I have passion to grow African Fashion – Olatorera Oniru (CEO, Dressme Outlet)
At a time when women across the world are shattering glass ceilings, it is refreshing to note that their Nigerian counterparts are also not lagging behind.
Beautiful, talented and hardworking Olatorera Oniru, is a classic representation of the ‘can-do’ Nigerian spirit. A restless entrepreneur, she is the CEO of fast-growing online shopping outlet, dressmeoutlet.com. She is also a member of the National Scholars Honor Society of USA, and she has worked with some of the world’s most prestigious companies. In this interview, she talks about her vision, passion and driving force. Excerpts…
What made you delve into the Fashion Industry?
I have a strong passion for everything Africa. Over the years, I have come across the most intelligent people making the most creative and ingenious fashion pieces; yet African fashion, does not yet have a significant footprint on the $3.3 Billion global fashion map. We need to grow the market and have the creativity and excellence of our designers and manufacturers account for a significant percentage of the global fashion industry market share.
How rewarding has your career been?
My career has been fairly rewarding. I started working from the age of 15 and have been working non-stop ever since and I truly do enjoy working. There is a sense of fulfillment in life when you know you are contributing to other people’s lives and getting rewarded for it. I love to see processes re-engineered, creativity magnified and uniqueness personalized. My greatest joy today career-wise, is the testimonials we receive from our thousands of customers on a daily basis.
What are the major lessons you’ve learnt?
I am actually currently writing a book on lessons learnt in life and career-wise to be released before the end of 2016. Nonetheless, I can share one or two lessons. I think the big one for me would be that life is meant to be enjoyed. If it is not making you happy, don’t do it. Every day is a challenge but a positive one when you aim and strive to be better than you were yesterday. It becomes enjoyable when you are living your passion. It also gets easier to innovate and grow.
Using your experience, what are the challenges that commonly confront upcoming fashion designers?
Access to finance is one of the most common challenges we hear from industry aspirants. Another challenge is a platform to sell which is where Dressmeoutlet.com comes to play. We provide designers and manufacturers, a platform to retail to global shoppers. We help our vendors with pricing analytics, quality control, warehousing, product images, content uploading, marketing, sales and dispatch of their products. We also provide customer service, follow-up calls and much more to all our customers. What’s essential for the strongest of designers and manufacturers, is to focus on quality. Great quality and your products can be found amongst the very best on Dressmeoutlet.com.
How would you describe the fashion industry in Nigeria?
I say the fashion industry is at a massive-potential infancy stage. Infancy because there is a ton of work to be done to catch up with the notable international players. Nonetheless, I have to give strong credit to industry leaders like Deola Sagoe, Mobos, Jumia fashion and the likes who have contributed years of immense work to the establishment and growth of the industry. We need hundreds and thousands of industry leaders to continue in the excellent footsteps that the notable and pioneering leaders have established.
How were you able to access funds to start your business?
The business is currently being funded from personal savings although we have strong interests and offers from outside investors.
What do you aim to achieve with this line of business?
This business is everything I’ve always wanted to do and a path I am thoroughly dedicated to. The ability to work behind the scenes and help people find and buy the products that help them look good and feel good, means everything. Dressmeoutlet aggregates the best of designer products and negotiates the best possible prices to provide our customers, the best selection of products to shop from. We are increasing the quantity of made-in-Africa products on our platform and currently have over 40% of products on Dressmeoutlet.com made-in-Africa. My greatest satisfaction continues to be seeing customers love and appreciate products they buy there. We will continue to ensure we retail only the best quality products at the best prices.
You’ve worked with some top-rated companies in America, why did you decide to leave the security of a well-paying job to take the plunge into the murky waters of self-employment?
I was ready for the leap. It simply felt like the right time for me to make a greater difference in Nigeria and Africa. The security and comfort of a well paying job is too comfortable for real leaders in a country with over 70% poverty rate. When you have the yearn, passion and desire to make changes and the ability, you will have a plan. My plan was to save and learn within the comfort of paid employment and within a certain period of time, leap into entrepreneurship and leadership. With this business, we are creating global visibility for African products, contributing to the reduction of the unemployment rate and contributing to making the world a better place. The more leaders in Africa coming out of our comfort zones to change the status quo, the greater the continent will be. This is not a period to be comfortable but more a period to work hard and enact changes that will impact the economy and increase the standard of living for all citizens. If we have the capabilities and opportunities to do something and do it well, we must utilize it, we must go out there and make a difference. I will continue to do my part in building the fashion industry in Africa, creating more jobs and contributing to the economy with the foremost goal of witnessing Africa blossom.
In what ways do you think the government can support the fashion industry?
I won’t speak on just the fashion industry. Maybe 10 years from now, I can hone it on the fashion industry. I need to speak on the entire nation. Let’s briefly discuss the barest minimums the government is not yet supporting and urgently needs to do. Government needs to ensure the necessary infrastructures for any economy to compete globally and grow are in place. These infrastructures include the right policies, systems and developments. There needs to be adequate checks and balances for one and corruption significantly reduced. That’s a start and I see our current president focusing a lot of his energy on that. Then we need to have democratic hierarchical processes of leading. Everyone needs to be responsible for delivering certain developments and measured by key performance indicators. A government leader cannot simply spend the nation’s funds however he pleases. There needs to be a governing board utilizing policies and the constitution and the legal system for checks and balances. Once we can establish strong leaders who are being put in check by the laws and can reduce corruption significantly, then we can move on to discussing developments. Urgencies with developments include: educational reform, security enhancement, electric power system stability. With all urgencies developed greatly, we will begin to see other aspects of the economy impacted positively such as poverty alleviation, crime reduction and more innovation. While we are on the same topic, Increasing diesel costs, taxes and the likes at a time like this, is a huge no-no from government. Not until the basic support for mankind and businesses have been strongly put in place. I have witnessed poverty sky rocket within the last 6 to 12 months in Nigeria. Lots of layoffs and many people simply do not have the funds for increased expenses.
You have a passion for poverty alleviation; what are the things you’ve done in that regard?
I have a very strong passion for poverty alleviation. No one should be okay with seeing other people suffer or other people living way below survival level. There are many stories I come across on a daily basis of crime and human life deterioration due to job losses and general poverty matters. It is truly heartbreaking because we truly can do better. We can do much better. Majority if not all of Nigeria’s citizens can be high flyers. With the basic support services put in place by government, citizens will thrive better. I come across young men with degrees holding placards and begging. Between Victoria Island and Ikoyi, two of the richest areas in Lagos, I can count over 200 beggars on the streets. In terms of your question on what I have done to alleviate poverty, I can only say I have done a few things but it’s not a one or two or 1 million men’s job, it is an entire nation’s job. I have held a feed-the hungry event in Ibadan, donated to Ibafo town, sponsored scholarships for some people and constantly, mentoring and inspiring people to take the leap and carving a path for themselves even in the absence of government funding. I believe we can start creating opportunities from the basic natural resources.
Apart from fashion, what are your other interests?
My family is everything to me. I absolutely love spending time with my husband and children. I am also writing a book. I enjoy researching and learning. I take online courses occasionally. I speak publicly on change, entrepreneurship and leadership. I also love networking and dancing. So every now and then I get invited to parties, I go and have an amazing time.
How affordable are your products?
The products we stiechs products and services are very affordable. We offer free shipping 60% of the time worldwide. Our products are designed by the very best of designers, thus, you can expect a premium to the prices nonetheless you won’t find these goods cheaper anywhere else. We have full-time pricing analysts whose jobs are to ensure that Dressmeoutlet.com’s products are retailed at the absolute best prices possible to our customers. Customers are the pillars of our company. Anything to keep them satisfied and coming back for more, we will put in place.
Who are your role models?
The first one that comes to mind right now is Sam Walton. I’ve done cases on the Wal-Mart story all through my MBA days. I’ve also done a lot of research on Wal-Mart’s success factors. He built an empire and built it well.
If you are to advise a start-up entrepreneur, what would you say?
Go for your dreams. I say this all the time, don’t let anything stop you. Go for it! Do it! Do not worry about competition, there is more than enough room for thousands more players in each industry. Do not worry about risks, build the very best product and it will sell. Focus on building up your skills. Be a walking library, garner knowledge daily, grow and focus strongly on yourself in order to be able to impact lives significantly. Beyond all, do what you do because it impacts others and you truly want to see people happy and living well.
By Tofarati Ige