It is the dawn of a new era for the world of commerce and industry in Africa as young Nigerian graduates no longer wait for non-existing white-collar jobs but defy all odds to delve into entrepreneurship and create wealth for themselves while creating jobs for their fellow youths. This is in the face of numerous alleged complaints about the poor economy and unfriendly business environment, which greet the pages of Nigerian dailies, social media platforms, and online media outlets on daily basis.
Oronsaye Charles, a trained legal professional – turned – fashion guru, is one of the young Nigerians who have discovered the secrets of creating wealth for themselves, using their God-given talents rather than waiting for non-existing white-collar jobs from the government or the private sector.
Charles is a self-made fashion entrepreneur. Speaking with the Pleasures Magazine crew in Nigeria, Charles bared his mind about how he got into the fashion industry and the benefits of entrepreneurship over paid employment. Read his story:
Welcome to Pleasures Magazine, sir. Who we meeting, please?
My name is Oronsaye Charles. I am from a family of three, the first child of the family and the only son. My father is a retired Engineer while my mother is a trader. I come from a very poor background; I am not ashamed to say that to the public because the story is not the same today. I am a lawyer by training. I actually tried my hands in quite a number of things while growing up as a child. I was a trader while I was in school. I was also on Radio and on TV at some point. I never knew I would do fashion, but I think my love for it started brewing in me, unconsciously, though, when I was growing up as a child. My dad liked to buy Magazines a lot when he was still in active service; and I recall how I used to admire fashion styles and designs back then. Sometimes I would even try mimicking some of the styles in my own way. So, I think that is where it all started. I used to be a kind of lay back type of person, but I have metamorphosed into a new man who focuses more on the goal, getting the job done, than a man who tries to look at what he has accomplished. So, I put my eyes on the finishing line, not the distance I have covered.
You said earlier that you are professional legal personnel by training, which is a noble profession that is deemed lucrative. Why then did you choose to do fashion instead of legal practice?
As I said earlier, I used to like fashion designs and styles on the front pages of Magazines that my dad used to buy while he was still in active service as an Engineer, although I didn’t give it a thought then. I eventually dabbled into fashion because of frustration while I was on Radio, precisely Rhythm FM, Benin. I was on internship with Silverbird for two years as an assistant head of production. I was in the oil spill, and was in the Library too, doing three jobs at a time but without pay. One day I felt so frustrated with what I was doing, I went to the Library to do some work there and there I saw a Magazine with an interesting exquisite fashion style on its front cover. The style caught my fancy, and I was like, I have some sketches of designs I had put down some time ago, why don’t I try making them to see what I could make out of it instead of continually wasting my time here?
That same day, I made my decision to quit the job and start something on my own. I went to one of the major markets in Benin and there, met one man that sold cloth materials. I showed my designs and styles and then inquired from him if he knew any good tailor in the market who could make those designs for me and he said there was one. He took me to a tailor and gave me an assurance that the man would train me well, and that he would pay for the clothes that would come with my designs. That was how I started. We worked on my first project together and I was paid. So, I started in that market, making clothes with small, old sewing machines and using coal iron to press them because there was no electricity, but I still made fine and clean clothes. I used the social media platforms to market my products. After clothes, with some making some fantastic designs, I would upload them in my BlackBerry messenger and on facebook, and get patronage from there. That was how I was able to transform my social media contacts into my market place, and today, the story is what you have seen me become.
So, you rose from a local market tailor to the top class fashion designer that you are today. Could you, please, tell us how you were able to do that?
To tell you the truth, it was a very difficult journey. However, my determination kept me going. I became very popular in Benin, but still had my eyes on the goals I wanted to achieve. For that, I became uncomfortable with Benin and wanted to move to Lagos. But before then, it happened that I had made some clothes for a particular client who was residing in Abuja and he asked me to come over to Abuja to take my money. I told him I couldn’t come to Abuja to get the money, but the man insisted I must come to Abuja to get my money. I still can’t explain that mystery. So, I boarded a bus from Lagos to Abuja, just to get my money from that client. When I got to Abuja, I found out that many people in Abuja were putting on the same style and kinds of clothes that I made in Benin and something inside of me told me ‘I shouldn’t be in Lagos, I should be in Abuja. So, I decided I was no longer going to be in Lagos but Abuja. That was how I came to settle in Abuja. At first, I stayed back in Abuja for one week to get some customers. Because my factory was in Lagos, I took the jobs to Benin and spent one week to make them and then return to supply, and get paid. I continued like that, week in, week out, for one year until I was able to rent a shop space for my factory here in Abuja before I finally moved my factory down.
What is your business name and the vision, going into the future?
My business name is Africana Couture. That name was formed out of my passion, which is to rule the continent of Africa in terms of fashion. My vision is that in the next ten years or thereabout from now, at least 70% homes in every African country should have not less than two of my clothes. In the next ten years from now, my company should be present in all the major cities of all African countries. We are strategically located in the centre of Nigeria, Abuja, which is the capital city of Nigeria, the giant of Africa. So, from here we shall explore all the opportunities and take the business to where we want it to be.
How do you keep to the latest trends of styles and fashion?
I am a young person and a social media person. I always get to find out what is the latest trend in fashion, I mean, trend in the kinds of colour, what is obtainable elsewhere and so on. Then I bring them home and infuse it into our culture and people get to like them. One only needs to be creative, artistic, and innovative in his styles and designs, and that is exactly what I do. It is a cocktail of the past and the present, traditionally past and futuristically present. That is what stands us out at African Couture.
What were the challenges you faced, starting and growing your business and how were you able to cope with them?
Without mincing words, I faced many challenges. If I have to talk about them now, twenty editions of your Magazine may not be enough to carry the story. How I was able to cope with them? I risked the time. I was patient, knowing that with time I would get to where I wanted to be. The older I grow, the better I become. I discover that if one spends time doing what one does and learns from one’s experiences on the job, one becomes better in it and people would like one better for that. There is a book read while growing up tiled: ‘The Power of Ten Thousand Hours, and I learnt a lot from it. I spend time on whatever I want to do, and it has helped me a lot and my clientele has grown in me. I don’t know about other parts of the world, but in Nigeria, time is very essential. Many people don’t know this, which is why they jump from one thing to another, from one place to another and end up frustrated or getting involved in crime.
The textile industry in Nigeria are believed not to be working effectively, how do you get quality fabrics to make your clothes?
Oh, that is a difficult one, but I must give credit to the present government, which is doing a whole lot to revive the Nigerian textile industry. I believe that that challenge will soon become a thing of the past.
That is strange, because many Nigerians have accused the present administration of not doing enough economy wise, but have instead, crumbled the economy, or are you getting some kind of inducement from someone in the government?
Those who are leveling such accusations on this government are doing so because they are not aware of what the administration is doing. I am very much aware, and I can tell you that it is doing a whole lot to reposition the economy of Nigeria. Those of in entrepreneurship can tell better about that. The problem here is that most Nigerians don’t read, because if they do, they will be aware that the Bank of Industry recently signed a memorandum of understanding with fabrics production companies in the country to produce quality fabrics in commercial quantity to feed the local fashion industry. That is just one good example of what the present government is doing. More so, I am not taking money from anyone in the government. One just has to say things the way there are.
What is your assessment of the fashion industry in Nigeria?
We have not scratched the surface yet. I say this because I am aware of the trend in Europe, America, and elsewhere. In United States of America, for instance, there are production companies standing by. So, one could just fashion out a good design, take it to any production company and the company will produce the designs, put them out for sale through their distribution channels and people will buy them. The designer makes his money, the production companies make their money, and the people enjoy quality fashion products with fantastic designs. We are still far from that in Nigeria and Africa. I believe that when the production companies that have just signed MoU with the Bank of Industry commence production and begin to host real time fashion and designs competition in Nigeria, then we shall begin to scratch the surface of the fashion industry in our country and enjoy the dividends. It will even get better when Nigerians begin to appreciate more fully, our homemade fashion products. I am confident about this because Nigeria has a very powerful workforce that can drive the fashion industry to an unimaginable height.
What style of fashion do you make?
On that, I have a byline. My byline is luxury, comfort, and class. Luxury is about the fabrics, comfort is about the fit, and class is about the style.
Who are the class of people that wear your fashion products?
Very many people wear my designs. I don’t want to mention names, but very many people wear my designs, from the elite class to the middle class and the lower class, because I have designs for all classes of people. So, very many people wear my designs.
How do feel when you see another designer, probably an upcoming designer, makes the same kind of designs and styles that you make?
I feel happy, because what that means to me is that God has deposited unique knowledge in everybody. It also means to me that if I am not here tomorrow it will not be that my kind of creativity has ceased to exist in the world. So, it makes me happy if I see younger designers making my kind of styles and designs. It doesn’t make me to stop working. It rather inspires me to worker harder so that I can come up with more unique designs and styles.
Many Nigerian youth often complain about bad government and poor economy in the country, hence, are desperate to leave for foreign countries where they believe the grass is greener. Many of the spend hundreds of thousands of naira to make their trip and end being sold in the desert for fifty dollars, whereas there are people like you who are making fortune here in Nigeria using your natural talents. What do you say about that?
Truly, that is a very disturbing issue. I have thought about it for some time and I have concluded that most of us, Nigerian youths, don’t really want to work. Another thing is that many of them are not aware of their own power of creativity and the opportunities that are available in the country. There is need to create more awareness about the opportunities that are available here. The excuse I often hear most of the unemployed youths advance is that they don’t have the money start their own business and they don’t have anyone to lend them money to start. That is a lazy man’s excuse as far I am concerned. You can see where I run my fashion business. I started this business with three thousand naira, which I saved up by myself. I never got money from anybody, be it my parents, bank, government or politician, but see where I am today. So, my advice to the youth is that they should look inward them and they will discover that God has deposited some unique talents in them. God has given everybody He created something unique to give to the world and survive on it. For anybody to leave Nigeria for overseas, that person must have spent not less than two hundred thousand naira minimum, no matter the means he used. If that fellow had discovered his unique talents and ploughed in that money to explore them, it is possible that he would turn that amount into about two hundred million naira in less than one year.
You sound so motivated, inspired, and excited about your job, do you have a mentor that motivates you?
Laughs, I am a self-motivated person. Everybody that wants to succeed in whatever he or she does needs to be self-motivated. I am inspired by my vision, and that is to clothe Africa. As I said earlier, my major goal is not to sell my clothes in the U.S; my goal is to clothe Africa because I feel Africa is naked as we speak. Foreign brands are coming in to dig our gold and take them away to develop their cities, but our people are still not aware of this. You find many Nigerians, even in the echelons of their career, going to GUCCI shops to take photos of themselves and put them out there to tell the world that they are buying GUCCI. That is why I decided that everywhere I would establish Africana Couture, I will build a fashion institution there to train Africans on how to make African clothes and clothe Africa in their culture. So, you see, I am excited about my job because I am living my dream of clothing Africa, I have passion for it and it’s putting food on the table for me, that’s it.
Do you have an institution where you train the young ones on fashion designing?
Yes, I am training people here in Nigeria on African fashion designs. However, I don’t just teach people how to design clothes and create new styles; my classes are focused more on the business aspect of fashion. I do that so that when a student graduates from my fashion school, he will know what to do to raise money within a short time and establish his own business. I laugh most times when I hear people say they are going to America to learn fashion designing. Fashion is done differently in Africa, and it is even far cheaper here that it is over there. I spend time to study and understand the fashion market in Nigeria and Africa and try to key in with new trends. I can say that everything that I have achieved in my business over the years are self-taught, and I thank God for the insight and the motivation.
Should a rising fashion designer walks up to you and ask for your mentorship, what will be your advice for him?
Identity and time, I will advise him to create an identity for his brand and give himself. Have you ever wondered why GUCCI reigns as if it is the only brand that exists in the world, whereas there are thousands of other brands? They have been there for decades. The problem here is that most of us want to fast-forward everything. We want to get up today and arrive tomorrow. It doesn’t work that way anywhere in the world. So, my humble advice to all young persons in the business of fashion is that they should work hard to create an identity for their brand and then give themselves time to grow.
Where should we expect to see Africana Couture in five years time from today?
Africana Couture would have been everywhere in Africa in the next five years. I am open to partnership from any reputable organizations and individuals investors with records of proven integrity. The idea behind that is to market Africa, and I think it’s a worthy course to pursue.
Talking about structure, you have a very well organized working structure, how did you get the knowledge, or did somebody give you the idea?
I told you before that everything I have done and achieved in my business is self-taught. That is because I read to acquire new knowledge and new ideas. That makes me to be aware of how things are done in the developed countries, then I will infuse the new ideas in my business and add my own. I am aware that making my business office look so beautiful increases the buying power. When anyone walks into my office and see how exquisitely beautiful everything there is, he will feel compelled to buy if he didn’t plan to buy. Even if he didn’t buy eventually, he feel indebted to the place and he must have learnt one or two things from there. That’s why I spend time to make my business office look beautiful.
How do you relax?
I spend my rest time and spare time reading. That is how I relax. I go online and read both stuffs that concern me as well as those that don’t concern me. No knowledge is wasted; it might just come around you some day and become useful.
How do you think we promote African attires?
We all should create avenues where African attires can be by everybody in the world. Thank God you are wearing one, even though we still think that it can be better sewn abroad. We should do more of that, and everybody eventually come to realize that we need to promote ours, not others’.
What is your advice for upcoming entrepreneurs?
They should focus on their career path, spend time to develop themselves on it, and it will pay off with time. They should bear in mind that there is no faster lane up the ladder.
Do you have a word for Nigerian and African youths that desperately want to leave their country for Europe or America and elsewhere?
As I said before, Nigerian and African youths should look inward to discover their natural talents and develop them. Why would I want to go abroad and live a peasant when I can be in my country and be a king doing something tangible with my life? The land is greener here in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world.
How may you be contacted?
People may reach us via.
IG handle: @africanacouture
Mobile: +234 818 559 4203