Struggles of a startup: Styling the new Nigeria

Think back to a decade ago and the business of fashion styling seemed largely foreign to most Nigerians. But things change pretty quickly.

As the local entertainment industry continues on its aggressive development path and the spotlight beams heavily on the expanding pool of famed entertainers, there is a growing demand for professionalism in the areas of fashion styling and image building. This has birthed a new industry and providing young, fashion savvy entrepreneurs a lucrative new venture.

Alero Arafiena, the Creative Director of image consulting firm Eclectic Styling Agency, says the industry is not limited to the entertainment world, as the idea of styling is no longer reserved for those with fame and fortune. Everyone who enjoys looking and feeling good is seeking some form of professional service: They want to know who clothes fit best? What colors can be combined? She confirms. In this interview, Alero takes us on a tour of her journey to entrepreneurship, and leaves us with some life lessons she has picked on the way.

Eclectic Styling Agency
Eclectic styling agency is an Image Consultancy Firm, run by the creative director, Alero Arafiena, which was birthed in 2014, out of my passion and inspiration for fashion and style, and the human body. Under E.S.A, there’s the lifestyle blog; the style hive (www.eclecticstyle.me), the shoe line and fabrics by esa (the latter two which are works in progress). In two brief years, the agency has worked with Damilola Orimogunje of R2tv, Oge Agu of kamdora.com, Elan Red Store and a host of others.

The business of styling people
Passion and happiness! As cliché as it may sound, my passion for fashion is innate. I have a natural flair for experimenting or exploring with pieces as the human body inspires me. There’s the desire to find the perfect fit for every “body type”, and because I also aspire to be happy, it is only understandably right that I choose styling. Before deciding to stick to this path, I enjoyed advising family and friends on what to wear when asked, or would have an unusual “stand out” idea on pairing different things together, or pair thought-out things together. And thankfully, this got noticed. Which leads me to adding that being around people who helped me realize or notice the personal flair I had for styling, was an exceptional bonus to attracting me to the business of styling.

styling

That I could make a career out of something I was personally passionate about was and is exciting. As a matter of fact, the light bulb moment for my company’s name came from my mum’s comment on my “personal style”, as she one day just said “your sense of style is Eclectic”. I googled the word “Eclectic” and fell in love instantly with the meaning, as the entirety of the word stands for everything I believe in style wise. This eventually pushed me to further hone my skills, by taking a short course in styling at the London college of Fashion in 2014; which I still plan on furthering. In essence, I am thankful to my mum and then a friend of mine (Kemi Oke), who helped point me towards this direction.

Achievements since official launch

Well, without meaning to sound self-righteous and all, all of the styling jobs that each of my clients have wholeheartedly trusted my judgement in, have been an achievement. Major one so far has been for “Elan Red Store’.

Why styling has become a very popular business in Nigeria

Well, I’d personally most likely substitute “popular” for “saturated”, as I’m not quite sure fashion styling is rightfully popular as I’d love for it to be. Even though there are actually a lot of amazing fashion stylists who know their onions, there are still a lot of people (using the word “a lot of’ loosely) who don’t understand or think there’s the need for an image consultant, as long as they can pair a top and a skirt and so on together. But then, styling is beyond that, as the stylist is also more or less the middle man between the client and the fashion designer or the fashion house. I’d like to believe the stylist is as important as proper marketing is, as the core of a business. I also personally think there’s a lot of misinformation about who a fashion stylist or an image consultant is. Most times I get responses like “oh you mean a hair stylist, or “oh you mean a fashion designer”? ….. And if they do understand the need for a stylist, they almost cannot tell the difference between “needing” and “wanting” a stylist. But nonetheless, I’d say it’s a growing sector and hopefully, more people are going to realise and/or realizing the need to define their personal brands.

Lucrative niche worth exploring

When I first started, I wasn’t understandably particular about styling a particular “market”. I thought of styling literally everyone; basically because the typical advice or mindset a business man or woman is “supposed” to have, is to say “yes” to every job that comes his/her way, which sort of makes it a little challenging to stick to/with a particular niche. But at the moment, I’m shifting towards styling women, female celebrities and individuals who “need” an image consultant. I might still dabble in other niches though, till I totally find my niche! I am also hoping to explore the fabrics business and starting a shoe line soonest, as they are areas I believe I am also passionate about. It is also a way to help commercialise my styling passion, as one cannot fully rely on styling alone in Nigeria.

Styling market in Nigeria poised for growth

All things being equal, as long as we find a way to carve niches for ourselves in the fashion industry. From personal opinion/observation, or perhaps my mindset at the moment, oftentimes, upcoming fashion stylists are to be very honest, really underappreciated. As an upcoming stylist, one might not get the deserved credit from internships done, or get proper mentorship. I’d blame this on the lack of professionalism. The fashion styling industry isn’t as professional as should be, and so when your internship is over for instance, you sort of go right back to square one, unless you are lucky enough to always have been socially recognized by your boss in terms of credit and properly mentored. This poses as one of the many challenges the fashion stylist in Nigeria faces.

styling

There are a lot of challenges and a few additional ones being that; as with literally every other career, “everyone is a stylist”. So having to carve a niche for yourself can take a much longer time than you’ve imagined. This I believe, can also come from the social stratification factor. The fashion industry is more or less one big social clique that can be biased towards  “who or what you are” socially and financially, and this can eventually make the average upcoming fashion stylist opt for social-climbing or eye service, which in turn might make him/her lose focus on brand development. Also in terms of finance and investment, fashion styling, like most other businesses, requires a whole lot of finance and investment. So as long as most, if not all of the challenges are worked on, the styling industry should definitely grow tremendously well.

Is entrepreneurship the best way forward?

I can’t exactly say it’d be the best way forward, but I’d say it’d be an effective way forward or something to totally fall back on, if every other thing doesn’t go as planned, as long as it involves passion.

What it takes to be successful

Passion, determination, consistency, open-mindedness. I’d also say hard work, but then I don’t particularly think passion feels like hard work, as long as you enjoy it. Depends on the angle hard work is seen from though.

Eclectic Styling Agency in 5 years
E.S.A will be one of the best professional go-to agencies for styling and personal style branding with a “difference”. The company would have had its fabrics and shoe line in motion, and the blog would become a household brand name for lifestyle, with credible writers.

The styling industry on the other hand would hopefully be well-known in five years, with more credible stylists, and more available platforms and stockists for stylists to “pull from”.

QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS

Favourite Business Brand?
None at the moment

Favourite Business Leader?
My mum

Most Inspiring Quote?

“If I quit now, I will soon be back to where I started. And when I started, I was desperate to get to where I am now.” — Source Unknown

Most Admired Nigerian Entrepreneur?

I don’t have a most admired for now. But in the styling industry, I do admire “Jane Michael Ekanem” and Toyin Lawani’s business hustle………

Top Travel Destination?

I hope to explore a lot of countries and their cultures. Countries that are rarely thought off, plus explore China too. I guess I’d pick a top travel destination when I visit most of them, hopefully.