“Poor management skills, no funding, major problem for entrepreneurs”


Ms. Atinuke Smith is an award-winning fashion designer based in Nigeria and the CEO of Datina Designs. In this interview with ADEWUNMI ADEDAYO, she talks about how she ended up in the fashion industry, the hardest part of starting a business, and how young entrepreneurs can build a large following in the part. commercial. Excerpts:

When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career as a designer?

Fashion design was not on my radar at all, even though my mother was a fashion designer. I studied communication and language arts and religious studies in college and I loved the camera and I also loved writing. I wanted to pursue print journalism or broadcasting. But, after my high school diploma and about to serve my nation, I discovered that I actually had a flair for creative and artistic things, so I chose to explore my creative side through fashion design. , which led me to discover myself.

I followed the training for a year and fell in love with it. Afterwards, I decided to make a career out of it and it was an interesting journey all the way.

Some people think it takes a lot of money to start a fashion business, is that true?

Not necessarily. I started my business with a single machine and an iron and gradually increased the capacity of the business. A startup fashion designer basically needs a straight sewing machine, a whipping machine and an iron. There are still affordable manual machines that could be bought for a minimal price to start with. I know many of our startup fashion designers who are still working from home without incurring the monthly expenses of getting a space. The only reason someone might think they need big funds to start is if they plan to start with expensive industrial machinery and an expensive workplace. I would advise all of our start-up business owners to start small and give yourself time to grow the business. They need to start small and allow the business to scale. Growth is a gradual process.

How has COVID-19 affected your business and how have you coped?

Honestly, I had a blast during COVID-19. It was a cash cow season for my business. When COVID-19 started and all the businesses had to close including mine because I mainly produce Afrocentric unisex ready-to-wear clothes for different occasions but there were no special occasions due to the locking. I had to observe what was happening around me and decide what to do. So I turned to manufacturing and producing face masks and PPE. The requests were phenomenal. We couldn’t even fulfill the orders we were getting from different states in Nigeria. We worked back to back and we had a lot of sleepless nights just to meet our demands. After that, we partnered with another Nigeria based company on an assigned international project to produce doctor scrubs in different states of Nigeria. It was huge for us and certainly the biggest project we have done since the creation of my company. It’s been a great season for us as a fashion brand and we continue to eat the dividends of this great experience. This has advanced our brand towards more visibility and we have launched a new clothing line which covers workwear, medical clothing, factory and safety uniforms.

Who are your main customers and how do you get your customers?

My business model is divided into two. I serve B2B and B2C clients. I have a clientele with companies for which I produce and manufacture clothing in large quantities, such as corporate work clothing, school uniforms, security companies, hospitals, medical clothing and factories that need of work clothes. I also have a huge clientele among department stores and boutiques who order and stock my clothes for resale locally and internationally. Our B2C business model is for our walk-in customers who bring their fabric for our bespoke tailoring services for special occasions like weddings and bridal parties. Our B2C business model also serves our customers across Africa and Europe who order our ready-to-wear products through our pop-up ready-to-wear stores, social media pages and e-commerce store.

Considering there are now so many fashion companies, what makes Datana Designs unique?

Datana Designs has been around for over 28 years, and we’re still going strong and relevant. We were able to create a niche for our brand by focusing on a strong financial, social and environmental impact in society. We are constantly evolving and reinventing our brand and reinventing our businesses, while remaining true to our values. We focus on running a successful business model. We’ve been in the business for a long time, with the right skills and for the right reasons.

For young entrepreneurs starting out, what do you think will help them build a successful customer base and what key activities would you recommend entrepreneurs invest their time in?

The creative industry is a highly competitive sector; attracting and retaining customers takes intention and hard work. Entrepreneurs who intend to improve their customer base need to be creative with their advertising, knowing where their customers are, their needs, and their motivation. Advertising on the wrong social media platform is a waste of money. They must embrace and harness the power of networking and leverage technology. They must develop the model for top-notch customer service, relationship and focus, while creating a great experience.

Important activities to invest their time in include increasing their knowledge base in the area of ​​acquiring top notch skills and improving their business management skills; expose themselves to training, business coaching and mentorship opportunities to help their growth plan; networking and collaborating with other business owners.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs about finance and the fashion business?

Like I said, starting small is key. I remember that when I started, I was surrounded by my family and friends who encouraged me. I only had one machine when I started and I clearly remember an aunt of my friend borrowing a machine from me six months after I started. I used it for a while until I could save up to buy another machine and returned the one I borrowed. From then on, I continued to increase the capacity of my business. My first job was also given to me for free for six months before I started paying. When you start a new business, family and friends are your first call. Start-ups should not take out loans that could crash the business.

I also think there are many grant programs available for start-up businesses. So, for a start-up business that needs funding, what they need to do is intentionally position their business to seize the opportunities. They must register their business and open a business account and ensure that they are responsible for their income and expenses. Well-positioned companies always attract the necessary financing. Most of the time, these small businesses are not managed properly and therefore not worth investing in. They often think funding is their problem, but most of the time it’s not funding, it’s bad business management. You can’t manage what you can’t measure and no one would invest in a business without a structure.

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