OGUNLANA: Selling Contemporary African Fashion To The World



WHEN asked what she does for a living, Nike Ogunlana hesitates a little and then says, ‘I am an accountant’. Though this response is the truth, but it’s certainly not the whole truth because she is currently an e-tailer, which means she is into online retailing of African fashion labels. Just recently, she co-founded a clothing label called LA.X Nigeria.

Like many other Nigerian women, Nike is a professional who has deliberately changed course and is now actively pursuing her passion. So now, she is engrossed in the fashion and accessory world of clothes, shoes, bags, accessories and all that goes into elegant dressing.

How did she go from accounting to ‘selling clothes’ though she prefers fancy words such as fashion retail and online concession store? And why African fashion in particular?

Nike would readily tell you she has always loved the African brand of contemporary fashion, which encompasses rich fabrics, vibrant colours, exotic prints and original designs.

“I could go on and on and on. We all know that Africa is blessed with so much creativity, especially when it comes to fashion. In Nigeria, you only need to settle down a little to see ‘people watching’ when you are at social events, driving or being driven, which allows you more time to gawk or even at the office, to realise that we are a very style conscious set of people,” she explains.

Nike’s Exodus Stores is an online shop that features only African fashion brands. They stock clothes, accessories and footwear for women and men.

On the uniqueness of the brand, she says: “We have a passion for supporting Nigerian fashion designers with the retail and distribution aspect of the business. We offer worldwide delivery through established courier companies”.

Her interest in contemporary African fashion comes out as the best way to describe her own unique style, which involves the use of traditional African fabrics in a modern way. So it’s not only about Africa’s rich cultural heritage, but also about showcasing Africa’s rich vibrant colours. This makes for an interesting mix.

“There is a lot of emphasis on rich vibrant colours, which epitomises our culture and heritage,” she says.

The decision to use an online platform is informed by the desire to reach out big with Nigerian brands to the rest of the world.

“We are just over a year old and the response so far has been encouraging. To succeed with e-businesses, however, you need to ensure that your products are well displayed, your website is easy to navigate and is always captivating enough, to attract and hold customers’ interest,” she advises.

As part of her effort at customer satisfaction, the idea was developed to pop up store experience quarterly. This is aimed at giving customers the opportunity to interact with her office face-to-face, educate them and extend brand popularity. So, the event helps bring products closer to the customer by giving them physical shopping experience for one day. The clients are thus afforded the opportunity to ‘touch, feel and try on’ clothes of their choice with the option to buy immediately or later from the comfort of their homes or offices.

Nike graduated from the University of Lagos in 1984, and qualified as a chartered accountant in 1987. She has worked in the audit, accounting and finance industry for over 30 years. She was awarded the SWAN prize for the best female candidate in the Professional 11 examination. She is a Fellow of ICAN, and an Alumnus of the Advanced Management Programme of the Harvard Business School.

She joined Nigeria Merchant Bank in 1989 as an assistant manager in the foreign operations department, where she handled foreign bank reconciliations, domiciliary accounts, export documentation and the coded testing of inward and outward telexes.

She left the bank as a deputy manager in the accounts department to go into private practice. She later co-founded the Firm of Dalmeida Ogunlana & Co. in 1993.

She remained in private practice for the next five years, primarily providing part time accountancy services for small and medium sized clients in the financial services, manufacturing, oil and gas and professional services sectors of the economy. She also undertook several audit and tax advisory assignments during this period.

In 1987, she left private practice to work as financial controller at Asset & Resource Management Company Ltd (ARM), an investment management company. Here, her role was gradually expanded to head of operations, with supervisory and oversight responsibility for financial control & accounts, fund accounts, fund administration, human resources and administration, legal & compliance, information technology and ARM Trustees. She is currently the managing partner of Dalmeida Ogunlana & Co.

“However, I have always had a passion for retail fashion and I am grateful to God that I am now living that passion with Exodus Stores. In July 2014, I also co-founded the high street fashion brand – LA.X Nigeria with Tomi Rotimi of Xclamations. LA.X Nigeria currently has one physical store and is set to open at least two more stores in Lagos this year. The real satisfaction comes from the fact that it all started with a great idea and plenty of hard work. Today we’re proud to provide quality products direct to the client’s doorstep through an experience they enjoy,” she explains.

One of the things that have helped her distinguish herself and carve a niche for her business is her finance and operations background. Her expertise and experience has been very useful in ensuring that they put in place proper accounting and internal control structures right from the very beginning.

As far as she is concerned, there are three core principles that govern a successful sales strategy– product, price and place.

“We are passionate about ensuring that we only offer quality products at the best value and price in the most convenient place, which is online in the case of Exodus Stores,” she says.

And despite the fact that Internet business has come to stay, it is no great revelation that fraudulent and criminal activities have coloured the Internet. But Nike makes bold to say that theirs has been a different experience, as the testimonies and referrals have been very encouraging.

“Our products have been very well received and increasingly, testimonies abound to support this. And we have discovered that fashion savvy Nigerians are patronising Exodus Nigerian brands and the industry is experiencing a lot of recognition the world over,” she says.

Nigerians being a fashion conscious people love to mix colours, together with smart designs and use of rich fabric. Behind all these lovely outfits, however, are a bunch of very talented designers, tailors and dressmakers, with some of them achieving international acclaim. Such names as Deola Sagoe, Ituen Basi and Tiffany Amber, among others readily come to mind in this regard. Their designs have graced major runways in the fashion capitals of the world, including Paris, New York, Milan and London.

And although the majority of them are talented, they are still grappling with lack of finance, production issues, retail and distribution, poor infrastructure and lack of recognition. This is an industry where it is extremely difficult to regulate ‘intellectual property’. So, designs are freely copied and reproduced at a fraction of the cost of the original.

“In spite of all these issues, African Fashion today, is experiencing an exodus,” says Nike. “The world has embraced us and we are here to stay. Exodus Stores was set up in order to bring as many African designers as possible closer to the rest of the world via the Internet. LA.X Nigeria was set up as an indigenous high street store with quality, affordability and accessibility as its key principles.

“If you have a burning passion, it doesn’t matter how old you are, think about how you can turn it into a business. Pray, start small, take a leap and fly. Yes, you can!”

To her, life to her is a winning combination. Hence, she advises the youth to always have a plan and work hard at achieving their dreams because it is important for them to realise that they must start with the end in mind and not despise small beginnings. Today, too much emphasis is placed on instant riches to the detriment of tenacity in business and professional lives.

When not working, she likes to spend quality time with her family. She also enjoys reading, and travelling to new places or places of interest.

Her philosophy of life and work is, work and pray hard because tenacity is one of the essential keys to success. “We all need to go back to the basic principles of integrity, hard work and contentment,” she says. “This does not mean one should lack ambition. It just means that you should make the most of your current situation, learn all you can in that situation and constantly seek opportunities to improve your life. Above all, we must pray constantly”.

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