Ladybrille® Fashion Business With . . . Dare Olufunmilayo, Creative Director and CEO Zooto Fashion #Africanfashion

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Today’s “Ladybrille® Fashion Business With . . .” feature is with Dare Olufunmilayo, Creative Director and CEO for Zooto Fashion.

Zooto fashion is a fashion business targeted at lovers of style, quality, and African traditional clothing. Since (its) establishment in 2005, it has successfully satisfied its customers with creative designs inspired by African and Asian tradition/aesthetics.

Olufunmilayo explains that while he was studying at a Nigerian Polytechnic, he interned with several fashion houses, including local reputable designer James Johnson, where he honed and perfected his skills. “James Johnson was very pleased with my designs and my work ethic during my internship, he was astounded with my work and this drove me to realize that I could do even more as a designer.”

With the little money he saved up as a student, Olufunmilayo created a few designs, organized a small photo-shoot in which he modeled with a couple of friends and started marketing himself and his designs to potential clients. Sometimes he would stop people on the road to show them his work and amazingly, people would place orders right on the spot. With time, his hardwork and persistence paid off. In 2005, he officially launched Zootofashions with the aim of serving lovers of traditional African styles with infusion of Asian inspirations.

Ladybrille sat down with Olufunmilayo (Dare.O) to discuss the business of fashion. Enjoy.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Tell us briefly, how and why you decided to strike out on your own as a fashion entrepreneur?
Dare O.: I’d say for every individual in the fashion industry, it’s obvious that their very first drive is ‘Passion’ and I’m not an exception to that. I know it’s very common to say so, but honestly, it’s true – for me, it is innate. Considering the challenges that show up sometimes, there are enough reasons to quit, but my passion keeps me going, no matter what. As a child, I watched my parents run their own businesses from employing people to meeting clients etc. I grew up with the same mindset – to own my own business and be an employer, so it was very easy for me to embrace my passion for fashion and turn it into a viable business and livelihood.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Wow, I guess entrepreneurism runs in the family). So, describe exactly the products and services you provide.
Dare O.: At Zooto Fashion, we create bespoke African attire. Our collections are modern and unique. We design clothes for all genders and age groups using high quality fabric sourced from different parts of the world. Our signature look shows a creative display of coordinated embroidery with bead embellishments, sequins, and rhinestones. At the same time, we also create tailor made suits, dresses (bridesmaids, statement pieces) and general apparel for our diverse range of clients.

Another service we provide is our Bridal Range. We design for weddings, and our bridal kaftans can be worn for Nikkai ceremonies and at wedding receptions. We carefully select our fabric and pay very close attention to the detailing of the cuts and embroidery patterns to ensure the finished product accentuates the body. We also value customer service and offer fabric and colour consultation, dress fitting and wedding day assistance.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What is the core Mission of your business?
Dare O.: Our mission for Zooto Fashion is to become a globally recognized fashion brand that delivers exceptional quality on all levels from client consultations to the finished product.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Those are very exciting yet highly ambitious plans). What clearly defined goals do you have for your brand within the next two years?
Dare O.: To significantly increase brand awareness and our customer base in consideration of our recent upgrade in production and marketing efforts.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (You mention your long term goals in basically becoming a global brand). For right now, for your products/services, what is the distribution system you have in place to make sure customers get your products when and where they want it?
Dare O.: Depending on the location of the client, a courier service is generally available. Like other international retailers, customers pay for delivery so we have adopted that same principle.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: So tell us, what has been your biggest business success to date?
Dare O.: Well, since I still regard the business as a start-up/growing venture, I cannot really say there has been a ‘BIG’ moment of success yet. However, every little success we have achieved is part of our big success. One of our bigger “little success” stories (was) being the official clothier for the MTN family game show where we had to design for Teddy Don Momoh, and also as the official designers for 25 ladies at the 2010 SMVA (Sound City Music Videos Awards).

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What has been your biggest business mistake so far?
Dare O.: The biggest mistake I have ever recorded was employing more people than I needed at the early stage of the business. I was able to figure that out early enough and quickly adjust appropriately.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: ((Laughs). Indeed many entrepreneurs would resonate with that mistake.) What (did) you learn from that mistake.
Dare O.: I learnt that business growth takes a process and you have to be patient to take (it) one step at a time.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Let’s talk about customers, the very important part of any fashion business.) As a business, what is the customer experience you want each customer to take away every time they experience your fashion brand?
Dare O.: I must say that this is my favorite question and I am pleased to say that my best moments have always been when I receive testimonials from customers. Reading their emails, facebook and twitter comments, text messages and even phone calls, expressing their feelings about how lovely the clothes look on them. That makes me deeply happy – I feel content and humbled. I always want Zooto customers to take away with them special smiles after purchasing our products.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Smiles)  What kind of challenges do you face when it comes to sourcing materials?
Dare O.: Most of the time, I rely on local suppliers (in Nigeria) for materials but the fact that most materials are not produced locally creates a bit of a challenge in terms of variety. I also research for new materials and when I am unable to find them locally, it affects my creation. Therefore, I have recently reactivated one of my hobbies which is travelling. I travel to Europe to buy fabric and will soon target Asia and the United States.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (I totally understand how fabrics not being produced locally can limit your choices….I think it’s about time Nigerians explore fabric manufacturing). What do you think are the key qualities of a brilliant entrepreneur?
Dare O.: First of all, it is ‘Vision’. A brilliant entrepreneur should have a clear vision and the drive to see it come to fruition. He or she should have great people’s skills. As Mary Parker defined business, “it is the ability to get things done through people.” If you cannot manage people, then you cannot be a good entrepreneur. There are many other qualities such as being original, financially disciplined, having good industry/market knowledge – it’s a balance of so many things.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Very true and great nail to the head advice. You talked about financial discipline. Let’s go there.) Can you share with our audience some few tips on financial management of a fashion business.
Dare O.: The primary goal of every company is to make a profit and some degree of financial discipline is necessary for that to happen. Every entrepreneur, no matter what industry should have basic understanding about cash flow and accounting. One of the mistakes I ensured I never made while growing in business is to run out of cash necessary to run the business. An entrepreneur should always have liquid cash of at least 3-6 months ahead. That is security! It can take care of unforeseen circumstances that can threaten the business. Furthermore, a small fashion business must have 3 primary departments: production/supply (as the case maybe), accounting and marketing. Each of these departments need cash to operate, and as an entrepreneur you must be able to effectively coordinate activities amongst the departments. You do not want marketing to suffer just because accountants could not raise cash needed by designers to produce the products for sale. There has to be synchronization, which cash flow is responsible for.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (I must say you are a very smart fashion entrepreneur, you sure know your stuff! Let’s talk new media and technology.) How have you been able to integrate new technologies into your business to make it successful?
Dare O.: Zooto Fashion is a company that embraces technological changes – in the world we live in, we all have to. We are actively moving with time. We integrate technology into every aspect of what we do. From production to delivery of products. Our embroidery machines are up to date and they enable our employees to integrate sketches into an automated system that runs a set of coordinated stitches of embroidery. Our marketing team uses the latest software and tablets for presentations, and our newly installed interswitch portal enables our customers to make online payment on our website.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Tell us the 3 ways you have used social media to increase brand awareness and gain recognition for your brand.
Dare O.: We have embraced social media to a great extent and we hope to do more, especially with facebook and twitter. We have used paid advertisements on facebook to promote our fab page and have people “like” us. We normally update our page with every new design and we get comments from different people around the world; some make purchases while others keep our contact for future reference. Finally, we use tagging on facebook as a tool to increase recognition because the more people we tag to our designs, the more we are being seen by their friends and the network keeps growing.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: In your opinion, why do fashion businesses, especially African owned fashion businesses, fail?
Dare O.: Personally, I do not think they fail because they are African businesses. The frustrating nature of governance in Africa does not give small businesses the support they need to thrive but I think individuals have a lot more role to play in achieving success. I have observed that some entrepreneurs join the bandwagon and call themselves designers without genuinely having a passion for it. Some do it only for the money, while others do not even have vision for what they are getting into. All of these end up as failures. Other factors include poor management, complacency and lack of drive to improve. Finally, while some fail to look at the bigger picture, others fail to deliver on their brand promise.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Very well said, failing to deliver on your brand promise will definitely turn away clients) What do you look for when you hire employees?
Dare O.: I look out for talent. People who possess enhanced version of what I have. I assess their passion, skills, personal attributes and their desire to succeed.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What drives you as a business owner?
Dare O.: My vision drives me.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What makes you get up to do what you do everyday instead of throwing in the towel and getting a 9-5?
Dare O.: I enjoy what I do, and it gives me a great feeling of fulfilment.

To view Zooto Fashion’s website, click here.

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The “Ladybrille® Fashion Business With . . .” is a feature on Ladybrille® Magazine that is focused on entrepreneurs in Africa’s fashion industry, with a heavy emphasis on fashion designers. This feature highlights business principles, business practices, follows the money, discusses the challenges faced by fashion startups as well as offers pragmatic tips that should help stir the Ladybrille fashion entrepreneur towards success. If you would like to be featured, send an email to our Associate Editor at (associateeditor@ladybrille.com), indicate the kind of fashion business you operate and what you intend to share with our audience that you feel will be beneficial to them.

~Copyright 2012 Ladybrille Magazine. All Rights Reserved.

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Elfonnie Inokon Anusionwu is a Ladybrille Woman Alumna. She is also an engineer and fashion entrepreneur. Elfonnie cites her passion for Africa and particularly her country Nigeria as the basis for why she writes. She believes that it is only through journalism that Africans can change the world’s perspective about who they really are. Follow Elfonnie on twitter at @elfonnie.

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