‘Even with this pandemic, there are opportunities for industry players, Nigeria’
As a key player in this space, how would you say Coronavirus has affected the Nigerian fashion industry?
The advent of this pandemic and the attendant lockdown has affected businesses and families especially those considered non-essential, like fashion. Considering that most players in our local fashion industry operate on a subsistence level, the lockdown, which caught most people unawares, threw many off their financial balance. It’s the first quarter of the year when most people are just beginning to get into placing orders after the early year expenses on school fees and so on. Seasonal fashion shows that generate excitement and orders in the industry got cancelled or postponed indefinitely. Orders placed for Spring/Summer 2020 collections are now being cancelled or suspended till further notice. Many designers that stocked fabrics for their shows are now left with stock they might not work with this year again. These are funds tied down and considering that funding options for Nigerian players are basically very narrow, this is a huge risk to the survival of brands after this pandemic has passed.
How would you say you’ve been personally affected?
We don’t operate in isolation so it’s safe to say we are affected. We had projects that we had planned to conclude in the first quarter, which is now either cancelled or suspended until this is over. There’s also the possibility of delays even after the lockdown is lifted because the world will gradually crawl out of the shell we all hibernated in. For example, we were to attend the Vancouver Fashion Week in Canada, which was supposed to hold between March 30 and April 4, but like all other events across the world, it was cancelled. We had productions scheduled for summer supplies to our stockists in London, which we were about concluding design curation for, but is now delayed. We have Paris Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week insight but as it is now, the industry is not even sure if these events will hold this year anymore. For our direct-to-customer productions, we have also suffered delayed deliveries as a result of this lockdown and that also implies delayed earnings for us.
How do you think the industry can rebound after the pandemic?
Throughout history, economies and businesses have always fought their way back after major setbacks. The industry, in my opinion, will surely rebound but it might not be easy for many operators. Across the global space, most economies have announced stimulus packages to support small businesses. For us here in Nigeria, it was already difficult accessing funds from financial institutions and even the CBN Fashion Fund, which was part of their intervention fund for fashion and entertainment last year, had not really been accessible before the pandemic and that could be tougher now. Considering the magnitude of employment the industry provides, it makes economic sense for the government to quickly support the industry to fight its way back fast. Erosion of businesses in this sector will exacerbate the already high unemployment problem in the country.
With everything slowed down as they are now and everything looking bleak, would you say there are still untapped opportunities in this space now?
Absolutely, yes. Every setback presents new grounds of opportunities to explore by willing hearts. One thing that has come out of the pandemic across the global fashion industry is the need to have a rethink on the operating structure for designers. The lockdown has hit both wholesale production designers and direct-to-customer brands. For wholesale brands that only get paid by retailers upon shipment of orders, the cancellation and suspension of orders by these big retailers has become a major setback to their funding capacity required to sustain their businesses, therefore, the pandemic presents them with an opportunity to rethink their operating model so as to provide a cushion for times like this. For direct-to-customer brands, where most operators in our local industry reside, the pandemic may have just shown us opportunities for product expansion and collaborations. A case in point is the medical supplies. Though it requires proper investment and certification, the opportunity is clearly open. Collaboration with essential service industries is a good one that can see businesses thriving in the future in circumstances like the one we are in now. There’s also an opportunity for a rethink of some marketing channels like influencer marketing. Locally, it’s become clear that our industry influencer marketing is almost absent at this time. It’s an opportunity for this sub-sector to reflect on their creativity, which has not been felt so far.
The lockdown has shown that a fashion or beauty influencer must go beyond posing before the camera. The creativity to bring the brands they represent to the market in a manner that also resonates with feelings of the consumers in a crisis such as this must be a given to stay in the market and budget of brands. Thus, the pandemic has given both brands and influencers the opportunity of learning and acquiring new skills and knowledge. We cannot take away the eye-opener to the most potent marketing platform available – online marketing for brands. The traditional brick and mortar clearly failed the industry as shops are locked down. It’s therefore imperative that brands must take online platforms more seriously. This is a huge opportunity for social media managers, fashion bloggers and website managers to push up their game. Brands may, therefore, begin to make the services of this class of people core services and no more as outsourced services. Another opportunity is in the area of sourcing of materials. It may be a good time to develop our local fabric production like the batik, tie-dye, Aso-oke, akwaete, akwa ocha and other tribal fabrics that are locally woven. There’s the opportunity of investing in large-scale production of these traditional fabrics and creative use of these fabrics to earn revenue and also draw global attention to them.
What would you tell smaller designers struggling with the present situation?
For smaller designers, it’s a trying period for their resilience and deep faith in their businesses. However, they might not be much affected because of their production pattern. I would suggest that they do not lose hope. Collaboration with their material suppliers could help them attend to new orders that would put them back to business. It is also not out of place for them to add on services they can deliver and earn from without spending their cash. I actually believe that smaller designers with great skills can capture the returning market faster than big designers because of their low-cost profile.
What should your loyal fans expect from you when things return to normal?
For us, we already know our customers will be happy once we resume operations. As a business, we have established a go-to-market strategy for the crisis period like this and we are invoking those strategies now. One thing is clear, we will remain in operation. The pandemic has been a good way of testing the strategies we’ve employed in our business so far and we are happy with the outcome. We will, however, expand the applicability of some of these strategies that have now given us confidence that we are running a resilient business. In conclusion, the reality of the situation now is that businesses that are not nimble may lose their existence. The pandemic is a test of the business structures we have in the industry. It is not a test of the loyalty of customers to a brand rather a test of the loyalty of brands to their customers.