomes. How is the fashion industry adjusting and adapting to this significant global change?
Our work with our locale has continually been tied in with helping these Fashion Designers discover better approaches to drive results for their brands, and with regards to leveraging innovation, we have consistently observed the potential and have been backers of tech-empowered design since the very establishing of 360 Creative Hub. Access to Online Business sectors through different internet business stages and devices to empower their selling and general business activities, similar to payment gateways, digital promotion, etc. There is great potential for more virtualisation in fashion business; directly from creation to promoting, and we are attempting to keep African designers at the top of it.
The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in the loss of jobs, individuals had to work from home, and numerous organisations were temporarily closed with some permanently shut down or moved. How is 360 Creative Hub staying above waters in these times?
We were able to stay afloat handling various productions for the health sector; producing Hospital Scrubs, Face-masks and other forms of medical protective wears. Our continued operations through the pandemic was not about the income, but more about helping our community of designers stay engaged; producing and service their customers. Our designers need us and so we continue to do what we can to keep their businesses alive through our services to them.
What words of advice do you have for fashion designers trying to recuperate from the negative effects of the pandemic?
Even in the face of adversity, you need to be resilient. Aim to strive against all odds. Believe in your product and the solutions it can bring to people and communities. It is also crucial to have an encouraging support system such as friends and family.
What is the biggest lesson that the Covid-19 pandemic has taught you so far?
As an entrepreneur, we need to plan for the unforeseen and unpredictable. Businesses need to brace up for the worst of the worst. Invest your money and energy in building a business that can survive difficulty; leverage on technology, if you do not have any form of digital presence, now is the time to start, and we can help you do it. Who would have thought that Covid-19 will have such a huge impact on the entire world and we would become so dependent on technology?
Your organisation recently launched the Design Pro Challenge to support designers and creative entrepreneurs as they try to bounce back from the economic effects of the pandemic. What is it about and in what capacity would designers be able to profit from it?
We are attempting to ensure that designers have vital help to fast track the return to normalcy for rising fashion designers. Towards the finish of this challenge, 10 champions will be picked to utilise our well-equipped production and styling office in Surulere, free of charge. For as long as about fourteen days, designers have been posting their top 3 designs made for the current year on Instagram for an opportunity to be chosen among the 10. Another advantage to the winners is their incorporation into a network of creatives, to learn and team up with other like personalities who may have what it takes and experiences they don’t.
In your work to uphold the fashion industry in Nigeria, what has been the biggest challenge you’ve noticed?
A great deal of our homegrown designers don’t understand what it entails to build a brand or maintain a versatile business, one of the reasons being that the skills conferred at fashion training schools are basically about making garments and embroidery. Thus, numerous designers start their organisations knowing nearly nothing or nothing about advertising, brand building and different components of the matter of design. Take for instance, many individuals do not know the role of the quality pictures individuals’ post of their businesses online. They do not understand how much these pictures influence prospective consumers for their brand. This is a major piece of what we have embarked to address for whatever number as could be expected of designers across Africa.
As the CEO/MD of 360 Creative Hub which encompasses co-working and co-sewing spaces in Lagos State dedicated to resolving the needs of creative start-ups, what moment do you mark as the most satisfactory for you?
Honestly, it is quite difficult to single out a particular moment as the best. It keeps on getting better and better, from one good experience to another great one. So, we continue to learn and embrace every little stride and achievement with joy that springs from helping designers grow and seeing our members achieve a remarkable feat in their businesses. We appreciate every step of this journey.
What are some of the core principles you live your life and run your business by?
As a business that caters to the growth and development of people, empathy is very key to how we operate. We run a business that feels and opens its doors daily to meet genuine human needs. Integrity, creativity and collaboration are also very important to us and how we run our business.
The 360 Creative Hub recently organised a $5,000 Growth Grant for one of the designers associated with it. How did that come about?
The Fashion Acceleration Program (FAP) is an intensive program that accelerates emerging fashion businesses through a practical-based business of fashion course, taught by seasoned professionals. The grant came about as a result of our partnership with Emory University in dealing with the growth and development of the designers who took part in the second edition of our Fashion Acceleration Program. The grant money was won by one of the participating brands who also uses our hub for her production, Jay Traks.
The third edition of the Fashion Acceleration Program will be coming up later this year, and we are already working with various local and global partners, towards handling more developmental opportunities in form of Grants, Credit Funding, Investments and Market Access for interested designers.
What are the short term and long-term goals of 360 Creative Hub as an organisation?
We intend to teach young and innovative business people on the best way to embrace effective branding, advanced digital media strategies, budgetary and business skills in creating and developing their scope of business. Before the current year is over, our Oniru Co-sewing and Coworking Center will have been finished and open to the general population for use. By 2025, we see 360 Creative Hub to have produced at least 50 fashion and creative brands worldwide from nearby networks all through Africa who can advantageously contend in the worldwide market.