Ajidagba Omotoke Olabisi is the founder and CEO of CRÈME by Toke Lagos, an online clothing store that deals in made-in-Nigeria outfits. Designed, sourced and tailored by the brand. In this interview with JONATHAN ADEROJU, she speaks about her passion, how she started, among others. Excerpts:
Can you tell us about yourself and your business?
I am Ajidagba Omotoke Olabisi, a graduate of social work of the University of Lagos. I am the founder and CEO of CRÈME by Toke Lagos. My company is an online clothing store, we source for fabrics and design into beautiful wears for people. We are people who believe in made-in-Nigeria products so as to improve our economy and bring about employment for Nigerian Youths.
My business focuses on meeting the need of clothing in the country, as clothing is part of the basic needs of every human.
We are always at the beck and call of our customers; you really do not need to see us before you get satisfaction; all you need to do is make an order and viola, it is at your doorstep.
When was your business founded?
I have been in this business for over six years, assisting others who are into the business too. I was gaining a lot of experience during that period even if I was not getting some money from it by then; I knew I would get there someday. So, I started the business officially on the 2nd of June, 2018. Although I had always wanted to start earlier but I didn’t get the push until May, 2018 when I decided it was time to start.
What is the inspiration behind this business?
I would say I am a fashion lover. I have always had an interest in going into fashion (clothing) to be precise. I was in a fashion school in 2014 but I didn’t complete my training because I gained admission into the university that year and I didn’t go back because I really did not know how I was going to mix my academic studies with something else. That was one of the reasons I started my business in my final year.
Most times, I move around and see the way people mix the kind of dresses they put on for outings; sometimes it is unpleasant to the eyes.
I said to myself ‘TOKE’, what makes you think you cannot do something to help people dress better. By this time the hunger to push my fashion sense into play started coming.
When my friends want to go out they also come to me for dress advice and I give them a perfect look that makes people talk about their outfit all day.
That began to give me the inspiration to have a clothing store and help support people to look good.
What was your initial start-up capital and how were you able to raise the fund?
Hmm; this is a serious question. Well, according to my calculations, I would say about N130, 000. This includes the fabrics for the first designs I came up with, my graphics, cloth labels, paper bags and business cards, and a few other things.
I was able to raise this money from my personal savings; I went hungry most times because I wanted to achieve my dreams. I had to cut my expenses. Today, the hunger has paid off.
How will you evaluate your business growth since you started?
Honestly, it has not been easy. There are bad days. There are even times I might not get any order in a week but I don’t get discouraged. That alone pushes me to do better and so far, it’s been great especially when people have good reviews about what they ordered for, that makes me really happy. The support has been great so far and I have God to thank for that.
When I started I was getting like 5 to 6 orders in a month, but today in the past few months I can boldly say I receive nothing less than 40 to 50 orders a month; that I will say is a tremendous growth in my business.
Do you have employees?
Well, I won’t say employees per say. I have a co-creative director who helps come up with designs as well. His name is Kitan, he was my course mate and he is a fashion illustrator; so we usually come up with ideas most times and he’s really good at what he does. I don’t pay him like a salary or something but I always appreciate his work for me with a little token. By the time my business grows properly by God’s grace, I’d definitely start paying him what he truly deserves. Also, I have a tailor that works for me, I give her my designs, and she sews them. I pay for those services so I won’t say she’s my employee, I rather call them my business partners. I plan on going back to fashion school though so I would start making the clothes myself. I would definitely have proper employees if I get a physical store to add to the online store.
Where do you source your raw material from?
I get my fabrics from the renowned Yaba market in Lagos. I have a supplier there and sometimes I go there myself to source for the fabric. I like to feel them and see them by myself before buying because the choice of fabrics really matters and seeing them by me also inspires the designs I come up with sometimes.
What are some of the challenges confronting your business?
Of course, if everybody is asked same question they will definitely say finance, I am no exception. The major challenge any small business owner faces is usually finance. It is a fact that finance helps build the business. There are so many ways I can expand my business but finance is always a barrier sometimes. Expansions like getting a physical store here in Lagos. We all know how costly rent is in Lagos. Coming up with a great and creative collection requires great minds and having this persons in your team all require proper finances.
How can the government address some of these challenges?
I can say that Nigeria is one of the countries that have a lot of entrepreneurs. We graduate from the university but we end up setting a personal business due to the massive unemployment rate we have in the country. In countries like Australia, United States, and so on, the government helps with financial aids. The government should try to create funding and support programmes that would help starting and already started businesses to grow further. That way we will gradually begin to diversify from the oil means of boosting economy and attracting more investors into the country.
What do you do differently in this field that makes you and your products/services stand out?
Unlike some other ‘clothing brands’ we have online, we make our dresses ourselves. We also sell t-shirts with designs created by our brand. All the clothes have the ‘CRÈME by Toke Lagos’ labelled on it. Everything we produce is our creation, our brand, our designs. I decided to do this because I wanted to create something unique and that helps me interpret my love for fashion in my own way.
How have you been able to sustain your business, especially during recession?
Basically, it’s been God. His grace has been what has been helping. I’m also really grateful for the customers I have. And times I don’t even get orders, it pushes me to do better and try to upgrade and work harder. And also my ever-trusted clients who stuck with me during the recession it really got me pushing on. This is because I strongly believe in Nigeria.
What plans do you have to expand your business?
I have lots of plans. The first is on getting a physical store in a nice location so people can also walk in and see the clothes in the store. They would also be able to fit them before buying. I also plan on going to fashion school so I would be able to create extra creative designs that my customers would love. I also look forward to doing runway fashion shows to help boost my brand.
What advice can you give to other entrepreneurs?
First of all, never give up on whatever it is you are doing. Do not be discouraged especially at the start of the business. You would expect so many supports especially from people you know really well and trust me; most times you won’t get that support. I once read something where someone said she got to her restaurant and it was so full and she didn’t personally know any of the customers and she was really happy about that because it means they’ve been doing something right. So just pray for your business to be known to the world and not just people you know personally. Consistency is also key as well. God should be put first in everything you do as well.
Who is your mentor?
Kika and Chioma (owners of Good Hair Ltd and Brass and Copper Restaurant). Their business sense is really impressive and enviable. Also, I pick one or two things from every entrepreneur I know as well.
What are your life values?I believe in consistency, loyalty, honesty, reliability, belief in God, family is important, motivation, passion and education. I find all of this important and I try to input them in my everyday life.
Do you attend trainings or workshops?
Yes of course, I attend a lot when I have the opportunity; I attended when I was in school. It was workshop/training that was organised by GTBank and Mrs Lanre Dasilva Ajayi took the fashion class. I usually register for them though but things always come up on the dates they’re being held so I usually miss them. I’ll definitely try going for them more often though.
Do you have any certification regarding your business?
Yes of course. In Nigeria or any part of the world, no one would like to do a deal with a company that is not registered. I registered my business in November 2018.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
I see my brand being known globally. I definitely would have expanded really well and definitely gone internationally because I’m working really hard towards that. I believe God would make that happen