Describing himself as a fashion entrepreneur, Adewale Adesina’s “romance” with clothes, measuring tapes, threads, and all similar clothing accoutrements can best be hinged on this cliché – necessity is the mother of invention.
“I had issues with clothes in school, such that even when I buy 14-and-a-half neck shirts, it turns out the sleeves are usually not long enough for me,” he says. “So I just thought to myself, you know what I can just make my own clothes.”
That was the beginning of a career path in sharp contrast to his undergraduate course at the university, where as a student, he used to be in the company of microscopes, petri dishes, pipettes and the like.
It was a desire he pursued, availing himself of the 2005 industrial strike action embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, to get himself acquainted with the work flow of making clothes. He admits that only two weeks into his training, he actually called it quit, but “I actually developed interest in fashion designing, and I sustained the interest.”
He says, “So when school resumed after the strike, I came up with a logo that I wanted to use as my fashion label, but I just had it there – just on standby.”
While many students spend such strike periods in idleness, he saw it as a window of opportunity to acquire new skills.
He says, “When I finished secondary school, instead of idling away at home while waiting for admission, I learnt computer graphics; it comes in handy now, because I use graphic software for my fashion designs.
“In my final year in school, many classes came to me to help make clothes for them, and thankfully, it all turned out well; so I think that really helped me.”
Adesina believes that being inquisitive and eager to learn new skills are major ingredients of being successful in whatever one does, especially being an entrepreneur.
But, was it then worth the while going to read Microbiology at the university, when at the end of the day it wouldn’t be practised?
He says, “Going to the university wasn’t a waste. I believe there’s nothing you do that is a waste, and my philosophy is that every single thing you do, every single thing that happens to you can actually be used in a positive way.”
Adesina initially planned to study Medicine at the university, but a twist of sorts, saw him settling for Microbiology. As a result of the ASUU strike, the university administration had decided to merge two sessions together to make up for the lost period. Invariably, there was a backlog of students who met the cut-off point for Medicine. So, the university authorities offered them the choice of taking up Microbiology or any of the sciences, with the chance of crossing to Medicine after the first session, provided the student had a cumulative grade point average of 3.5 out of 5.0.
“We were more than 200 in the class and it was just too much motivation for everyone,” he says. “We had about 150 students who made 3.5 and above, I was on 4.33 then, but suddenly the authorities pegged the crossing over CGPA to 4.0, which I still met, but in the long run, the authorities declined to allow anyone from my class to cross.”
For many of his colleagues, it was a bitter pill to swallow. “A lot of us felt bad, but I just told God, what’s best for me, you can weave it anyhow and I’ll still get to the top,” he says.
Like Mark Zuckerberg, founder of the social network, Facebook, many young entrepreneurs start out from school nursing their ideas. Adesina seems to be no different.
Though he had the opportunity of working with a bank after his youth service, he chose to follow his passion and vision in the fashion industry. “After finishing my national youth service, which I had with the Marina branch of First Bank of Nigeria, I had the opportunity of being retained, I also had training with another bank; but I just told myself I’ll take up what I’ve already started, and I can say so far, so good,” he says.
Since then, there’s been no going back. In 2010, he was selected to benefit from a training programme at the Lagos Business School under a scholarship programme tagged, Budding Entrepreneurs Today, sponsored by Diamond Bank. “I was surprised to be among the 50 selected out of about 1,000 applicants, I learnt a lot and it was a great boost for me,” he says.
But is he any different from the tailor out there who is equally skilled in the use of sewing tools? He believes yes. “Some people just sew, but some do more than that, they think and conceptualise; it’s the aspect of conceptualisng, branding and executing the concept that makes you the fashion entrepreneur or designer,” he says. “But even at that, the network of highly placed people also makes the difference; most popular fashion designers high up there both in Nigeria and abroad, it’s the level of their network that enables them to be at that top level.
“Craftsmen usually stop at skill acquisition, they usually lack the business attitude and work ethics, what drives them is different, and what they actually want to do with their business is also very different, all they do is just to sew for survival; A fashion entrepreneur on the other hand not only has skills, but takes branding seriously while being exposed to a whole lot of information and people.”
Ralph Lauren, the American fashion designer and business executive, best known for his Polo clothing brand, inspires Adesina. He’s mostly fascinated by fact that the designer widens his scope to include home and bedding collections. “For me, excellence matters in business, and diligence comes in more as an attitude to achieving excellence; one must ensure that one’s brand stays in the minds of people, by ensuring that you continue to put something new out there,” he says.