Adenike Ogunlesi is the Founder/Creative director, Ruff ‘n’ Tumble.
She is Africa’s foremost fashion entrepreneur who is redefining and blazing the trail in the children’s fashion industry with over 35 years of experience in the fashion and retail business. Ruff ‘n’ Tumble is Africa’s leading premium children’s clothing brand, sharing happiness to over a million children and families across the globe, because she dared to dream and pursue her vision fearlessly.
An entrepreneur passionate about quality, excellence and service, she started the Ruff ‘n’ Tumble brand from the boot of her car in 1998, with a man-power of less than 20 people.
Today, she has built a reputable Pan-African brand, operating to international standards with over 300 employees, 17 retail outlets, an online presence and expansion plans across the African continent and the international community.
A dynamic and phenomenal woman, her quest for innovation and redefining what’s possible on her own terms gave birth to the creation of Gatimo Apparel manufacturing, a state of the art garment manufacturing facility with the capacity to contract manufacture high quality garments to global standards.
Adenike’s calling and desire for the development and growth of people led to the birth of the Betti-Okuboyejo Foundation, a garment making training facility which has graduated over 200 youths, empowering them with skills in garment making and entrepreneurship.
Adenike is happily married to Adegbola Ogunlesi and they are blessed with 3 children.
Can you share the story behind the founding of Ruff ‘n’ Tumble? What inspired you to start a clothing brand?
It’s a story of resilience and really a call to serve. Having three small children and realising that if I wanted good quality, durable, stylish clothing, I needed to wait till I travelled. But I didn’t travel, so I looked to see what was available locally. And so it all started with me making the pyjamas for my children and it grew to what it is today. On the journey, I discovered there was a real need, the more questions I asked. So, I became even more curious and started asking more questions, and to my surprise, I wasn’t the only mother with this need. There were lots of mothers who wanted good quality, trendy, durable clothing for their children. The fact that it was locally available, accessible and convenient to bring the children in-store to fit the clothing, felt like I had invented sliced bread! With the realisation that there was an existing opportunity, my desire to create value, build a brand that catered to the needs of the customer (the parents) and the consumer (the children) came alive. This opportunity also lent itself to show the possibilities that could exist in the industry on a local level.
Were there any specific gaps or opportunities in the market that you identified before starting Ruff ‘n’ Tumble?
The industry was unstructured. This meant the entire fashion/garment manufacturing industry was fertile and virgin ground, the possibilities were limitless. From the fashion perspective, we could create, define and lead trends.
From the manufacturing angle, we could build world class facilities that could train and produce best-in-class talent and product.
As a creative, I set my imagination free. All I could see were Ruff n’ Tumble stores opening all over the world, like you would find Benetton or GAP. Yes! It’s possible to manufacture good quality clothing in Nigeria for the world. Today, I’m very excited and proud of the growth of our fashion industry.
Having diligently built a clearly identifiable brand over the past 2 decades, we have established trust based on the values and principles that drive the Ruff n’ Tumble brand. Our core values are Integrity, Service, Teamwork, Innovation, Respect and Excellence (ISTIRE.) To enable us build trust through our products and services, we focus on utilising the best quality materials, accessories and techniques in creating value for the customer and comfort for the consumer. Making children happy is what we do best, this is foremost in guiding the principles that govern the creation and design of our collections.
What sets Ruff ‘n’ Tumble apart from other clothing brands in Nigeria?
To maintain a unique identity, we stay ahead through research of global trends, local tastes and nuances. It’s fashion. Being innovative and authentic to who we are in our purpose, our choice of colours, textures, fabrics, accessories and finishing techniques creates a highly desirable product that we are proud of.
How do you ensure that your brand maintains a unique identity in a competitive market?
We are greatly influenced by the vibrancy and richness of our culture, especially in our choice of colours. We are high-energy people and this is reflected in the design of our collections. What drives us is making children stand out, happy and confident no matter where they are in the world.
How does Nigerian culture and tradition influence the design and style of Ruff ‘n’ Tumble clothing?
As a people, we love to dress up and show up and by extension, so should our children. We created a brand called TIMOTIWA (which means ‘Where I come from’) that fuses ankara, adire and other indigenous fabrics in a collection that is sold in the Ruff ‘n’ Tumble stores and online for the global market.
Tell us about the Christmas collection and why is Christmas so important for Ruff ‘n’ Tumble?
Our Christmas collection is always the highlight of the year. The message is clear, our desire is to make children happy all over the world. To this end, our collective energy goes to designing a collection that is unique, colourful, comfortable, vibrant, global in trend and locally available and accessible.
This Christmas collection is driven by our desire to encourage families to share joyful experiences, a reminder to keep a positive outlook as we focus on finding solutions.
What were some of the initial challenges you faced when establishing Ruff ‘n’ Tumble, and how did you overcome them?
People. Finding the right talent that had the technical competences and capacity to ideate and execute was one of the initial challenges. There was no ready-made talent and so we had to train and develop people to create the products and render the services that capture our values and principles. Also, at the time, many consultants didn’t understand the fashion/garment manufacturing space and the advertising agencies did not understand the art of marketing lifestyle – which is one of Ruff ‘n’ Tumble’s value propositions.
Finance. Setting up this vision with this structure and on this scale was new. No one wanted to take a risk, let alone on a woman. There were also many mini-battles fought in the banking sector that paved the way for the opportunities others enjoy today.
Another area that posed a challenge was building and institutionalising systems, structure and processes. Truly, I believe in the power of the mind to focus on the vision, agile solutions and the discipline to execute. I have realised that as a founder or business leader you don’t need to have all the answers. However, you must surround yourself with dynamic, intelligent, resourceful talent that is aligned with your vision.
How has the brand evolved since its inception, and what milestones have you achieved along the way?
Today, we have evolved into a Group with sub Brands, in both retail and garment manufacturing.
Gatimo Apparel is our manufacturing brand, equipped with a state-of-the art facility. Gatimo Apparel specialises in mass production and contract manufactures a wide range of garments from school uniforms to apparel for the health, retail, oil & gas industries.
Ruff n’ Tumble is our retail brand with 16 walk-in stores across Nigeria and an online presence, serving the diverse needs of our customers and consumers by providing unique, good quality, colourful, vibrant and comfortable clothing.
How does the brand engage with its customers, and what role does customer feedback play in shaping your products?
In an experiential economy, every external and internal touchpoint impacts the customer’s experience. Service is one of our core values. We therefore ensure that the experience is exceptional across all touchpoints (internal and external) and brands. As a group, we value and place a premium on understanding customer/consumer needs and curating solutions to meet those needs.
In what way is your business embracing digitalisation?
As a tech-enabled and driven organisation, through the Customer Experience team, customer relationship management softwares and various in-store initiatives, we maintain an open line of communication (through calls, mails, instant messaging, focus groups and social media engagement-whichever is preferred) with our customers. This mixed technique provides us with rich data that is reported, analysed and shared with cross-functional teams in real time, enabling teams to make data-driven decisions that solve the problems of the customer/consumer and ensures premium customer experience.
We keep innovating and researching to understand global trends, local tastes and nuances as well as utilise data from customer surveys and focus groups to make business decisions that meet the needs of our customers.
How is Ruff ‘n’ Tumble prioritising sustainability and ethical practices in its production processes?
As a brand, our emphasis on a premium experience and products has meant that through the years, our customers are typically the first to recommend us to their network and personally promote the brand.
It is important that our customer base can see our product offerings in realistic and familiar settings and so we have continued this trend with the advent of the digital economy. We present our products either via our website or on social media in child-friendly age-appropriate settings. Through our Trendsetters Scheme, we carefully enter and have close relationships with parents that are responsibly handling their children’s media personas to ensure that the partnerships are child-friendly and brand right. We are also very conscious and sensitive about the effects of social media as well as children’s needs and so have realistic expectations around availability and the practicality of working around school timetables and other commitments.
It is also very rewarding for us to spot our products playing instrumental parts in the key occasions in our customer’s everyday lives. When tagged, and subject to parental approvals, we are quick to also promote and share those organic content across our social media platforms.
Are there any initiatives or projects that focus on giving back to the community or promoting social responsibility?
The Gatimo group has a purpose vehicle, ‘I Share Cuz I Care’, for deploying our corporate social initiatives and projects. Every year, we pick a local school in Lagos state and provide school uniforms and shoes for about 400 children. The joy on their faces is priceless.
How does Ruff ‘n’ Tumble stay current with fashion trends and consumer preferences?
The fashion industry generally is fast paced, but our product is more timeless, comfortable and authentic. Various internal and external factors contribute to how we adapt to market trends and the needs of the customer. We are data-driven so this helps in our agile response to internal or external stimuli. What we prioritise is catering to the needs of our customers.
How many stores do you currently have, and their locations?
We currently have 15 stores across Nigeria: Lagos(8) Ikeja GRA Store, Palms Mall Lekki, Circle Mall Lekki, Ikeja City Mall Alausa, Murtala Muhammed Airport 2, Ikeja, Novare Mall Lekki, Opebi Store, Adeniran Ogunsanya Mall – Surulere. Abuja (4) Novare Appo Mall, Jabi Lake Mall, Ceddi Plaza Abuja, Novare Gateway Mall. Port Harcourt(2), Port Harcourt Mall, Garden City Mall, Ibadan(1) Palms Mall Ibadan.
Are there any plans for expanding the brand regionally or internationally
Yes there are. Our plan for 2024 is to upgrade and re-invest in our e-commerce platform to grow, drive and service continental and global demands.
What new product lines or ventures can customers expect from Ruff ‘n’ Tumble in the near future?
That would be telling! We will however keep on working at improving the availability and accessibility of our products, improving our service delivery and empowering our people.
How has technology played a role in the growth of Ruff ‘n’ Tumble?
Technology has played a major role in the growth of Ruff ‘n’ Tumble. As far back as 1998, I hired a couple of programmers to build a software that could help with our inventory management and store sales. Over the years, we have adopted the use of enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, business analytic and KPI monitoring softwares that have enabled us to optimise our business operations and make sound data driven business decisions.
Are there any plans to leverage technology further, such as e-commerce advancements or online shopping?
We are in a digital world and the possibilities are endless. The Gatimo group is fully plugged into exploring tech solutions that can optimise its business operations and create opportunities for better service delivery. We are already currently exploring the use of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning to predict our customer behaviour, trends and curate personalised customer experiences, but we also look forward to the possibilities of virtual shopping experiences, try-ons, social media, ecommerce platform integration and the likes.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those looking to enter the fashion and clothing industry in Nigeria?
My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs looking to explore the fashion and clothing industry in Nigeria is to be clear on your values and principles. The good book says whatever your hands find to do, to do it well. Do not compromise on quality and excellence. As William Foster says, “Quality is never an accident, it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives”
I believe that there are seasons and phases. Everything happened as it did and when it did to help me to become my truest, most authentic and highest expression of myself.
Are there any lessons from your journey with Ruff ‘n’ Tumble that you wish you had known when starting out?
Two major lessons I’ve learnt are: Not looking back and fixating on the past, because it sets you back. Acknowledge your mistakes and move on. Secondly, continuously define, redefine, refine and evolve.