Exploring the value chains of the Nigerian fashion Industry – Ibe Uduma Kalu, Purple Streak Stitches.

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Let’s get to me you and tell us about yourself and your background

My name is Ibe Uduma kalu. I hail from Abia state, Ohafia to be precise, currently based in Abuja. I’m a consultant/fashion designer and a trained tailor.

Journey So Far: One of the founding members of the dance crew called xfellaz who finally emerged after 3trials as the maltaguiness street dance champions of season 3 and represented Nigeria in the Pan African championship that took place in Ghana and brought the trophy home as they won the Pan-African championship (thereby being the first Nigerian dance team to ever bring a huge trophy in the dance industry home

For 5 years now I decided to try out a different journey in the fashion industry and have paved the way for so many others. I have worked with the likes of Akon of convict music, J martins and to mention a few.

Presently, I own my own brand where I am also the creative director of it. The brand called purple streak stitches which is an acronym for the “Perfect Undeniable Reason People Live Excellently” (PURPLE) has indeed made a lot of huge statements in the fashion industry and has been certified by the gtbfashionweekend. I am so passionate about what I do and never accept defeat.

What inspired you into the fashion industry? Did you have any initial setbacks at the beginning

Ok, so there’s this saying that goes ” do what you can do at age 17 that you can also do at age 70″ so I definitely knew that yes at age 17 I could dance but won’t be doing that forever and definitely not be able to at age 70.

So I basically was confused at that time, because in all sincerity whatever I choose to put my focus on, I do it with a passion even without thinking about the monetary aspect. But again something hit me when I heard this “if your passion doesn’t pay you them your drop it”.

During this period I wondered at what I could do at age 17 and also do at age 70 with a passion that pays? then it hit me, so since I was in charge of costumes in my dance team, creating and styling our looks, I could just take this to a whole new level. Yes!!! then it clicked, fashion was the way forward because I could do this at age 17 and also do it at age 70. Now I had no idea how to go about it, so I first started asking questions and then did a little bit of research here and there. Finally, I decided to just go be an apprentice, serving under one of the best local tailors in my neighborhood and from there I grew within the period of 2years till I decided to take the bull by its horn.

The challenges I faced?

I had the major setback of finance and building my client, oh Gawd it wasn’t funny but I strategically positioned myself and overcame that by first making a free outfit for a whole lot of folks which I tagged that being “my early beginning seeds sown in the life of individuals”. Look where I am today.

How would you describe the fashion industry in Nigeria? How can we use fashion to preserve our rich heritage against the influence of the west?

The fashion industry is a multibillion-dollar global enterprise devoted to the business of making and selling clothes. Some observers distinguish between the fashion industry (which makes “high fashion”) and the apparel industry (which makes ordinary clothes or “mass fashion”), but by the 1970s the boundaries between them had blurred. Fashion is best defined simply as the style or styles of clothing and accessories worn at any given time by groups of people.

There may appear to be differences between the expensive designer fashions shown on the runways of Paris or New York and the mass-produced sportswear and street styles sold in malls and markets around the world. However, the fashion industry encompasses the design, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, retailing, advertising, and promotion of all types of apparel (men’s, women’s, and children’s) from the most rarefied and expensive haute couture (literally, “high sewing”) and designer fashions to ordinary everyday clothing—from couture ball gowns to casual sweatpants. Sometimes the broader term “fashion industries” is used to refer to myriad industries and services that employ millions of people internationally.

Conversations about Nigeria’s fashion industry tend to focus on the luxury and mid-market segments, ignoring thousands of value brands that represent a large volume of the industry. This value segment serves by far the largest number of people, and though they may be lesser-known than their premium rivals, brands like 21 attires and Canill who manufacture and sell thousands of units a month have proven this to be true.

All three segments are essential for this stage of Nigeria’s market; income levels are still relatively low, so it is no surprise that, according to Mckinsey, 55% of Nigerians are price-conscious. Nevertheless, society remains aspirational, explaining why as much as 44% treat themselves to more expensive items.  

How big is the Nigerian fashion industry?

Within a decade, Nigeria’s fashion industry has grown in size and sophistication, attracting global attention. Going by GDP data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the “textile, apparel, and footwear” sector has averaged a growth of 17% since 2010. This rise has been fuelled by an increase in demand but also partly by unprecedented initiatives that continue to edge Nigeria into the global fashion consciousness. Events such as Lagos Fashion Week have championed this movement through their anticipated annual runway shows and incubator-style techniques used to grow brands.

One of these brands is Kenneth Ize, a menswear designer who started off winning the ‘Fashion Focus’ prize and is currently a finalist for the prestigious LVMH prize. He is also one of the first Nigerians to be stocked at Browns, an iconic luxury fashion retailer in the UK that has helped launch global brands like Alexander McQueen. Even the UK Government has expressed interest in the industry, as Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, hosted Eki Orleans and Nkwo Onwuka, two prominent Nigerian designers, in 2018.

Despite all this, many fashion commentators continue to criticize the pace of market growth of the industry, and with good reason. The global fashion industry is worth over $2.5 trillion, with Africa’s share estimated at less than 1% of that total. Meanwhile, Euromonitor suggests that the Sub-Saharan fashion market is worth $31 billion, with Nigeria accounting for 15% of that ($4.7 billion). This is materially lower than South Africa’s share ($14.4 billion), even though Nigeria has nearly four times as many people.  

Furthermore, the small size of the market cannot be attributed to Nigerians’ taste for foreign fashion. A Mckinsey survey found that only 11% of respondents considered international brands to be more fashionable than local brands. While research like this presents a case for a thriving local industry, there is still an apparent disparity with reality: roughly 60% of the clothing sold on Jumia, Nigeria’s largest online fashion marketplace, are imported

What are the opportunities in the fashion industry and is the government exploring enough of the value chains?

If the Nigerian government takes the initiative by providing a more suitable environment for fashion and textile businesses to thrive, it could be a way to rebuild the once-thriving industries on a national scale. Decades ago, the country had a relatively booming textile sector, but like most other areas, progress died down with the oil boom. Coupled with the Chinese takeover, the industry came to a complete stop.  

Reviving the sector is possible, particularly with the introduction of new policies and improving credit solutions to creative industries. Furthermore, investment in infrastructure and demographic data would help fashion businesses to understand and serve their markets better. The government’s mistake of neglecting the sector in the past stemmed from the idea that it was not a viable one. International markets and even markets closer to home such as Ethiopia and have proven otherwise.  

The sector has an incredible chance at growth if managed strategically. Furthermore, if the industry is invested purposefully and sustainably, it has incredible potential to empower many individuals and in the long run, vastly improve the Nigerian economy.

Your industry is very competitive with the emergence of more creatives and fashion ideologies, how do you grow and maintain your clientele base?

Customers are the lifeblood of any business, so it’s vital you can keep generating leads and retaining your existing customers. But doing so is often a concern for businesses, with more than one in three companies saying that generating new business is their biggest worry.

I spoke to two small business owners and asked them to share their experiences of growing their customer base. From there I developed mine which is as follows

Get to know your prospects and customers

  • There’s a lot of talk about personalisation and customer insight – that’s because it works.
  • Understanding your customers’ needs can lead to better insights into your audience and allows you to develop services that are matched to your clients’ needs.
  • It can also help you stand out from your competitors,
  • And it’s not just consumers who like this approach. It also works for business clients too.

Divide your time: support existing clients and look for new work

  • In simple terms, there are two ways to get more business – win new business or get your existing customers to spend more. It’s important to ensure you don’t focus on one at the expense of the other, as both are important for growing your customer base.
  • We do have a lot of repeat business and feel we offer the most value with long-term clients. But you need to keep bringing in new business too. Old business can falter if budgets change or people move on, so it’s important to look for new opportunities. You need to start a relationship early, so that it’s mature enough to deliver new business when your other work is completed.”

Offer great customer service

  • To keep your existing customers coming back, it’s important you offer great customer service. In fact, research shows that 78% of people have walked away from a sale as a result of poor customer service.
  • But if you get it right, it has a positive impact on your customer base and your bottom line. Loyal customers are worth up to ten times the amount they originally spend.
  • Take the time out to evaluate your customer service, make sure you respond to your customers quickly and keep an eye on social media so you can offer great service online too. Your customer numbers should grow as a result.

Make the most of your networks

  • Ask a business owner where their customers come from and most will tell you that word of mouth is their main source.
  • It’s the idea of social capital the value of relationships, If I know people that they know, then there’s an implied trust.
  • I think people sometimes equate networking with sales and prospects can be sensitive to a sales approach. But if you recognise that only so many contacts will go on to be clients, then it reduces the pressure. The work we do is based on trust and openness so the way we make contact is a good opportunity to demonstrate that. I meet up with loads of people and if I can help, they remember that. That can open new doors.

Look for partnerships with other businesses

  • Your ideal customer will already have relationships with other businesses and this offers a great opportunity.
  • By partnering with other firms which offer complementary services, you can not only reach a new audience but also potentially offer more to your customers.

Looking at the value chain of the value industry, where would you encourage up-and-coming fashion enthusiasts to leverage on?

Sincerely if I’m to answer this I’ll simply say this, fashion has no rules and it’s very unlimited, now if anyone can leverage on any aspect and would execute it smoothly and well why not go ahead then. Because when we start directing the younger generation to s particular angle other angels start suffering and then we now tend to really box fashion which ought not to be so. So if you can do it, please do.

What is the highest point of your career and what do we expect from you in the nearest future?

So far, the highest point of my career has been the times when I was featured in several top brand fashion weekends and also worked with both local and international top celebrities, likes of Akon, J. Martins, M.I, etc to me I now count that as a thing of the past because whenever I conquer a desire, I just look straight into the next task ahead and let the previous slide. So, I’ll say this, my expectations are high for me to talk more of what I think I’ll be bringing very soon. Anyways to mention a few, starting up a fashion school where it cut across both the old and the young ones exploring their creativity and direction them on how to go about it as for the rest let me keep that as a secret for now

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