Babatunde Rufai: Art Of Selling Luxury
Babatunde Rufai is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Wear It All Luxury; a men’s luxury boutique. Fondly and popularly called Tunde Wear It All, he has over the years in the fiercely competitive Nigerian fashion industry, carved a niche for himself by establishing a reputable brand that is synonymous with class. His luxury boutique in high brow Lekki is richly designed to cater for men who want to be simple, yet, be sure of the authenticity of the premium brands they wear.
He shares with Allure his passion for fashion, how to handle rejection and important success tips for every fashion entrepreneur. Excerpts;
When you decided you wanted to do luxury, what steps did you take to learn the ropes?
My decision to go into luxury clothing had stemmed from the fact that there were a lot of copies of the original designer pieces down this part. I also had friends who wanted to buy the original and have to always travel out to get them. I’ve always had an eye for fashion, so it was a bit easy for me to delve into it. Also, because I have always engaged in buying and selling right from time, so all the experiences needed, I already had them.
What is the significance of your education in Italy to your fashion business?
As the saying goes ‘speak English, kiss French, drive German and dress Italian. Italy is renowned for its high quality craftsmanship, luxury designs, sharp tailoring, manufacturing and exporting of fashionable items since the 11th century. I believe anyone going into a fashion related business needs to understand and study this unique fashion heritage to be able to be successful in it. My education in Italy was, and still is, the number one foundation in my business as I apply what I’ve learnt on a daily basis to improve and solve business related issues.
During my time in Italy, I also engaged myself in social education as I visited 15 cities, absorbing both the fashion and general culture. This is really important in the fashion business as this has helped me apply what I learnt in building my brand.
What particularly motivated you to decide to go into the fashion business?
I have always had a flair for and attachment to fashion for as long as I can remember. I decided to go into it fully and opened my first store in 2007 at Akoka, close to University of Lagos (UNILAG).
As a tertiary institution, fashion is always one of the things that matters to students and I decided to take advantage of that as I had a lot of interest from them, thus, turning my passion and motivation into a blossoming business.
What were the hurdles you had to scale at the beginning?
It was clearly a challenge, walking into stores to convince people 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, wants to know other big brands you are dealing with. They want to be sure their brand is going out into the big class. I had to attend fashion shows and fashion trade fairs, which helped to build my profile and connection.
Every business no matter how small, comes with its own challenges especially when you are trying to break even into the market. Selling luxurious brands comes with its challenges especially when you have to convince people to pay such a high price for something as little as a shirt when there are replicas that go way cheaper. 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 and have been able to build this brand to what it is today.
Generally, what is the big lesson you have learnt about running a high-end fashion and footwear business?
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, packaging, environment and the most recent, which does go a long way, social media.
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.
What is it like selling in times of economic melt down such as that brought by covid 19?
To be sincere, we have had the best sales ever since we opened after the lockdown. I think two possible reasons must have led to that. One is that a lot of people can’t travel again, so they have to rely on buying locally. Second, even those who shop online couldn’t do that simply because the banks have restricted monthly spending on cards to about $200usd. So, that must have led to the increment in sales we have been experiencing since the COVID-19 pandemic. So, it’s either to buy from the local store, or make use of personal shoppers who are based abroad.
What is the ultimate goal of WIA Luxury and how do you hope to achieve it?
Wear It All speaks aura, pervasive quality and luxury that comes with style. With all of the biggest names in fashion, you’ll be guaranteed to find the best men’s designer clothing.
Also, find stylish seasonal pieces from some of fashion’s most influential labels like Gucci, Alexander McQueen, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana among others. ‘Wear It All’ stays what it stands for; originality and transparency in our mission and vision. We speak class, style and most of all, luxury! Our motto is to ‘Let Your Wears Speak For You’.
I intend to turn Wear It All Luxury into a fashion empire, in every room and whenever this brand is mentioned, luxury is the only thing that comes to mind. I intend to achieve this through progressive rebranding to attain the highest level of Luxury in Nigeria and the most sought-after for fashion needs in Nigeria and abroad.
What is your best advice to anyone who wants to run a similar business?
I’ll say running a business successfully is not as easy as it seems, luxurious 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 learnt that team work and communication does go a long way. The lack of teamwork in itself is enough to make business not thrive. It kills the dream and eventually the business and what you stand for. Also, you have to be true to your words because some people hold it highly. That’s all that they need to partner with you or even be consistent in you styling them. From employing staff members to cash flow, to 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 passion for the business and make them feel comfortable working with you.
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.
Since you operate in other countries, how would you compare the Nigerian business environment to other African countries vis-à-vis profitability and challenges of setting up business?
We don’t operate in other countries, we only have clients we ship to in other countries.
How do you balance work and your personal life considering how busy work and family can get?
I work about 10-12hrs daily and 7days a week when in the country and when I’m out of the country to stock up. My typical day starts with waking up at 6am for my morning prayer, then to the gym, take a little rest before getting ready to go to work.
We work officially from 10am to 8pm but they’re also unofficial demands that require my attention sometimes at odd hours, I have to balance all these. In my spare time, I hang out with my friends and family to ease off tension and relax.
How do you handle rejections as an entrepreneur?
Rejection is part of entrepreneurship. It offers us the opportunity to make sure what we’re doing is right for us. To handle this, I evaluate why the rejection came, I determine if this is something I really want to do, but need a better approach with. If I need more expertise, then I get that, and if it is a warning message telling me to desist, I listen to my instincts. A rejection can be a bump in the road or worse. What happens next is your choice. I vote for learning and coming back even stronger.
It takes a lot to build a business. There will be more than a few times when you’re just not feeling it. You’ll need to be inspired and motivated to keep going when it feels like nothing is going right. Use each rejection as fire to light you up and motivate you. Every experience in life offers a lesson. Those lessons help you become the best version of yourself. Shift the way you view rejection. Get even more determined to accomplish that goal. Use the rejection as your motivation to continue doing the work. At the end of the day, doing the work consistently is what builds your business and accomplishes your goals.
Who are some of the designers you look up to and why?
One important person that has inspired me is Mr Ojukwu Onwuzulike, the CEO of Wardrobe Boutique. He’s a great man who has dedicated his whole life to the fashion business and is excelling in it.
What should the public expect from you before the year runs out and in the near future?
We are currently working on total rebranding for the Lekki brand and also working on Abuja branch
How do you relax?
I hang out with my friends and spend time with my family.
Your favorite holiday destination?
I don’t have one yet as I haven’t been on proper holiday till today.
How would you describe your fashion style?
Versatile, you can’t predict my style.