The “Ladybrille® Fashion Business With . . .” is a feature on Ladybrille® focused on entrepreneurs in Africa’s fashion industry, with a heavy emphasis on fashion designers. This feature highlights business principles, business practices, follows the money, discusses the challenges faced by fashion startups as well as offers pragmatic tips that should help stir the Ladybrille fashion entrepreneur towards success. If you would like to be featured, send an email to our editor at (firstname.lastname@example.org).
For today’s feature, Ladybrille caught up with trailblazer and leading fashion entrepreneur Dolapo Shobanjo. Enjoy.
About Dolapo Shobanjo
The African-inspired online platform, which aims to make “local fashion global” was launched while Dolapo was studying for a PhD in Engineering.
Between lectures and labs, she would dash to the Post Office to dispatch orders to customers in over 40 countries. This continued even when she started working for a petroleum company upon graduation.
Juggling a promising future in oil and gas, with a burgeoning online business eventually became impractical. A crossroad was reached when Dolapo was offered an exciting internal promotion just as My Asho sales and customer demands were at their peak.
Dolapo (DS) rejected the offer and resigned in June 2013 to pursue My Asho full-time, revamping and relaunching 2 new websites MyAsho.Com and MyAshoMarket.Com. The new sites segment the diverse customer base into higher end, sophisticated luxury shoppers and those interested in fun, unique and affordable fast fashion items.
My Asho Mission Statement
Local Fashion Made Global
My Asho’s aim is to continue to provide ease of access to otherwise hard-to-reach products, collaborate with talented designers from all over the world, give all visitors to our site a chance to learn more about our products and ethical sourcing policies (be it via our blogs, designer stories or product stories), and most importantly, provide excellent shopping and customer service to all our customers.
LADYBRILLE: Tell us, briefly, how and why you decided to strike out on your own as a fashion entrepreneur?
DS: The idea behind My Asho came about after years of my being approached in the street and asked where I bought my clothes – even in school, my teachers would ask me about my clothes. My aunty worked in a market in Lagos so she was always able to source amazing fabric, which her tailors would sew into fabulous pieces for me. My mum’s friends would buy Tiffany Amber pieces, and people would always comment positively and ask where they got it from. After a while, it became very apparent – no one was connecting these beautiful pieces with the rest of the world, so I (reluctantly) took up the challenge. I didn’t want to kick myself later for thinking about it and not doing it.
LADYBRILLE: How have you engaged your online and offline marketing and promotions to increase your brand’s visibility?
DS: To date, we’ve relied mostly on word of mouth and social media – Facebook and Twitter in particular. We’re just getting into Instagram. Social media provides a great way to engage directly with customers, find out what they want and this in turn improves our delivery to them.
We offer regular discounts and promotions to encourage people to purchase from our Site – again via social media or by encouraging our regular customers to share their experiences with friends or via our twitter page. Our “sharingiscaring” promo is one that works really well also. It gives all first time shoppers 10% off when they shop on My Asho Market.
Marketing, for us, also comes in the form of customer service. If we deliver a great product, the customer is more likely to speak positively of their experience and tell others to visit our Site. So we pay close attention to our customer service.
The combination of these different things has helped us establish strong visibility in the market and good solid organic growth and SEO ranking.
LADYBRILLE: What financial and legal (vendor and service contracts, trademarks etc.) infrastructure do you have in place to protect your brand and ensure its profitability and longevity?
DS: Exclusivity of product is very important to us, so when approaching our designers we ask them to sign contracts granting us exclusivity of products that we stock.
With our recent restructuring, we now hold stock – which we pay for. It’s a big risk, but we are 100% focused on customer service, so we don’t want customers ordering products that they then have to wait for. If you like it, buy it, it’s shipped immediately and you get it within 1-4 days wherever you are in the world. We have a contract with UPS, so we ship everything via courier and the customer is able to track their items in real time – it gives one peace of mind. You also don’t get those nasty letters telling you customs won’t release your items until you pay, as all delivery duty is paid for beforehand.
LADYBRILLE: What kinds of brand partnerships and collaborations do you believe is essential for a fashion brand like yours to be successful?
DS: Collaboration is key. At My Asho Market, we work closely with all our designers and they create special pieces that are exclusive to us. So for example, Toju Foyeh pieces have “Toju Foyeh for My Asho Market” labels on them.
To other fashion brands, I would say it’s very important to work with the designers. Firstly because they will create for you truly unique pieces that your customers will appreciate, and also because it’s an interesting process for the designers themselves. This AW13 season, we’ve sourced our fabrics directly from fabric manufacturers across West Africa e.g. Printex in Ghana, and we’ve given the same fabric print to different designers to create pieces with. It’s very interesting how they see different styles and create completely different pieces with the fabric. It’s like a Project Runway challenge!
Collaborating with indigenous fabric manufacturers was also something we were able to do this season. We made a mission of trying to locate a few (unfortunately there is a real issue with the state of the textiles industry across Africa). It was important for us to show our support to existing producers, and raise awareness as best as we could.
In the future, we’d love to collaborate with artists, textile designers, new and emerging designers, students from the technology schools. We’re very open. Interested people should reach out.
LADYBRILLE: What do you believe are the key qualities of a successful fashion entrepreneur?
DS: I am by no means speaking as an authority, but what I have learned is that as long as you understand the business side of the industry and are not solely focused on the glamorous aspects, you will have a chance of making it.
It’s not all about events, fashion shows, celebrities and all that. There’s folding and steaming clothes, doing inventory, doing your accounts, dealing with frustrated customers, designers sending products late – or damaged, or in a different print/colour than you ordered, being disappointed by your couriers, marketing! There’s a lot of day to day drudgery that you have to get through and if you love that side of it and remain dedicated, then you’ll be ok. It’s also important to have a great team to work with – people who can balance your skill set – I’m very scientific in my approach to things, so I have to have people around me who are more open and creative, the fashionistas who can advise on trends, what we should stock etc. The IT whizz to handle the “shop” and come up with great graphics and images, the networker who knows everyone, so people can actually hear about your brand. I don’t know that one person would have all these qualities. For us, it’s worked because of our team.
LADBRILLE: What advice do you have for fellow fashion entrepreneurs in building a successful fashion brand?
DS: Keep your focus on the customer – who are you designing for/selling to? What can they afford? Where are they? Focus all activities to help you answer those questions.
Don’t get excited about Beyoncé wearing your dress if a) you don’t have the dress in stock b) the people who care can’t afford it and c) you’re going to deliver it to customer 1 day after she expects it. That’s a fail (in my very humble opinion).