Ladybrille® Fashion Business With . . . Fashion Designer Hazel Aggrey-Orleans of Eki Orleans

“Ladybrille® Fashion Business With . . .” is a feature on Ladybrille® Magazine that is 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 ([email protected]), indicate the kind of fashion business you operate and what you intend to share with our audience that you feel will be beneficial to them.

Today’s spotlight is on UK-Nigerian designer Hazel Aggrey-Orleans who has been  featured extensively on Ladybrille over the years.

Hazel aggrey-orleans, the aspiring new designer behind eki orleans, prides herself on her elegant and intricate patterns. these reflect her colourful memories growing up as a child in the buzzing city of lagos, nigeria and her german roots.

the eki orleans philosophy is about fusing vibrant prints with the delicate texture of silk. the designer, hazel aggrey-orleans, whose inspiration is traditional west african patterns, creates her own interpretation of these cultural and intricate patterns. like many upcoming designers, she is self-taught. the concept of the line began with a collection of scarves that combined different fabrics from india and africa. after perfecting her technique of combining cultural prints, hazel ventured out into designing her own garments that embody the uniqueness of her concept and collection. this is what makes eki orleans truly distinctive.

“i naturally have a close bond to african culture and having travelled around the world, has led me to combine both my african roots with the rich cultural encounters i came across in my travels. this combination of both cultures has formed the basis of my collection. i am passionate about mixing and matching colours and i love nothing more than to make a stunning entrance. my collection accentuates the feminine, the brave and the sexy within all of us and it’s my mission to bring out the colourful goddess in every woman.” ~Hazel Aggrey-Orleans. (Hi Hazel!) Tell us, briefly, how and why you decided to strike out on your own as a fashion entrepreneur?
I decided to enter the world of fashion when I was pregnant with my first child and I knew that financial marketing was not what I wanted to continue to pursue forever. Being of mixed heritage and being able to combine this as well as my cultural experiences into art (really) appealed to me and so I decided to launch my line. It started off with scarves and then expanded into a textile brand designing my own collections. Describe the exact goods and services you provide?
We design dress collections, swimwear and scarves. We have recently launched our textiles by offering bespoke bridal prints and interiors (mainly cushions). With the later we are hoping to expand our fabrics into the interior world. All our fabrics are African inspired prints on silk and with our product expansion, we want to show everyone the versatility of our textiles. What is the core mission of your business?
Ideally to be known worldwide for our textiles. What clearly defined business goals do you have for your brand within the next two years?
Over the next two years, our goals are to continue to get our dress collections into more stores through tradeshows as well as strategic pr and marketing.

Africa is a big market for us and we want to have established ourselves in at least 3-4 countries as a trusted textile brand. Pushing our bespoke bridal prints into the African market is one of our strategies.

Having just showcased at one of the biggest interior tradeshows in NY, we got a lot of interest in our fabrics and we would like to penetrate this market by reaching out to interior designers and retail houses to use our fabrics. I would like to see our fabrics being used and recommended by interior designers and in hotels. (Such ambitious goals. Good for you.) For your products/services, what is the
distribution system you have in place to make sure customers get your products when and where they want it?
Our ready to wear dresses can be purchased at:

Eki Orleans –
Carnet de Mode (France)
Quintessentially Gifts CH (Switzerland)
Temple Muse (Nigeria)
Independent Boutique (UK)
Silk Fred (UK)
MsAfropolitan (UK)
Agnes and Lola (UK)
JJ Emporium (Italy)

All online orders are shipped out within a few days worldwide. (I like the quick turn around time on orders.) What has been your biggest business success to date?
I wouldn’t say there is one thing in particular which has been our biggest success. Instead I would say, the continued recognition in our brand and people reaching out and wanting us to participate in their events, shows us we must be doing something right and are growing as a brand. What has been your biggest business mistake so far?
I have made a lot of mistakes by attempting to do joint business ventures with people who were not creditable but I really do not dwell on this. I feel every step I have taken was for a purpose and I have learnt so much. If you do not take risks in life you won’t be able to grow your business and with some of these risks, comes bad decisions. Indeed. What specific lessons have you learnt from that mistake?
I am a lot more cautious when people approach me now with certain ideas or propositions. I feel more confident within my brand to ask questions. I am also not afraid to say “no” anymore, if I feel the proposition does not compliment the brand or if I feel someone is trying to rip me off. As a business, what is the customer experience you want each customer to take away every time they experience your fashion brand?
I will go out of my way to ensure each and every client feels special. I also do my utmost to ensure my brand is associated with being reliable, i.e we deliver our products, answer emails and deal with complaints in a timely manner. It is also very important to me that we are seen as being approachable and friendly and so everyone who is associated with this brand needs to follow these rules. What kind of challenges do you face when it comes to sourcing of materials for your fashion business?
As we print our own fabrics, we are in control of how much we print and so there is never the issue of running out of fabric. Our challenges are based around pricing and the ever increasing price of silk. (Printing your own fabrics is definitely a unique advantage).What do you believe are the key qualities of a brilliant (Ladybrille) entrepreneur?
You have to put 100% into your business 24/7. Learn from your mistakes. Listen to your clients. You have got to live and breathe what you do because if you don’t no one else will. And lastly, enjoy the ride. There will be ups and downs but life is all about a journey and so is your business. Can you share with our audience some few tips on financial management of a fashion business?
I have learnt the hard way but you have to be clever with production. When designing garments you need to ensure you can produce them in the most cost effective way. Adapt patterns in a clever way so you don’t have to create entirely new patterns for each collection. Make sure you have financial backing for at least 3 years because you will not necessarily sell in the first few years as buyers want to see a consistency of the brand. How have you been able to integrate new technologies into your business to make it successful?
I wouldn’t say I have integrated new technologies. Instead I just look for ways of cutting productions costs with every collection I produce. It doesn’t always work but the intention is there. Tell us the three ways you have used social media to increase and gain recognition for your brand?
Hazel: To update our clients with new products and new events.To share new videos and images. To let our clients be aware of any promotional offers. In your opinion, why do fashion businesses, especially African owned fashion businesses, fail?
Hazel: Production, unreliable and inconsistency of what the brand is about. What do you look for when you hire employees?
Hazel: I can’t wait to delegate work. I am a very hands on person but having looked after all areas of the business, such as marketing, pr, accounts etc for so many years I can’t wait to pass some of these tasks on to more capable hands. What drives you as a business owner?
Hazel: Seeing the brand grow and getting more stockists. What makes you get up to do what you do everyday instead of throwing in the towel and getting a 9-5?
Hazel: I love what I do. My problem is rather getting me away from my work.

-Courtesy Photo
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Ladybrille Magazine

Founded in 2007, Ladybrille® Magazine is a California based pioneer digital publication demystifying the image of Africans in the west through contemporary African fashion and celebrating the brilliant woman in business and leadership, with an emphasis on the African woman in the diaspora. Our coverage includes stories on capital, access to markets, expertise, hiring and retention, sales, marketing, and promotions.

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