Being a fashion enthusiast or lover does not mean you have to go into fashion designing or footwear production strictly. Other aspects of fashion which can also bring monetary value include fashion illustration, running a fashion school and many more. Tomi Ajao of Dots Fashion is one person that is passionate about fashion and has channelled her energy into building a fashion brand and school.
How she’s able to balance her personal and work life, as well as make her fashion brand and school thrive are some of the things we discussed during an exclusive interview with her.
About Dots Fashion
Dots Fashion is a blend of a clothing brand and a fashion school. The Dots Fashion brand is a ready-to-wear and bespoke brand that creates unique pieces with a blend of contemporary style. Dots Fashion Institute, on the other hand, is a school that trains students in-depth on pattern drafting, fashion illustration and fashion designing.
The brand is owned by Tomi Ajao, an Italian trained Fashion Stylist and Economist. And like she shared with us,
“I have a passion for fashion and I also like teaching. So, the fusion of both birthed the training arm of Dots Fashion.”
How The Brand Was Birthed
Tomi Ajao launched both the fashion brand and institute simultaneously as she is a fashion designer who is passionate about the impartation of knowledge on others.
“I want to see young African fashion entrepreneurs competing with international brands, and changing the narrative that Nigerian designers are of low standards. I want us to do better with our sewing techniques, to be able to showcase our creativity extensively.” – Tomi Ajao
So, recognizing a passion for imparting knowledge, how has Tomi Ajao been able to run the fashion school unit of her brand?
Initially, just like she shared with us, she assumed running a fashion school would not be so much work, but after a while, she learnt that there was more to running a fashion business than she knew.
“Fashion business startups might not be so easy like in many other businesses, but gradually and eventually, it would thrive.” – Tomi Ajao
In building a fashion school, many factors have to be considered for the school to grow. The capacity of the fashion school in terms of the number of people that can be accommodated in a class has to be considered, as well as the courses to be taught.
Another thing to consider when running a fashion school is the staff, that is, whether to employ a pattern maker, fashion illustrator, fashion designer amongst other roles for large classes.
These are some of the factors that Tomi Ajao analysed and made pertinent decisions on before launching her fashion institute.
This is one aspect of fashion which has been gaining global recognition these days and it involves communicating fashion ideas in a visual form. And with her vast experience in owning a fashion school, Tomi Ajao shared the perks and advantages of being a fashion illustrator in these times.
“Illustrating brings out creativity as one would be able to put down ideas as they come, visualise what designs, silhouettes and adjustments are required before making the patterns.” – Tomi Ajao
She also said that fashion illustration is an aspect of fashion which one can monetise without any prior knowledge in the fashion industry. As a fashion illustrator, one can offer freelance services to fashion houses, schools, clients and still get paid.
Just like pattern making, which makes the outcome of the dress neater, with better fitting and professional finishing, fashion illustration is one of the highly sought after courses in the institute.
“Trends are changing, the competition in the fashion industry is very high, so as a fashion designer, you have to keep learning new techniques to be relevant.” – Tomi Ajao
Challenges And How She Has Worked Past Them
Being a mother and running a fashion school and brand at the same time has its ups and downs. But like Tomi Ajao said, striking a balance between work-life and personal life is important.
“Personally, I am still learning and balancing both, and we learn by our own experiences and from other people’s experiences as well.” – Tomi Ajao
Having a good support system, however, as she said, has made this balance seamless. A good support system keeps pushing you to do better, therefore keeping you productive.
She also shared that in running a fashion school, managing people can be very challenging as the students are different, coming from different places with varying backgrounds. But, with proper understanding and consistent communication, she has been able to tackle this.
Another thing that Tomi Ajao has developed over the years is effectively listening to her clients. From past experiences, she doesn’t just assume she knows what they would like, instead she shows her ideas to them before making their outfits.
“From my past experience, I learnt not to feel too familiar with a customer. Still, show them the ideas you have so that you won’t have to do the work twice.” – Tomi Ajao
As a concluding statement, Tomi Ajao doesn’t dwell on the mistakes she had made in her brand, instead, she considers them as learning experiences which make the school better.
“I used to think that my school would stand out automatically because my work would speak for me, but I didn’t know that running a business was a lot of work. You have to work hard and put in a lot of marketing, in order for people to know you.”
Coupled with her passion, good reviews from students, as well as satisfied clients who refer her brand to other people, she’s convinced her brand is doing something right and adding value to the society.
Are you being consistent in your fashion business? Do you hope for your work alone to speak for you and to drive clients, without putting in the extra effort? Well, now is probably the time to rethink and re-strategise your brand goals as Tomi Ajao shared her challenges in this Fashion Phoenix column.