Allure Cover: Princess Adebowale Odutola; Proudly promoting made in Nigeria
By Yemisi Suleiman
There was a time when high-end foreign luxury bags, were the ultimate objects of desire of Nigeria’s top class women. This desire also brought an increased demand for local niche accessories to make a statement.
Fulfilling this need, and giving people reasons to look inwards and patronize Nigeria, is Princess Adebowale Odutola; Founder of The Potter’s Signature, makers of TPS Luxury handbags. Odutola has been in the forefront of producing indigenous, high quality, luxury bags in Nigeria, designed using locally sourced materials.
Her use of shapes, crystals, Swarovski, adire, aso Oke, leather, beads and colours, is unique in the industry; making her products such that can compete favourably with other top brands anywhere in the world. For her, the sole aim of the TPS brand is for Nigerians to buy Nigeria, and develop indigenous brands.
She recently, unveiled her latest line of bags, named after outstanding women in Nigeria.
Odutola, daughter of the late Ooni of Ife, Oba Sijuwade, talks about her work and family life.
How did TPS Luxury come to be, what inspired it?
It began out of my love and passion for fashion. I just love fashion. Some time ago, somebody gave me a bag made out of Ankara; until then, I had never seen ankara bag.
The bag was beautiful, but it was not well made. At that time, I was into Real Estate which was collapsing at the time. So I thought to myself that, I could do better with the Ankara bags because I am a very creative person, and I love to work with my hands.
So I brought out my scarves first, then my mother gave me thirty six wrappers to start with. I never tied them, I just started cutting to make bags and that was how it all began. And like I always tell people, you must have a passion for what you are doing. I think what has driven me this far, is the passion I have for fashion. No matter how simple I dress, I get noticed, somebody will notice something that is so unusual. I have been able to put that into practice and put it to good use for my products. So, every of my design is independent of the other, they do not look alike. Now we have 21 lines, named after Nigerian women, and we are still going.
How has the business evolved from when you started?
I started in 2013, but got established in 2014. So, we were five years on July 14th this year and we have won two awards so far. Within seven months in 2017, this brand won two awards for its contributions to the fashion industry: I won the President’s Special Recognition Award from Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN), I also won the Best Emerging Fashion Brand Award at the 2017 Accessories Council Excellence (ACE) Awards by Bella Africana. So two awards in seven months, I think we are doing well, and we are hoping to do better.
What has been the response of Nigerians to TPS Luxury bags?
For me, Nigerians are beginning to appreciate what we have if they know the quality. Right now, when anybody faces a direction, everybody is facing that direction. There are so many bags now in the country, everybody and anybody wants to do bags. But, please, there must be good finishing. Let us have international standard bags; bags that can sit well on the shelves of international brands, and not just any bag. And because it is Made-in-Nigeria, doesn’t make it cheap; people need to have that at the back of their minds: because, there is no part of these bags that is imported. Most of the hardware are sourced at the local markets. Our leather has been taken out, processed and returned to Mushin Market. I think with the recession, a lot of people are beginning to appreciate what we have. I see a lot of people wearing Ankara now. I carry my bags with so much poise, elegance and glamour. I am proud of my African print, I am proud of my heritage. So far so good, those who buy the $3,000 and £2,800 bags, also buy my bags. And because they are not mass produced but are bespoke, they are limited editions and they are not for everybody. So those who can afford them buy them.
Tell us about your new collection and why they are named after certain women?
For this new season, we have the Oludolapo Osinbajo bags, we call them the OO design. They are simple, classy and timeless like the woman herself. The bags say a lot about her.
We also have our rainbow collection, called the AO design. It means Atinuke Onoiga. The rainbow designs are hand beaded. We have Ndidi Obioha as well; they are beautiful and also embellished with pearls, leather and fabric. The rainbow collections are the new hardware that even the big brands are using. We also have the Dame Abimbola Fashola bag, which is the new, fully beaded design.They are not in the hardware, but they are fully beaded brand. We have Dr Modupe Erele; she is Nigeria’s Ambassador to France. She recently hosted Nigerian cultural extravaganza in France where lots of Nigerians went to exhibit their wares, and TPS luxury was there as well. It was a lot of exposure and she supports made in Nigeria products that’s why the collection was named after her. Now, Ndidi Obioha is a celebrity event planner. She is one woman I really respect and admire. She has helped a lot of women in the country in different ways as well. The bag is fully embellished and classy, just like its name. Ndidi Obioha is fully embellished, in wisdom, talent and fully gifted. I named the bags to suit personalities.
I noticed that Erelu is always in one form of aso oke, or the other. Her style is simple and elegant, that is how the bags are. We remain the connoisseur of elegance, celebrating the Nigerian woman. Now, we have enough classics, and our NAPC certificate. We are ready for export.
Talking about export, would you say the government is doing enough to help local brands export their products?
I think the government has put in place machinery for us to be able to export. It is left for manufacturers to go and get a certificate from NAPC. For instance, with Walmart, there are a few things to be done; you need some licenses and a broker. I believe we will get there someday, because with the 2015 Executive order, which amongst other things supports local content, it is definitely moving us towards export in this country. Soon, we will see made in Nigeria products on every shelf which is the ultimate aim. We can’t keep them here where we made them; it is for the international market. Investors will come and buy into the business someday. I know and strongly believe that Nigerian brands will take over the world someday.
With many bag makers in Nigeria now, what stands your brand out from the rest?
We are fully embellished. The details of our bags are of international standards, and there is attention to every stitching. When you walk past the store and something glitters, you want to go back to it. So the embellishments are different, and they are not the regular shapes of bags. We have carved a niche for our bags to stand out.
People ask if we produce here, yes we do. I have my machines here in Victoria Island, my guys are here working 24 hours, and I can get on the machine at any time. I do the designs and finishing myself.
What inspires your designs?
My designs are inspired by God and humanity. When I say humanity, I mean that when I go out and I see your bag and the way you carry it so beautifully, it inspires me and I am always so eager to go home and sketch. At times, I sketch in the car. I sketch on anything. Other times, I get inspiration when I sleep, while at other times, I look at designs on the internet and then modify them by subtracting and adding. So it is about my instinct and my mind set at every point that brings about my designs. It is not just about talent or academic acquisition, because I do not have any academic acquisition on fashion. I don’t know how I do it. Even when I was in school as an undergraduate, I had tailors that were making my own designs. If you and I buy the same shirt, the next day, mine would be looking different from yours because, I would have added stones or something that will make it just different. So, I think it is just about me. I like fashion and I like to be different.
What is TPS Luxury and is it all about bags alone?
TPS means The Porter’s Signature. We are now TPS Luxury because we now go beyond the bags: we now do home and style, footwear accessories and anything that is used as an accessory at home. There is really nothing we cannot do with Ankara, ranging from curtains, bed covers, chairs, dining set, table covers, and many other household accessories. We just launched some new TPS Luxury products. They are bespoke, luxurious and handmade, and I make them all from the floor of my house here in Victoria Island, Lagos. This is not from China and every material here has been locally sourced in Mushin and Balogun markets.
Initially, I was bringing them in from Australia; but later, I found out that they were cheaper in Lagos. My Ankaras are from Balogun but I make sure I take the veritable wax, for sustainability, durability and for the theme. I do not just want a design, but a design that carries a theme.
The collection is a celebration of the best of Nigeria and great personalities that speak to the essence of our brand, TPS Luxury. I am proudly Nigerian, that is why I love to work with the Ankara, Adire and Aso Oke fabrics. We are proudly Nigerian, and proudly African.
Tell us a bit about your educational background?
I studied Political Science and later Law, but I never practiced. For me, Law was boring. I studied Law to have an idea, and to know my right from left.
I was a Realtor for a long time. I practiced Real Estate and with my knowledge of law, I practiced well and excelled in Real Estate. However, when the industry nosedived, I thought of what to do to make everyday money. I thought of opening a restaurant because I love to cook, I thought of opening an Amala joint because I love to make amala, and with food, you tend to make a lot of friends. I eventually did. I used to have an amala joint at Bar Beach; it was called “Wuraola Omo Oba”-my name and title as a Princess. We used to deliver to offices on the island, and it was really booming.
I am still going to make amala, and it will not distract me from my bags.
What was growing up like for you?
I am number 16 of 17 children, the last girl in the family. There is just one male behind me. I grew up in so much luxury. Of course, we went to school in Mercedes Benz. As the last girl in the family, my father doted so much on me.
My mother is from Niger State, she is Muslim while my father was a Christian. So growing up was fun. We had a fantastic upbringing and pedigree. I enjoyed my growing up and I am still enjoying myself.
What do you miss about your father?
I miss the envelopes of money he always gave me. I miss the love and everything about him. My mother is still alive, she is in her 90s.
So what lessons, have you learned about life?
To be focused, and be patient. I have learned to be very patient. If I am not patient, I might not be able to continue this business because it is not the kind of business that is going to bring you huge amount of money at a time. It comes in trickles, somebody might buy a bag today, you might not get anyone to buy in the next two weeks, but it does not stop your production. You keep producing, you keep ordering hardware, you keep stocking on leather, on everything you need to use. But if you are not patient, you cannot persist, you cannot continue.
I want to say also that if you are a woman, do not stay in the house and be a house wife. Whatever you know how to do, even if it is chin-chin, do it well. Someday, it is going to grow. I started this business not just as a passion, but because I needed to do it. I am a bag freak, I travel a lot and I buy bags a lot. So when I started this business, I said I was going to create bags that were remarkable, and ones that people will buy. So whatever you know how to do as a woman, just do it well, do it diligently and put your whole heart to it. Let us encourage Made-in-Nigeria, and let the government encourage entrepreneurs by providing a working environment that is conducive, and where entrepreneur thrives.