A fashion export consultant, public speaker and personal transformation coach, Olori Boye-Ajayi is the Co-founder of the Ark Coaching Company, which aims at making ‘made-in-Africa’ renowned by connecting local designers to the global market. She is also the founder of the ROC Girls Club and the Unplugged Network, which hosts the Secret Garden Retreats for Women. She also hosts the Be More with Olori podcast and the Olori Ajayi YouTube Channel, where she engages her audience about discovering, exploring and growing in faith, business, career and relationships. She’s currently pioneering West Africa’s first Industrial Garment Manufacturing Park, as well as the first Fashion Truck in the sub-region, Fashion On Wheels. In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, she talks about her upcoming Pan-African Virtual Fix-It conference and how Africa’s fashion can penetrate global retail chains.
You started your business with just $89, which has today grown into a multi-million Naira business today, how did you pull that off?
Let me start by saying $89 then was a little less than N30, 000. The things I did can be done by anyone in business, who educates herself on how to multiply money; owning a business and knowing how to multiply money are two different things. I find that most entrepreneurs I speak to are not taught how to do both. When you come out of school and want to successfully run a business, you must go back and school yourself on the basics of money; its management and how to multiply it. I took myself through structured programmes and reading routines on money mastery and multiplication; what you don’t master, you become a servant to. After that, I started to put into practice the principles I learned, the principle of desire, persistence, imagination, knowing when and what to invest, extraordinary generosity and so many more. I wasn’t surprised when the money started to grow; some things are unseen, but present even in business.
As a global fashion expert operating in four continents, how would you describe the African fashion industry?
In my opinion, I believe Africa’s rising fashion industry is ripe for greater penetration into global retail chains, not just as souvenir fashion or niche market; we’re ready for fast fashion. Our creative industries offer massive potential for continent-wide job and GDP growth and in recent years, no other sector has done this after the agric sector. In some African countries, the private sector has shown avid interest by investing heavily via banks and other trust funds to offer funding to the SMEs operating in that space. This is good news, but we’re still lacking key structural transformation that brings about industrialisation. Presently, Africa currently accounts for just 1.9 percent of global manufacturing; that figure can be improved if we have the infrastructure to compete in manufacturing globally. Though, I’m looking at things differently post-COVID-19 and maybe encourage more intra-trade. Whatever the case, there’s an urgent need for Africa to rapidly industrialise and add value to everything that it produces. For example, instead of exporting raw cotton, we need to position for the top of the global value chain and produce apparel targeted at the growing African and global consumer class.
It’s no secret that this industry has been heavily hit by this pandemic, how can it rebound?
Every industry has been hit heavily by this pandemic, some more than others. I would like to answer this question with a question. For those in the fashion industry or manufacturing space, whether big or small, you will have to ask yourself a series of hard questions: What does the market need at this time, list them (domestic and international markets)? Can I supply what the market needs now? If not, how do I upgrade my current business operations to do so? Can I collaborate with other businesses in my space to deliver large supplies of what countries, communities are running short of and manufacture it so my factory is not idle? How do I tap into my creative juices to deliver a futurist approach in creating my designs now that facemask is a fashion accessory? Many celebrity fashion designers have got attention from international headlines like the Washington post for re-thinking and claiming that protective gear could have some glamour. Where else in the global marketplace can my current product offering thrive? Think digital, think e-commerce; think your own online marketplace/store. Where are those, who are still having reasonably high spending power? Will my product meet their needs?