Some people have to wait a lifetime to discover their real purpose in life.
But for talented designer, Joan Adewale, founder of Agbeke Alaso-Oke, that time came when life presented an opportunity for her while still on a job hunt.
Since then, the young entrepreneur has pursued her passion and turned it into a profitable clothing business through the preservation of some cultural heritage.
Agbeke Alaso-Oke does not just design clothes, but do so using locally-made fabrics that has cultural heritage such as Aso-Oke to design her clothing line.
Joan was inspired to establish her business in 2016 out of her desire to preserve the Yoruba culture. While still hunting for a job, the young entrepreneur saw an opportunity in the fashion industry.
“I saw that the new rave at the time was how people embellished their Aso-Oke for weddings. It was really big then and I thought to myself that I wanted to do something different with Aso-Oke,” she explains.
“That was how I started designing my clothing line using Aso-Oke as fabrics,” she says.
The brand communicator-turned-entrepreneur attended a fashion institution to learn about fashion and designs before establishing Agbeke Alaso-Oke.
“I wanted to carve a niche for myself and the first step for me was to enrol in a fashion institution to learn about Aso-Oke. At the time, the tuition fee was high for a job seeker then, but I was determined to go for it,” she recalls.
She started the business with N5,000, an amount she got from her personal savings.
Since starting, she says the business has grown, as its fashion line has been widely accepted by Nigerians.
“My business has grown in leaps and bounds. We have been able to produce unique fashion pieces that have been widely accepted by customers,” she says.
She currently has eight full-time employees working with her.
Joan sources her Aso-Oke fabrics majorly from Ibadan, Oyo state.
“Seeing that Oyo state is the home of Aso-Oke, I knew sourcing it will not be difficult. We source our fabrics from Iseyin, Oyo State and Ilorin, Kwara State.”
She notes that Agbeke Alaso-Oke has continued to remain business owing to its urban infusion to its clothing line.
“What we have been doing to remain relevant in business is to have an urban infusion to our pieces such that you can wear on a daily basis,” she says.
She explains that the business plans to diversify into interior decoration owing to the opportunities within the subsector in the short run.
In the long run, she plans to go into large scale production of Aso-Oke clothing line by establishing a world-class production factory. The young entrepreneur also wants her brand to become a household name all across Africa.
Speaking on the major challenges confronting her business, she says that the high cost of fabrics with cultural heritage has remained the major hurdle for the business.
“The major challenge for us is the high cost of production as well as access to production machines,” she says.
“Due to the nature of the Aso Oke fabric, it is usually woven. You will agree with me that handmade items are pricier than machine-produced items,” she adds.
Joan urges the government to provide key infrastructure such as power to drive down production costs, while calling on them to support local Aso-Oke weavers with technology.
Joan is a recipient of the Federal Government MSME 2019 Award for Excellence in Fashion and Style.
Evaluating the Nigerian fashion industry, the young entrepreneur says that the industry is tremendously evolving and many organisations have continued to support it.
On her advice to other entrepreneurs, she says, “Stay focused on your craft. Make sure you deliver solutions to the need of your customers.”
“Be sure they need the solutions before you roll them out. Finally, make sure you carve a niche in your business,” she adds.