Fashion entrepreneur and designer, Nonye Goodie–Obi, was once in the banking sector where she excelled in crunching numbers. Now, she has translated that same passion to fashion and designing. As the Creative Director of Nonnistics, a full-fledged design house in Lagos, she takes Mary Nnah, through her journey into the fashion world and how she sharpened her entrepreneurial skills while at it. Excerpts:
What was the motivation behind the establishment of your fashion outfit?
I have always been fascinated with beautiful dressing. And somewhere in me I know I have always loved fashion. I didn’t truly set out to do fashion as a business but I guess that innate love for it drew me to it. I started out thinking to add a small retail store as a relaxing side business to my infrastructure consulting business. It turned out that God had a different plan. So I would say the initial motivation was doing something I find relaxing and fun.
How long has the brand Nonnistics existed?
My first fashion store was opened December 2016. It was a 17 square meter store. It was meant to be a relaxing side to my figure crunching consulting business. It did so well in that month that I opened a second store which was bigger (30sqm) in another mall on the next street in February 2017. I used to stock the stores from Turkey and US. Shopping for the stores was daunting because I always wished I could find unique designs that would be affordable to my customers. I saw myself most times giving design ideas to the stores I was buying from and funnily they always took the ideas and would create the pieces and invite me to buy. I was travelling to buy what I co-created at no discount. Funny world! However, by June 2017, even though I was having good sales, I found out I wasn’t finding fulfilment in retail. My entire being wanted to use my creative talent so I started giving designing serious thoughts. By middle of November 2017, I opened my production facility to start my label. And I have been happy since then. So as a fashion brand, we are 20 months old.
How does it operate – how and where?
We operate out of Lekki Phase 1, Lagos in a stand-alone facility. Technology has made life much easier so we take most orders online from our website and social media pages. For clients who wish to have physical consultation, we take appointments in our facility.
Who are your target audience?
We love to address ourselves as family clothiers. We cherish clothing the entire family because we actually produce for men, women, children and we also do bridals. Our target market is the entertainment world, upper middle class and the affluent. We trust the quality of our production and each item we make is done with so much love and absolute care.
How wide is your tentacles? If you are only based in Lagos, how soon do you intend to spread to other states?
Like I said earlier, the beauty of technology is that it has brought the world much closer. For now, we operate from Lagos but we have our reach all over the world at least 220 countries that our logistics partners cover. We deliver worldwide. We also have plans to create physical outlets in the two remaining legs of the LPA commercial tripod i.e. Abuja and Port Harcourt within the next 36 months. The outlets could be ours or consignment stores.
You have worked with the fashion industry for a while. What would you say are the outstanding challenges against individuals in the sector trying to establish themselves firmly?
Fashion Industry is very big. The value chain is so wide and long. I would like to focus on the apparel production subsector which is where I play in. It is a capital intensive business and even more for us in this part of the world for obvious reasons like poor power infrastructure, lack of or even non-existent textile manufacturing companies, poor quality of tailors arising from impatience to learn and of course funding. One more thing; while we boast of our huge population, the poor per capita income and extremely low spendable income of the general populace makes the market extremely tight. So it takes a lot more to get a worthwhile pay for the creative works of a designer in Nigeria.
Tell us your success story as fashion entrepreneur, focusing on the challenges you faced personally and how you overcame them to be who you are today
Well, my first big challenge was fear – yes, fear of failing to appeal to the audience I want to serve. I overcame that by taking the bull by the horn. Like Esther in the Holy Bible, I just dug my head in. My background in Banking where I worked for three great institutions and was privileged to be trained closely by the some of the Banking industry’s greatest personalities – Fola Adeola, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, Herbert Wigwe and others, made it easier for me.
The level of responsibilities I handled in my roles then prepared me for what I do now. So I did not just open a business. I did my business strategy document myself, prepared my go-to-market strategy, looked at prevailing industry issues from my experience with my former seamstresses, and my few months experience in fashion retailing, and came up with document that has guided me in the past 20 months.
One lesson I put to use to help me break into recognition was the loss leader policy which I learnt in commerce in secondary school. It basically teaches sacrifice or better put, calculated risk and I did take that. The fashion industry and the entertainment industry are like buddies. They need each other. I worked to create that name by working with some notable personalities in entertainment. Last year, we were nominated for The Most Versatile Designer of the Year and The Best Designer of the Year amongst some older established brands. We won the Most Versatile Designer of the Year Award.
To succeed in this industry, you must love the work. Passion is very key because there will be low times and it is passion that will get you going at such times. You must have a heart for the customer or prospect. I always put myself in the shoes of the customer and if I wouldn’t want to be disappointed, then I should not do that to a customer. I communicate with my clients and market. It’s important to be in the face of your target market both off and online.
One thing you should never overlook is your logistics. It can make or mar your delivery capacity. Having good relationship with my logistics partners has saved me a number of times when all my hard work would have meant nothing to the customer.
Customer service is only complete when the customer timely receives the item ordered and is happy with it. My focus on this has helped me a great deal. We don’t joke with our brand integrity even if it means going the extra mile to make the customer truly happy.
In what ways do you think government as well as corporate organisations can assist fashion entrepreneurs?
I really think the government has taken the first big step in supporting the creative industry which is the setting up of the Creative Industry Fund. Under this fund, we all can access medium to long term funding. Naturally, there are terms and conditions that must be met so it now depends on us to ensure we are qualified to access the funds. So I would say well done to the government.
The government has also taken steps to encourage the resuscitation of the local textile industry and local production of garments through establishment of unfriendly duty tariff or outright ban of certain finished textile products.
While I applaud them for this, it is imperative to draw their attention to the most important factors that will make this dream become reality. There must be peace and security in Nigeria to allow for foreign investments flow into the country. There must be solid power infrastructure that works. The cost of production in Nigeria is extremely high.
We cannot grow the industry on individual setup of captive power whether with gas or solar or wind. And there must be a huge shift in the judicial system. For me, this is a major country risk to inflow of investments in Nigeria. Any Foreigner desiring to invest in the textile industry surely will partner with the locals under the Indigenous Act and local Content law.
They must trust our judicial system to give them a fair hearing should the need arise in the course of their investment here. Once these three areas are given the right level of attention, it makes it easier for us to seek and attract financiers and technical partners that will help us grow a veritable textile industry which will ultimately benefit the fashion design sector.
I also recommend that the government can encourage consumption of the locally produced apparels by creating policies that make the MDGs and Parastatals wear only made in Nigeria garments. Our Leadership across the spectrum should also be made to wear made in Nigeria garments to work at least three out of five days a week and this is not about Ankara or asooke or akwete but more about wearing Nigerian labels. My colleagues and I in the industry do some great job here!
Corporate organisations can also support through sponsorship of fashion events and talent shows. Every little support goes a long way.
What advice do you have for budding fashion entrepreneurs?
I advise them to keep at it. Do not lose hope. Go for master classes, or trainings. The internet is a major repository of knowledge. They should use their data subscriptions more to learn. They should never forget that the race is neither to the swift nor the battle to the strong. It is of God that showeth mercy. Let God be at the centre of their business. They will surely make it if they persevere.
What is your vision for your outfit in a couple of years to come?
I trust God that we would have established our major physical location for sales in Lagos and Abuja in the next three to seven years. By the grace of God, we would have also exhibited at the four major fashion capitals of the world for global industry presence and become a name looked out for at major fashion and entertainment event red carpets around the world. And hopefully, we would have expanded our production facility which will help us create more jobs and serve our customers better. On a longer term, we look forward to the day when NONNISTICS shall be feeding a thousand households through employment and taking more families out of the despondent poverty level. So help us God.