“Ladybrille’s Fashion Business With . . .” is a new feature that is focused on entrepreneurs in Africa’s fashion industry, with a heavy emphasis on fashion designers. There is simply too much empty hypes, overwhelming and redundant fashion weeks with such overlaps of collections shown; and a BIG need to edit out the noise so the industry can focus on building a proper business foundation for African fashion and African fashion designers to thrive and increase their bottom line. 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.
TINU, a fashion retailer, entrepreneur, author, publisher and Ladybrille Woman alumni kicks off our first feature.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Hi Tinu, thanks for kicking off our “Ladybrille’s Fashion Business With . . .” series. We know you are involved in quite a number of fashion business ventures. But for our purposes, can we discuss your recent launch of your Shoeholic book and website; which our audience is probably more aware of?
TINU: Thanks for having me yet again Ladybrille. It is always a pleasure. The release of “The Shoeholic” book and launch of the social network website ShoeholicsClub.com have both been a blessing and a dream come true. Both happened by chance and spun from my hobbies. I guess I can hardly call them hobbies now that it’s a full fledge business thanks to my fans on facebook.com/shoeholics. They asked for it and so I hit the ground running to give them what they want.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Let’s talk a bit more about that. Specifically, I want to get into your Shoeholic e-commerce website, book and other upcoming projects you have lined up. Why go that route?
Tinu: [I] received many emails from fans when (my Shoeholic music video went viral (over 1million hits now) in October of 2009) on You Tube, after airing on music TV channels worldwide. After replying to several emails to the age old question “how many pairs do you have?” and “are those really your shoes in the video?” it got tedious to write the same answers over and over again to many emails.
My agent (suggested I) pen a book and disclose as much as possible about the details of my shoe collection and how it all got started. (I did). While at it, I decided to go a step further and do a “tell-all” on the habits of some of my close friends. This way I don’t come out looking crazy with the way I care for my shoes. Now the world can know that I am not unusual and not alone in the crazy world of shoe maniac. The Facebook page gave birth to the social network site. It’s not so much an e-commerce but more like a home for shoe admirers and collectors to mingle and communicate in languages they all understand –the art of loving shoes! Furthermore, the lack of a fashion magazine focusing on our admiration for the art was lacking in the marketplace.
There are magazines for just about every fetish in the world but none really existed for true, die-hard shoe addicts or collectors from a consumer point of view. So who better to do this than us? Shoeholics magazine (print) will be available on newsstands and bookstores by January 17th, 2012. Subscriptions are also available for worldwide delivery. We now have readers from Russia, Australia, South America, Japan, to name a few. The e-commerce side of the site will evolve by February 2012.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Good to see how you converted your ideas into an existing business. Some of our readers are reading this right now and are on the verge of starting their own businesses. Some might even have a hard time sleeping as they try to come up with ideas but have no clue where to start. What is the first step you advice they take in trying to start their own fashion businesses?
TINU:Bite the bullet and just go for it! You will ponder and worry a lot asking yourself if this is the right thing to do. You will never know unless you do it. The last thing you need is for you to get to a certain age like 90years and start regretting not starting your dream because you were “afraid” of being broke or bankrupt. Hey! It’s only money! What’s the worst that could really happen? You lose it all and you can start over. Nothing is certain, life is a gamble! I believe in doing something at least once. I don’t want to live with any regrets of not trying or wishing I had given it a shot. Not my style. When I do something, I give it my all and move on.
Speaking of moving on, the music industry for instance has been good to me. It created a platform for me to now have the vision to start this whole Shoeholic madness. Prior to that, no one even thought about creating anything like it. All you heard about was “Shopaholic” and a movie was even made about it. No one dared to expose the real stories that go on in a real shoe addict’s life. Perhaps too risque to (publish). I put my neck on the line by telling it all in “The Shoeholic” book and now embarking on creating a movement about it through ShoeholicsClub.com. Being a shoeholic is a lot safer than being an alcoholic. That is money well spent, nobody’s else health is at risk!
LADYBRILLEmagc.com: (Laughs) (That is debatable). Let me take you a different direction. One of the biggest issues for many fashion entrepreneurs, especially African fashion entrepreneurs, is capital. For these hopeful entrepreneurs, where is the first place they should look to find money to fund their businesses?
TINU:Capital is in your bank account! I didn’t start off with millions of dollars either. Compared to a lot of people, I am what you might call an extreme risk taker. I gamble with my own money a lot by trying out many business ventures. If I have to wait and cry for loans I will be waiting forever, writing business proposals and packages, knocking on people’s doors presenting my “case.” Time waits for no man. Gather up all of your pennies and start gradually. Whatever profits you have coming in, put it back into the business! For instance, all of my profits from my book is going back into marketing the Shoeholics magazine and doing store promotions to push the brand. I am in no way shape or form running out to buy a fancy car…well, besides shoes of course. Gotta have shoes! A girl can’t “live by bread alone” if you know what I mean. I think you get the general idea to recycle the money!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Yes. I’d also add that family and friends are a good place to begin when dealing with where to get funding. Another big challenge and very prevalent complaint among entrepreneurs is finding and retaining quality talent/employees. What are tips you can share on hiring and retaining employees?
TINU:(You have) to treat others the way you want to be treated! When you manage to get your hands on a very supportive team, cherish them. Don’t hide anything from them. Let them get a feel and share of the profit when you start to make some. When you are broke, let them know that as well. The good ones will work with you if they believe in your vision and project. They will be willing to invest the time and effort to bring your dream to life. Reward them handsomely when the time comes, treat them to nice outings, meals, novelty gifts etc. This way they know of your intentions and how well you think of them. Share ideas with them so they too can see where you are going with this. A good team is hard to come by, when you do manage to gather one together, treat them like they are your family. I, for one, never call my team “employees.” They are my friends and are treated as such. We always have fun while at work. It is a very good feeling to wake up each day to communicate with them on ideas I might have dreamt about doing and want to implement. It’s like “ladies lunch chat”
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Let’s shift to marketing and selling your business (both its services and/or goods). You are one business woman that I believe understands the importance of marketing and promotions, especially online marketing. Share with our audience a few tips on how to promote their businesses online?
TINU: First and foremost you need a laptop “on the ready.” No matter which country you find yourself, always be connected online. Your laptop is your best friend like a quotron screen is to a stock broker. Approach social network sites from a business point of view and never as a personal page to flaunt your family pictures. No one is interested in that, frankly. You must have a presence on just about every social media site. For instance I just updated Youtube.com/shoeholics for our video blogging coming soon. We just started promoting that page to get people to start subscribing to our channel.
I have had the page for a while but didn’t have any reason to promote it until recently. So I updated it and now posting videos relating to Shoeholics projects, including behind the scenes video shoots of our magazine photoshoot. Use every opportunity and angles you can. (Regarding) Facebook, always keep your status fresh and relevant. Respond to posting by fans and do not hesitate to weed out spammers or you risk losing control of your page and its mission. Keep it clutter free!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: How about offline? I feel many people forget that you still need to promote offline, especially with the overwhelming social media craze.
TINU: In our case we just signed up to launch Shoeholics magazine in just about every Barnes & Nobles bookstores coupled with in-store promotions. It’s expensive but it helps to have the magazine upfront rather than buried in the back of the rack. Why launch a magazine and people can’t find it in a store? An entrepreneur should always have a business card “on the ready” to hand out like hot cakes when in a setting to do so. If you find yourself carrying a tiny clutch to a party and can only fit in your cell phone and compact makeup, leave the makeup and take the business cards. You can always blot your face with paper towels at the party. Vanity can wait, business is priority. You’ve got bills to pay!
You just never know who might be out there or well connected to benefit your business. Don’t be afraid to plug your business during a conversation. Every opportunity counts! Charity event participation is also a very good angle. Donate goods to be auctioned off, sponsor events etc. (The goal is to get your brand out there and it is even better when align with activities that are beneficial to your local community).
LADYBRILLEmag.com: As you already know, one of the key things any fashion business must be able to articulate, with clarity, is its core missions and goals? How do Ladybrille entrepreneurs determine these?
TINU: You can not be shy if you intend to be a successful entrepreneur. One must be heard loud and clear to be understood but then again when I get excited about something I am a total clutter! (Laughs)
Ladybrillemag.com: What about core value systems of a company? How is that determination made?
TINU: It is crucial to know your own worth. You are valued by how you perceive your own worth. I think this is a straightforward thing. If you handle your own business like it’s worth only $2, then that is how people will treat you. You are the first line of microphone for your company. If you are not able to portray and sing high praises of your own hard work then it’s time to close shop!
Ladybrillemag.com: In your opinion, why do fashion businesses, especially African fashion businesses, fail?
TINU: PRIDE! It’s almost like a disease, the almighty African Pride! Some of us just have too much pride to beg or to be seen in less glamorous settings. We all want the overnight success but don’t want to work hard for it. I don’t always step out in designers and shop all day. I wish! Most of the time, I have my sleeves rolled up and I am schlepping heavy boxes in the office, moving stuff around and creating new projects with my team. My nails get broken all the time! If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. No one is going to see your “baby” in a better light and successful more than you do. A true entrepreneur should not hesitate to get down and dirty -literally!
Ladybrillemag.com: As an entrepreneur, what are some mistakes you have made and what did you do to resolve those mistakes to attain success?
TINU: Hmm.. . I don’t know if to call any of them “mistakes” as they have all led me to where I am today. Modeling –>designing –>music –>social network (shoeholics) –>sport –> publishing and more that I can not discuss yet. One should never see any phase in their lives as a mistake. Many of these steps create the experiences needed to fund or birth another project. I don’t think I would have known anything about the publishing world had I not printed Pole Spin magazine for pole sport industry. That magazine became the first and still the only magazine for that industry on newsstands and bookstores today. The stores reached out to me asking to retail the publication, if it had been the other way around, it would have been close to impossible. That created a great platform for yet another first, a fashion magazine for shoe lovers –Shoeholics Magazine and The Shoeholic book!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Interesting. A couple more questions for you. As an entrepreneur, at what point do you determine and make a decision to expand your business?
TINU: It’s like snowball effect. I never had it in my head to create a facebook page for shoeholics when my music first came out in the fall of 2009. I didn’t plan on writing a book when the page was finally created in the late spring of 2010, nor did I plan on starting a social network site ShoeholicsClub.com and Shoeholics magazine just before my book published. One thing simply led to another. The demand created the supply and I was in a position to act swiftly and present the full package. On that note, when the iron is hot, do not hesitate to strike and move very fast or else someone else will beat you to it! When you think of an idea and see the opportunity, run don’t walk!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What do you believe are the key qualities a brilliant (Ladybrille) entrepreneur possesses?
TINU: Having resilience, perseverance and a VERY thick skin to take rejection and criticism. Nothing should be personal in business. When a door closes, another one is bound to open very soon. One should learn how to cultivate the art of being a very good risk taker, be a good leader, and a good listener.
Ladybrillemag.com: Indeed. Can you share with our audience some few tips on financial management of their businesses? I always believe you start small, for starters. What are some of your thoughts?
TINU: Yes, start small but I don’t know if I would be the best person to give advice on this matter since I tend to bite hard when I see an opportunity. I am more of a great risk taker compared to many people that I know. I believe in recycling the wealth and not to rest on my laurels. Let the financial management start in your home, look into what you have before you exhaust yourself boring from banks. In my case, my only vice is buying hot shoes which at some point ends up as a business use for Shoeholics magazine, all else waits till I have the money to splurge and that is after whatever project I am working on is up and running and making profit.
Gone are the days when I used to have 12 credit cards to get things going. Yes, that is true. I basically created my own “bank” with my credit cards but was extremely careful not to miss a single payment or I lose the beautiful low interest rates I was awarded due to my excellent credit ratings. Now I have no need for the cards since business is now paying for itself. It’s a good place to be. I use only one card per business account now. If I don’t have the money, the card never rears it’s head out of my bag. I cut my coat according to my size now. What a relief! More about some of my credit card habits is detailed in my new book, The Shoeholic which is available on TheShoeholic.com. Live and learn!
Ladybrillemag.com: Thank you Ms. Tinu! I look forward to reading your book and sharing it with our audience.
TINU: Thanks for the opportunity. I hope many budding entrepreneurs are able to find some of my answers useful. At the end of the day we are all still learning from each other. One can never be to well versed in anything in life. Thanks again.
-Photocredit: Yann Feron
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.