Fashion events are a must for every fashion entrepreneur. It is where entrepreneurs get to receive new insights into the industry and network with other entrepreneurs in the fashion space.
The 3rd edition of the annual South West Fashion Summit (SWFS) happened today, 22nd December. The event which was hosted by fashion designer Atinuke Smith of Datina Designs and business strategist Ayo Alex Alao of Jetheight Services was held virtually for the first time.
Tagged “i-Fashion, Innovation, Industry and Income” this year, the event emphasized innovation, pivot strategies, understanding new industry trends, and income opportunities in the fashion industry. It also served to educate and expose fashion startup entrepreneurs to new opportunities in the industry.
We attended the morning session of the event.
Atinuke Smith on Staying Relevant in the Industry
Atinuke Smith took the first leg of the event. Here are some great nuggets she dropped;
“Innovation is the bedrock of creativity.” – Atinuke Smith.
A brand cannot go far without innovating. Innovation is about creating a new market for yourself or redesigning an old product to make something new out of it. People always innovate with what is existing.
How can we stay relevant in the changing industry?
Sharing from her experience during the lockdown, Atinuke stated that she had to think of how to innovate. She looked around and thought of what to do. On her business plan, she saw that she makes uniforms and medical robes, so she decided to cash in on the medical sector.
“At times, to survive, you need to look at trends in the industry and go with them.” – Atinuke Smith.
She realised that the fashion industry could do something about the need for PPE by medical practitioners and she decided to go with that trend. Medical personnel gears were imported into Nigeria so she had to look for how to produce them.
“Innovation is being able to take what you have to produce something new.” – Atinuke Smith.
After much research, she went into it, and it proved to be a real money-spinner for her. She was able to supply state governments in Nigeria and now she has a medical line, selling lab coats, scrubs, and the likes.
“The new trend is that you have to look for customers instead of waiting for them to come to you. They buy online, so go online.” – Atinuke Smith.
As a fashion entrepreneur, you must be creative and have a strategy to move your brand forward. So, you have to think; What is my strategy for the new emerging market? Do I need to brainstorm about it? How can I differentiate my products from others? How can I position myself and my brand in the industry?
The value chain of fashion is huge so you need to start thinking outside the box. Look for problems to solve. Money follows problems solving. You have to attract income to grow your business.
Focus on building a sustainable business. A sustainable business is one that has a social impact. How can you solve a problem in your environment? How can you bring change to the market? Do you need to venture into other things to be innovative?
“To succeed in the fashion space, your online visibility must be topnotch and your delivery superb.” – Atinuke Smith.
In closing, she said, “Uncertain times present fantastic opportunities, so you have to collaborate with other businesses – it is the new competition. Collaboration helps you grow, expand, and enlarge. If you stay in isolation, you will die. Always determine to succeed against all odds.”
Ayo Alex Alao on Pivoting Your Business in the New Normal
Coming up next, Ayo Alex Alao had a lot to say about pivoting fashion businesses in this new normal. Here are some things he shared;
As an entrepreneur in Nigeria, things are constantly shifting and you have to be flexible to grow in business, this is one important principle of business. You must avoid traditional outdated approaches to management because it will get you nowhere.
Also, you need to look at new ways to do business. Your mindset matters in a time like this so you must pick yourself up psychologically and mentally and start being creative. To achieve creativity, you need a positive mindset.
Despite the pandemic, people are still moving despite. You have to open up yourself to pivot. This is the technological age – there is borderless ness now so anyone in any part of the world can sell to others in other parts of the world.
“As long as there is a problem, you must create.” – Ayo Alex Alao.
For 2021, there are 5 C’s you need to excel;
As an entrepreneur, you need to create content. You need to be creative enough to create content. You don’t have to be the best at it, you just need to be the best-known brand for it.
You must belong to a Community in 2021. You can either create one or join an existing one. Being on your own will not work in 2021.
3. Connect and Collaborate
Many people belong to the Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram communities. You have to connect and collaborate with other entrepreneurs to be the best. Find out how to collaborate with others. Collaboration is the new oil in Nigeria for the next decade (2020 to 2030). People are coming to Africa.
You must be consistent. Your consistency is important. You need to carve a niche for yourself and be consistent in that niche. Ask yourself, What do people know you for?
You must build your capacity. It is absolutely important. You cannot do more than you are doing now until you build capacity. If you cannot do something by yourself, you should have built the capacity to collaborate or call on others to help you out. If you cannot deliver, people will leave your brand. When you stretch yourself, growth happens.
Always remember to be open to pivot strategies. Make sure you are pivoting in the area of your strength.
“You must shift strategies towards opportunity in line with what you are currently doing.” – Ayo Alex Alao.
You must gain situational awareness. Situational awareness means you are aware, open, and able to quickly tap into new things happening around you. Always search for opportunities.
“Creativity, innovation, and adaptability are 3 things you cannot do without if you must succeed in the fashion industry.” – Ayo Alex Alao.
You need to learn from others that have walked this path before you. You must learn the ability to approach new problems with new thinking. As circumstances throw new challenges at you, you must think differently to solve them.
“You need new information for new thinking to come.” – Ayo Alex Alao.
Every fashion entrepreneur needs to engage technology in business operations now. Whether with social media or any other thing, always engage technology. People who already had the capacity used innovation and technology to latch unto the reality created and they made a lot of money from it.
“The world is constantly creating new problems. The people who will rule the world are those who will create new solutions and solve these problems.” – Ayo Alex Alao.
What to do to Prepare for Next Year?
- You must keep a close watch on your cash flow. You must watch how money moves in your business. To survive and succeed, your cash flow is an important and integral element.
- Trim over your cash flow. You can cut off some expenditure, by letting go of staff, moving your business online, and so on. Also, reduce spending.
- Use referrals. Let people refer you to others.
Sola Oyebade (Mr Mahogany) on Diversification in the Fashion Industry
Multiple award winner Sola Oyebade, who is a show producer, choreographer, fashion icon, and the CEO of Fashion Finest Africa and modelling agency Mahogany Model Management was also at the event. Here are some great points he shared with participants;
This year has been challenging for many people. Covid has shown what can happen if fashion trends change. During the pandemic, people were hardly buying anything, so, fashion entrepreneurs had to be innovative, branching out into other aspects of fashion like PPE, casual wears, and so on, from couture.
As time goes on, social media has proved to be a platform for change in the industry. We went from doing physical shows to virtual shows and a lot of small brands suddenly became popular because they learnt how to use social media right.
As much as people think virtual fashion shows are here are to stay, he thinks the opposite. Africans love social interactions. People want to see the flow of clothes on models and touch them. Fashion weeks are ready to go back to physical shows around the world.
In Nigeria and Africa in general, we have always had manufacturing issues. We rely on tailors a lot and they can disappoint. Now, fashion hubs where people can take materials to and sew new products have started popping up. When it picks, the business of fashion will grow very fast.
Fashion is growing tremendously in Nigeria and things will remain as they are now this for a while more, so you have to think about how to survive with this new normal. This is especially for those that do high fashion, owambe outfits and the likes.
With the pandemic, African fashion creators have seen more international recognition because of social media. We need to tap into this trend and also look for ways to tap into international markets.
Africans feel that to make money you have to do high fashion and couture, but, it is not so. You can be cheap and cheerful, catering to the masses and succeed greatly in the industry. There’s no glamour in this but there is money.
Another target market is the bank market. These are those that earn around N80,000 to 150,000. They want to buy new clothes but not at exuberant rates. This market is constant and moving very fast.
“If you want to make money now, you should go to the masses – the lower end market. Manufacturing is easier here and sales move fast.” – Sola Oyebade.
Now, diversification of the industry is far more important than it ever was. As fashion entrepreneurs, you have to start looking into areas like;
- Styling: You need to start looking for ways to style people for photoshoots, fashion shows, and the likes.
- Show Production: Fashion show production is an aspect of the industry that is lacking people. Anyone that goes into this now, with the right education, is sure to excel.
- Personal Shopping: Now is the time to look into providing personal shopping services to men and busy women. Not ou do personal shoppers get a commission form designers after they sell their products, but they also get paid by their customers too.
- Influencing: Influencers make a lot of money and any fashion entrepreneur can go into this.
- Tutorial Videos Creation: As a fashion entrepreneur, you can decide to focus on creating tutorial videos to teach people various things. It could be about clothes making, shoemaking, bag making, or any other aspect of fashion.
- Fashion Illustration: Many fashion designers need fashion illustrators to show what they have in mind to their client. This is a very fertile ground for profit in the industry.
“The Nigerian fashion industry has only just started.” – Sola Oyebade.
There are two sides to the fashion business, we have the creative side and the business side. Every fashion entrepreneur needs to learn to balance these two sides.
In closing, he said, “Making money is not easy but if you put in the effort you can do it. Learn and associate with the right people. Don’t be a jack of all trades. Find something specific that you want to be known for and stick to it.”
This year’s SWFS edition was truly a real eye-opener for fashion entrepreneurs.