Offiong Jarigbe is the creative director of Little Saints (aka Ankara readymade4kids). She makes children’s clothes using the African print popularly called Ankara.
By making clothes ready to wear, she removes the hassles tailors give to people and bridge the gap between tailors and clients giving them a seamless experience. They are proudly made in Nigeria.
FROM HAVING AN IDEA TO STARTING YOUR BUSINESS, SHARE YOUR JOURNEY WITH US
When I had my first daughter in 2007, it was difficult to purchase African baby clothes locally and we did not have children designers that cater to children using our print. It was hard for a tailor to make your left over pieces for your little one (i.e. daughter/son). I researched and found out that the population of children in Nigeria is about 58,736,297, of which male 30,246,148 and female 28,274,149 i.e. about 41.83% of the Nigerian population. This means an average home has about 3 children and they would need to wear clothes.
So I decided to enroll in a fashion school, make pieces for myself and daughters and also use my daughters as my muse. It was so much fun seeing them wear my brand. I said at least, I am better off trying, failing, learning, losing and ultimately winning than accepting the status quo that there wasn’t an African shop to cater for our children.
WHY DO YOU LOVE WHAT YOU DO? THERE ARE SO MANY OTHER BUSINESSES YOU COULD HAVE EXPLORED, WHY THIS?
Because I hate to see our children poorly dressed in our prints. I see no meaning in purchasing all our dresses from foreign brands abroad and growing their economy while ours was dwindling. I just love seeing our children wearing nice Ankara fabrics MADE IN NIGERIA and are proud of it.
AT WHAT POINT DID YOU KNOW BEYOND ALL DOUBT THAT THIS IS GOING TO WORK?
I would like to call myself a dreamer and like the old adage says “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”. I had known it was going to work from inception because the three basic requirements in life are food, clothing and shelter and for a long time, we haven’t been self-sufficient in any sector up until 2015 that importation of foreign products was reduced and we had to look inwards and start thinking. We also have so much to leverage on, for example, our population. And it would only be a dreamer that could see this potential.
HOW DID YOU RAISE THE CAPITAL TO START YOUR BUSINESS, ESPECIALLY WITH THE HIGH COST OF RUNNING BUSINESSES IN NIGERIA?
I am grateful for a supportive husband and family that I told about my dream in 2012. It was very unreasonable to venture into my kind of business when the market was not there but I did raise money to start up. Funny enough, I lost all the money I put into the business and ended up giving most of the clothes away (laughing).
I must confess it is very challenging to run a profitable business with the rising cost of materials, staff salaries, logistics etc. One must first of all bear it in their mind that their PASSION MUST BE PROFITABLE AND NOT A VANITY PROJECT. When you understand this, you can factor in the elements and have a price point to make your business profitable.
HOW SOON DID YOU START MAKING PROFITS?
When I reopened in September 2016 because I had made so many mistakes since 2013 and learnt a lot of things on how to make my passion turned business profitable and was so ready to apply my wealth of experience and knowledge. That was when I started making profits.
BRILLIANT IDEAS DON’T ALWAYS MEAN GREAT SALES, HOW HAS IT BEEN MARKETING YOUR SERVICES?
Well, starting a new company from scratch is not easy especially when you have no one as a mentor to put you through the steps they took. You have to be hands on experimenting at all times.
With the advent of social media (Instagram, Facebook and twitter) and good content, I have been able to use various platforms to sell my WHY to my potential customers. In doing these, I have converted admirers to recurring customers and the sales invariably went up too.
AS A SMALL BUSINESS OWNER, YOU CAN’T DO EVERYTHING, WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR EXPERIENCE HIRING STAFF AND BUILDING YOUR TEAM?
Hiring competent staff and keeping them has been very difficult. As you recruit today, someone is showing up with all kinds of excuses the next day. I had to hire and train as there was no children tailors available. I also had to sell myself, passion and dreams to them for them to see where I am going. If they want, they can come with me on the journey of building a successful brand and enjoy the benefits.
Secondly, I gave them their job descriptions and created a structure for them to function which has enabled them to work effectively and efficiently. Now we don’t just recruit, we build teams and sell our vision.
YOUR GREATEST SKILL/STRENGTHS THAT HAVE BEEN PARTICULARLY BEEN OF HELP IN STARTING AND RUNNING YOUR BUSINESS
My greatest skill or strength is the NEVER GIVING UP ATTITUDE. It has helped me in starting and running. Anyone who wants to venture into business must have the 3 W’S i.e. WAY POWER, WILL POWER and WAIT POWER.
DID YOU HAVE TO GET A FORMAL TRAINING OR QUALIFICATION TO BE ABLE TO DO THIS?
Yes I did. I went to a tailoring school and afterwards I continued researching and learning on the internet on ways to better my brand and move from the local to international market.
As of today, children’s marketing trade shows in America are inviting us to exhibit our products in New York, USA.
YOU HAVE BEEN RUNNING YOUR BUSINESS FOR SOME TIME NOW, WHAT DO YOU KNOW NOW THAT YOU WISHED YOU HAD KNOWN BEFORE YOU STARTED?
I wish I had known so many things especially practical steps to running a profitable Nigerian clothing business but if I did, how would I have told my story to upcoming brands today?
ANY LIFE EXPERIENCE THAT HAS PARTICULARLY PREPARED YOU DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY FOR WHAT YOU DO NOW?
I have always loved fashion and use to contest in beauty pageants in my university days. So maybe that was a pointer to my love for fashion.
CHANGE CAN BRING OUT A PART OF US WE NEVER KNEW EXISTED, WHAT NEW THINGS HAVE YOU DISCOVERED ABOUT YOURSELF IN THE COURSE OF STARTING AND RUNNING YOUR BUSINESS?
This business has really taught me PATIENCE. You need a lot of it to soothe and pacify mothers and children all the time.
THE GREATEST BUSINESS ADVICE YOU HAVE EVER RECEIVED AND BY WHO?
Like the French would say “Cherchez le creneau” meaning look for the hole or need and them fill it. Don’t try to be a copycat as we are all unique.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE MOST ESSENTIAL SKILLS FOR WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS ESPECIALLY IN NIGERIA?
Women entrepreneurs need to first of all believe in themselves, refuse to take NO for an answer in any given field. Conduct a research in that field to be well versed and hands on. Partner with influencers and have the 3 W’s especially the WAIT POWER to succeed in the business.