Struggles of a startup: Carving a lucrative niche in a competitive fashion industry

Speak to a host of fashion brands operating from Nigeria’s fashion capital Lagos—even to high flyers like Deola Sagoe, Tiffany Amber or Jewel By Lisa—and they always leave you with these words: the fashion business is very competitive. Despite the trafficked road to entry, new comers are finding shortcuts by tapping into unexplored niches.

One of such is Hollerose, a Lagos-based fashion label founded by Ose Okpamen. Established in 2012 as premium Ready-to-Wear, Hollerose was quick to spot lucrative opportunities in the Bridal market and has since rebranded as a Bridal and Couture label. It has more than doubled its profit since doing so.

In this interview, Ose Okpamen takes us through her journey towards founding Hollerose and the reasoning behind the profitable rebrand.

The dream behind Hollerose Designs

The dream behind Hollerose designs is to be a globally recognized luxury fashion brand from Africa. It will always be a company based in Nigeria for as long as I can control that, because I believe in Nigeria and would very much like to prove that luxury can be created from start to finish in Nigeria and not just corruption or poverty.

Struggles of a startup

It has always been entrepreneurship

I have always known since I was 14 years old that I would be a fashion designer. I remember telling my cousin then, that I would be just like Dolce and Gabbana. However, being born to conventional parents who wanted me to go to school and get a job, I had to do it. I didn’t do it for very long though, the moment I got a job I knew it wasn’t for me but I cherished the experience, I met great people and learnt a lot that has helped me in my business.

Ensuring competitiveness in terms of sustaining a profitable niche

Being a profitable fashion company in Nigeria is tough especially when you are focusing on a particular aspect of fashion because the industry is still so organic and just trying to find its footing but doing bridal and couture creates a niche for me where I can thoroughly express myself.

I love working with my hands and being crafty so couture is right up my alley, from the fabric selection to the fit on the client, the design and construction, me and my team always want to achieve the best and keep pushing ourselves to do better and the clients react positively so that’s very encouraging.

We also try to keep our prices competitive as well, especially when compared to our counterparts in more developed markets. We focus on producing quality garments that can be compared with luxury garments anywhere in the world but at more affordable price points.

Struggles of a startup

Experience as an entrepreneur, particularly in a highly competitive city like Lagos

Hhmm… it’s a lot to summarize, but its been quite a journey. I came into the industry with very little experience and immediately started out doing ready-to-wear but I didn’t quite connect to it even though stuff I made then people still wear. I took some time out to study and figure out what I wanted to do and then I made my friend’s wedding dress in 2013, I really enjoyed the process and here I am today.

When it comes the lows I would say electricity; especially when it gets really bad, it really eats into your profit. That’s why I actively campaign on social media for the Nigerian government to invest in alternative sources of energy especially in renewable energy such as solar.

Lack of support from local consumers; the Nigerian client is very brand conscious and that affects a lot their price resistance to local businesses. It’s usually difficult but I had to learn that branding for any business in Nigeria is key and also to understand that not everybody is my client and turn down clients who won’t pay the right price for the service rendered.

Inefficiencies with the postal system- because of our bridal line we have to import a lot of stuff, down to the zipper sometimes and we also deliver products abroad as well and the process can be daunting using the government postal system; there are delays and no fixed delivery charges to foreign destinations etc.

Struggles of a startup

Opportunity to start over

If I had the opportunity to start over, I would definitely not spend as much money as I did at the beginning trying to brand the product. I would focus all my money on developing an excellent product, selling to a smaller group of people and getting important feedback before marketing my company.

Most common challenges faced by budding entrepreneurs

Those challenges are there and very real; lack of proper financing, ridiculous loan interest rates, cost of running a business (electricity, excellent staff on a startup budget etc). However, the most challenging thing for me is consumer support.

I believe this is the reason businesses aren’t able to grow from small scale businesses to medium or large. Small businesses have little or no access to funding, have to deal with high costs of production due to lack of electricity, higher cost of labour (at least compared with the Asian labour market) etc and then be met with stiff consumer price resistance, it’s a very tough business environment for a startup. These same consumers however, are willing to cough up good money for a stronger brand. So I think building a brand is the most important part of a business in Nigeria, if you get the funding required for it.

Character traits needed to become a successful entrepreneur

Tenacity- you should never give up, believe me there are so many challenges that will pop up that’ll make your business plan look like a joke, but you can’t give up.

Strong imagination- sounds weird but it’s true, you need to be able to constantly visualize your end goal, it is what will keep you through the tough times.

Creativity- every entrepreneur needs this trait even if you are not in the creative industry; you need to be creative to manage cost, improve business processes etc.

Integrity- I think this is the most important. I truly believe no business can dream of longevity without integrity. Always do what you say you would do, how you said you would do it and when you said you would do it. It is absolutely important.

Prayer- there are people out there who don’t think this is necessary and I applaud their strength because I will never be able to do half the things I do if I didn’t know how to pray. In the first place I have a laid back, quiet personality (though I have learnt to toughen up a bit) and that generally is not good for business but somehow I manage and I believe it’s because I get a lot of my confidence when I pray about issues.

The future of Hollerose Designs

I get very excited when asked where I want to see Hollerose Designs in future because our vision is  to be a global luxury fashion brand from Africa. Therefore, in the nearest future I hope Hollerose is a household name in Nigeria and already strategically, targeting other markets in the world such as the larger Africa, Europe, America etc. I do believe we have a unique voice in fashion and have a lot to offer the world and hopefully the world sees that too.

 

Quick Fire Questions

Favorite business brand?

Ellie Saab

Favorite business leader?

Sir Richard Branson

Most Inspiring Quote?

Stay gracious, your best revenge is your paper” – Beyonce

Most admired Nigerian Entrepreneur?

Aliko Dangote

Top Travel Destination?

Venice, Monaco, Europe essentially….