Ololade Adeneye is the CEO of House of Dorcas (HOD). She is a designer who makes outfit for celebrities like Uru Eke and Kate Henshaw. In an interview with Yetunde Oladeinde, she talks about how she’s pursuing her passion, as well as moving into different phases of growth through collaborations.
What inspired you to go into the fashion sector?
I would say that going into fashion for me started because of the law of scarcity. I remember that I struggled to find what I liked when I moved back to Nigeria. The second inspiration can be traced to my mom who wanted me to go into dress making before she died.
House of Dorcas (HOD) was founded in 2008 and we opened its first flagship store at Kings Mall Plaza located on Adeniran Ogunsanya, Surulere. We later moved to the VI store in 2009. We clothe people of all class and it is known for its cutting edge, elegant, exquisite and fashion forward designs. In 2016, HOD closed temporarily to enable me gain additional insight and knowledge into the business of fashion. So, I went on to take short courses at the Central Saint Martins School of Fashion, London, where I studied consumer psychology and business of fashion. I later proceeded to the University of West London (UWL) to study for a degree in fashion and textile design. All this was to afford the brand more opportunities on the local scene and internationally.
In 2018, I was among the select few from UWL to work with a team to design the SS19 collection for Topshop. I had the opportunity of presenting my designs before top buyers in the UK fashion industry. In 2018, HOD Younique SS18 collection in collaboration with Patrick Ayanski and we were launched into mainstream fashion to showcase the blend between African and western fashion.
What was it like at the beginning?
Like every other business, I would say that it was both challenging and interesting .This can be seen in a combination of lots of things that affected the business in different ways. This range from problems of infrastructure to understanding the dynamics of the fashion industry in Nigeria, managing staff, coping with our mediocre work ethic and more.
Tell us about your designs. What makes yours different from others?
Our designs are timeless, classy, edgy at times, and creative. They are a must-have and they inspire and motivate what we do.
Tell us about your collaboration with Patrick Ayanski; what are some of the fallouts of the collaboration?
It was a very interesting experience. The Patrick Ayanski collaboration was a school project; it came about after my survey on African print. Then I realised that most people had stereotyped our print as costumes and restricted our style in some way.
So, I called it Younique to show how unique and vibrant our prints are and how we blend easily into the mainstream fashion with our print. It opened a lot of minds and doors for House of Dorcas. The shoot was done by a Vogue magazine photographer and shot in Covent Garden area of central London. We got lots of attention during the shoot and after.
How did the training at the fashion school influence what you are doing?
The training was very interesting and exciting. I cannot quantify the influence and changes going back to study have done to me. I now design my own textiles. I can say I have earned my wings and am still earning more. I was chosen last year among the people that designed SS19 for Topshop and I had to present to top buyers in the industry. I have been tutored by different designers as part of my industry work. I can go on and on and on. I have good understanding of what fashion is. Not just the cut-and-sew. It has therefore been an amazing experience for me.
What are some of the other things that occupy your time?
House of Dorcas is coming back to Nigeria with a bang. So we are busy with this; we have other projects that are still under wraps. In addition, I am finishing up my fashion and textiles degree and getting ready for an MBA.
Who or what is the greatest influence in your life?
When it comes to who I consider as the greatest influence in my mind, I would say my mom. Also talking about what influenced me to new height, I would say my mom’s death influenced me too.
What lessons has life taught you?
Life is a great teacher, we learn every day. Over the years, I have learnt that there’s no height unattainable to any human. If it’s too far for your mind, it will be too far for your life.
Tell us about the people you admire
I admire people that believe in process. Process makes a man credible, thorough and resourceful.
If you had to advise young people, what would you tell them?
My advice to young people would be to become what you want to be. To move up the ladder and stand out, you must also invest in yourself.
Where do you hope to be in the next few years?
For me, I would say that the next few years have started. I would tell my fans to watch out; there is so much we have to offer.
What can be done to improve the sector?
Right now, I see a lot of growth in the fashion industry in Nigeria. We have actually come a long way and we are doing better than we used to do. You can see raw talent; that is one thing I noticed. We have raw talent in Nigeria. But in saying that, we still have a long way to go. A lot can still be done in improving that sector. Let’s start with the power of synergy. Designers have to come together to build this industry and there has to be room for training and growth. A proper definition of what fashion is all about is that we need to understand fashion as a business, not just the glamorous side. We need to take our business outside Nigeria; we need to test the water. We also need to encourage originality and be process-driven. One thing I have come to understand is that outside Nigeria, they are not so particular about your finished products. They are not particular about that dress you have made, anybody can finish the product. Instead, they want to see your story, they want to see how you have connected your lines together. They want to see your processes and they relate more to your story and to your finished product. So, as designers, for us to get outside Nigeria and run a sustainable fashion sector, you must be process-driven. We need to understand the whole story, have substance and depth. That comes through training. For me, coming to England to school has taught me a lot about fashion. I remember my first day at Central Saint Martins and then I was really intimidated. I got home and told my sisters, ‘please call me a tailor now, don’t call me a designer.’ I got to know what it meant to be a designer when they took us through the lines of a designer. If we really want the Nigerian fashion industry to grow, we must use our potential and the original story that we have. We have the culture and you find that the designers outside are taking our story and writing it for us. We don’t own our story and we need to own our story. We must understand the power of synergy. There has to be improvement made on our side, on government’s side. There is still a lot to be done and I believe that we have to look within us, encourage training, coming together and learning how things are done out there. We need to ask questions like how many Nigerian designers do we have outside? There is a reason for that; it is important to know why we are doing so well within Nigeria and not outside Nigeria.
How would you describe government’s contributions to the sector?
Government is getting more and more involved in the fashion industry. I believe that they realise the enormous role this sector plays in the economy of the world and the country. Now that government is looking at the diversification of the economy, when you look at a place like India, the sector contributes largely to their GDP. Even in Europe, the fashion industry plays a huge role in the contribution to the growth of the economy.
I remember a course that I did and they said the fashion industry worldwide is worth over trillions of dollars, even though we have not tapped the resources that we have. So, I believe that the Nigerian government is waking up to that reality that fashion plays a huge role in building the economy. Hence, they have gone into implementing different policies that can grow the economy.
We are going back to the CTG, which is the cotton, textile and the garment production. Look at the policy by Emefiele recently, trying to rebuild and revive the textile industry. What that is going to do for us is to give us a better advantage in playing on the international and global market. That is going to give us exposure, growth, self reliance and independence. When we realise that the industry is revived, we won’t go back outside; we all come back inside. Whereby people bring in finished garments, they have to depend on our industry and this would put money in the pockets of our designers, the economy and this helps to reduce unemployment. So, government has woken up and it is really encouraging the way they are going into the root of it all; from the cotton planting to the textile making and garment production, which we call the end side of fashion. Now, I am encouraged, there are better days ahead for the industry; that is what I see.
In the area of supporting designers, a friend of mine in the funding space a couple of years ago told me the Bank of Industry actually set aside about eight billion naira to pump into the industry. There is still more to be done in terms of putting infrastructure into place to encourage growth.
What dreams did you have while growing up?
My dream was always centred around the parable of the talents in the Bible. It talked about a master who gave talents to some servants and he went away. While some worked their talents, others didn’t work their talents. From early life, I was a passionate person and I always believed in whatever I do, do properly. Right now, I am living my dream. My dream from when I was growing up was to be the best at anything I decide to do. Funnily enough, I didn’t even have fashion in my dream.
My mom, however, had fashion in my dream for me because she wanted me to be a fashion designer above other things. She died in 1994 and during my last conversation with her she gave me a measure tape and said ‘Lolade, hold it. I will take it from you when I come back from this journey.’ That was my last conversation with my mom. I didn’t have the dream of going into fashion; I only wanted to be the best in whatever I did. I believe in working my skills and I have been a very growth driven person from when I was little. That dream has worked for everything that I do now. For everything I do now, I put my passion into it. I put my thirst and hunger into it.
How would you assess Nigerian designers today?
The Nigerian designers today have come a long way. I would say that we are okay but I am not that person that would say we have done so well. I have learnt a lot to understand the noise from the news. I will say we still have a long way to go. In terms of fashion, we have improved and lots of talents shown by people who have gone outside, like I have done. We also have the younger generation of designers that trained outside Nigeria and they are back in Nigeria.
But something about Nigerians is that we just want to make money and we do not pay attention to details. We forget to pay attention to details and it is always about making money. But it is actually way bigger than that. Of course, I am also not going to compare us to the standards here. If we have to compare, then it has to be with a better standard. If you are a designer, you should be a designer across board worldwide. So, if we are comparing, then it would be within and outside Nigeria. In my comparison, I would say that we are trying but we need to work our talents more. There is still a whole lot more ground for us to gain. We need to till our fallow ground even more. We are trying, we are improving but we still have a whole lot to do. I feel that we need to come out of the noise; there is too much noise and face the substance. We are more focused on the glam side of the business and that is not what sustains businesses. That is why you find that you are here today and not there tomorrow. We have to see it as a business and operate it as a business. Each time I compare myself, I need to compare myself with a designer outside Nigeria and not within. I can’t say that because I am better than this designer down the road, then I am doing well.
What is your management style? How does it help in the grooming and mentoring of the personnel you work with?
In terms of management system, I would say that I am process-driven and structure-driven. So, I would say that we have a flow versus fix system in how our management has been worked out. It’s an outfit where leadership gets the work done. We believe in good business practice, we believe in processes and leadership empowerment. We also believe in achieving maximum customer satisfaction and experience.
I will call it a system of visionary coaching and pacesetting. That is the kind of management system that we have. I call it a visionary, a coaching and pace setting style. We have a management style where we allow our staff to grow and we are very vision-, coaching- and empowerment- driven. We are also very people-driven and that has worked a lot for House of Dorcas. We have actually sent a number of our staff to school to improve on themselves. I always tell my staff that I don’t believe in servants but leaders. We train them to be leaders in whichever way they decide to grow. So, that is the type of management style that I run. It’s basically a flow- and-fix system; everybody flows in and we have a fixed structure.