By – Yemisi Suleiman
Single-handedly raised by his father, renowned luxury boutique owner, Babatunde Rufai of Wear It All Luxury Boutique, has come a long way; from his early days of humble beginnings to starting his own business and now as the chairman of Wear It All, a men’s luxury boutique in Lekki, Lagos, stocked with exclusive corporate and casual shirts, accessories and more.
Mr. Rufai, also called Tunde Wear It All, runs one of the most exclusive luxury boutiques which is impeccably stocked with popular brands like Roberto Cavalli, Versace, Gucci and more; the boutique is housed in an expansive space that makes it easy to shop in. We spoke to the young entrepreneur about his passion for fashion, his background, success story, the challenges of luring brands to his boutique and more.
What is Wear It All Men’s Luxury about?
Wear It All speaks of aura, pervasive quality and luxury that comes with style and quality. With all the biggest names in fashion, you’ll be guaranteed to find the best men’s designer clothing. Find stylish seasonal pieces from some of fashion’s most influential labels like Gucci, Alexander McQueen, Versace and Dolce and Gabbana among others.
To sell a luxury product, you probably make higher margins; you spend more on marketing. How did you build the brand?
A brand, in itself, is determined by a customer’s overall perception of your business. I did a lot of research in the industry niche and took notes of the salient things missing as regards imitation and competition which wasn’t exactly there. The quality always stood for itself and people always wanted that. I maintained consistent communication, alongside experience across a lot of platforms (sales and customer service, print media, packaging, environment and the most recent, social media which does go a long way). In addition to all that, being someone that once owned a beach bar and a club in the same Lagos, the fame has been there; it helped in creating awareness for Wear It All Men’s Luxury. In terms of promotion, social media advertising can be much targeted. You cannot get that type of targeting with any (other) kind of media. So, I still think that social media advertising is worth it.
Your outfit stocks a lot of high-end luxury brands. What are some of the things you’re looking for when choosing a brand?
I’ll have to say luxury! The importance of that cannot be over-emphasised. I look, particularly, for style that carries an aura and speaks volume when people see it. It goes a long way in defining who you are.
When you first started, was it hard to convince some of the bigger labels you carry to be stocked in your store? Tell us about your company’s evolution.
It was clearly a challenge; starting from (nowhere, so to speak,) and just walking into stores to convince them that you single-handedly want to start something as big as that. It took a lot of conviction, consistency, perseverance and hard work. First, any big brand you walk into in Europe to stock (their products) wants to know other big brands you are dealing with; they want to be sure their brand is going to be out in big class. I had to attend fashion shows and fashion trade fairs which helped to build profile and connection.
How difficult or easy, as the case may be, was it generating sales and convincing clients about your brand?
No business, no matter how little, comes with its own cons – especially when you are trying to break into the market. Selling luxurious brands comes with its challenges, especially when you have to convince people to pay such high price for something as little as a piece of shirt and when there are lots of replicas that go way cheaper and more affordable; they stand in the way of you generating sales or even a take home. It was not an easy task but with time and consistency, we stood the test of time.
From your experience running a luxury business, what lessons have you learned along the way; i.e. employing staff, cash flow, customer support et al?
I will say running a business successfully is not as easy as it seems, luxury or not. Over time, I was able to put together a few things that have made me even better at things I do. I have learned that team work and communication go a long way. Lack of team work, in itself, is enough not to make the business thrive. It kills the dream and, eventually, the business and what you stand for.
Also, you have to be true to your word because some people hold it high and that is all they need to partner with you or even be consistent in you styling them. From employing staff members to cash flow and whatever it is that surrounds a business, you must serve a purpose, keep exploring and always get feedback. These things go a long way. Also, you need to employ people that have a passion for the business and you have to make them feel comfortable working with you.
How would you describe the luxury business in Nigeria? Would you say it has evolved over the years in terms market flow, patronage and all?
Luxury business is not where I will say it should be at this point in time. Nigeria is where we have a lot of people that are of great style and charisma. It sure has evolved over time. We are clearly not in the era where luxury wasn’t important. We have gone past that age but we need to do better. There is room for improvement all the time.
Tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to setting up your own business?
I don’t want to give the cliché story of how I came from nothing or how I struggled to become who I am today. Truth be told, I had it pretty rough, starting with the separation of my parents and being raised by just my father who struggled to keep three children in school because he wanted them to get the best education. My Dad gave us equal love and tried not to favour one child more than the other. Anyway, let’s skip all the sob stories of how I had to fend for myself at a very young age by applying for menial jobs because I had a passion for fashion and I knew to become who I wanted to be and get to where I wanted to get to, I would have to work hard, which was exactly what I did.
I opened my first store, in 2007, on St. Finbarrs Road, Akoka, Lagos, which is close to the University of Lagos because, to me, it was a school with so much competition in fashion. I decided to take advantage of that; back then, at Unilag, it was two things that mattered – the car you drove or your outfit.
What stands out Wear It All from other luxury stores out there?
Wear It All stays true to its words, for what it stands for. The originality and the transparency in our mission and vision cannot be over-emphasized. We speak class, style and, most of all, luxury! Our motto is to let your wears speak for you.
What is it like running your own business? Describe your typical day.
I must tell you the truth; I work about 10 – 12 hours daily, 7 days a week; when I am in the country and when I am out of the country to stock up. Fashion business is what I enjoy doing and I have a passion for. I do have other businesses I do or I have done in the past. For example, like when I was running a club or my beach bar back then. Those businesses were not for me. I didn’t enjoy doing them because I didn’t have passion for them; I was only doing them for the business side of it.
Currently, I still do other businesses like bringing cars from America to sell here, in Nigeria, and I am also into real estate business. My typical day starts with waking up at 6 a.m. for my morning prayer which lasts for about 30 minutes or more; then, brush my teeth to get ready for the gym. I return from the gym and rest a bit before getting ready to go to work. I get to work and first thing is to check my email. Then, take it up from there and let the rest of the day fall into place.
Does your kind of business influence your dress sense? What do you like to wear?
Yes, my work influences my dressing and I can also say my dressing influences my work also as one of the things that gives me joy is when I dress well and look good as I do not drink, neither do I smoke.
When you are not working or busy, how do you take time off to relax?
Spending time with my family and friends.
Which entrepreneur/person has inspired you the most and why?
One important person that has inspired me is Mr. Ojukwu Onwuzulike who is the Chief Executive of Wardrobe Boutique; this is a man who has done nothing else in his life except this fashion business and he is doing great with it.
What is the best advice you have ever received as an entrepreneur?
You are who you associate it. That, in itself, explains it all.
What advice would you give to somebody thinking of starting their own business?
Never ever get comfortable with your situation; strive, never give up and understand that time is an important factor in becoming that one person you want to become.