City clothiers Okunoren Twins set to unveil outlet, take stock @ 10
UNIDENTICAL Okunoren Twins are a force to reckon with in the fashion industry. Having put all of 10 years in the business, the duo of Taiye and Kehinde are set to kick off their flagship store, Okunoren Twins. ENCOMIUM Weekly had an interview with them on their success story, their sojourn in the fashion industry and much more…
How did your journey into the fashion industry start?
It started just like any other journey. With a step in the right direction and we kept on going with little stumbles here and there, a few wrong turns, but we thank God.
What master plan did you draw up at the beginning?
We did not have a master plan as such, but we hoped for so much. As 19 year-old boys who just started business, having a master plan wasn’t the first thing on our mind. All we wanted at that point was to be successful and make a difference, but we didn’t quite know how to go about it. So as we grew as a brand, we became more conscious of where we wanted to take the business to. From the start, we knew we wanted to take men’s wear to the next level and give the trade more importance in Nigeria. We think men’s wears deserve more attention in this country. There is a huge men’s wear business here and we will always be on the forefront to support this cause.
How will you describe your experience so far?
TAIWO: It’s been very challenging, but interesting. Every of our experiences as businessmen are lessons we do not take for granted, but hope to learn from. This business for us is more than the glamour and glitz that come with it. Our last 10 years as fashion designers has been nothing but a drilling process for us both as men and also as a brand. We have realized how tough it is to do business in Nigeria and the only way to grow a business is through hard work and dedication to what you do. So, for us, it’s been nothing but a learning process.
Can you share your challenges with us?
TAIWO: Our early challenges were convincing people to embrace what we made and changing the perception of our customers towards made in Nigeria clothes. Then, you have people who try to undermine your work and craft. I would say one of the greatest challenges is the support structure for small medium entrepreneur (SMEs) in Nigeria. In other parts of the world, SMEs are the backbone of their economy and the government would do anything to support and grow SMEs, while in Nigeria, it is completely different. If you look at our performance at the Olympics, it only says a lot about the leadership of the country from bottom to the top. Having said that, we have been able to grow our business through intense hard work and perseverance without the support of any government or financial institutions.
What has been the pains and gains?
TAIWO: Our pains are our challenges and they are enormous. But we have thrived even in the face of that. Our gains we would say is the acceptance of made in Nigeria clothes especially in the men’s wear segment. We have been able to change the mindset and perception of Nigerian men to wear and feel comfortable in the clothes we produce.
What is your strength and weakness in the art of fashion?
KEHINDE: I think we get inspired easily and that’s strength because as a creative person, you have to notice everything, movement that goes on around you. The ordinary or unique things you have been able to assimilate can be of help. In terms of weakness, we are not colour based. Our designs are more of minimalist subtle. So, maybe this might be a weakness.
Do you try to send a message or them in your clothes?
TAIWO: As a creative person, you have to find your own voice, communicate it and then have ownership of it. So, of course, every artist not just designers must always send a message through his or her work. When you do that, you give your work more meaning and uniqueness. For us, we want our clothes to give a strong message, reiterating an independent identity through the wearer. One that hails luxury and comfort with an edge and you need to make people believe in themselves, appreciate themselves and love themselves because to be dressed is a victory of the mind over the senses.
When will you call your defining moment in business?
KEHINDE: We have had numerous moments. Today, we see many of our innovations and designs become mainstream. Designs like the contrast lining on traditional outfits, the high demand of the one button and tapered suit. Generally, more young men and women are going into the fashion trade. For us, this is extremely fulfilling for us as pioneers, but I will say what is yet to be the most defining moment for us is when we open our retail segment to give our work a more appealing face.
KEHINDE: The uniqueness of the brand comes from our fit, no matter the customers shape, size, our clothes are tailored to suit the customer. When a person wears our clothes, we want people to say wow, he looks good and then say where did he get that suit from? Having said that, we believe fashion is in tune with our emotions, movement and freedom. So, people need to feel and show that what they buy is timeless and of high quality.
How does it feel to be working together as twins?
TAIWO: I think the most important thing that has kept us going is the love and passion we both have for what we do and of course, for each other. We always argue about certain things, even though we have almost the same business philosophies and ideas.
Who is doing what?
KEHINDE: Taiwo and I design and oversee the production process. We manage and co-ordinate the process from start to finish. However, Taiwo is more focused on the business management side of things, while I handle the PR of the brand and of course, we also have Tomiwa Idowu, who is a strategy expert on our team and together, we hope to build the first African global luxury brand.
How have you been able to get along up till now?
TAIWO: To be honest, it has not been easy, but I guess we have just been friends from the start and we have grown to be business partners and we respect each other’s views and opinions. But I think our dreams are also twins, so we have no choice but to remain together and achieve them.
We learnt you designed for Naeto C during his wedding, how much did it cost?
TAIWO: Yes, we designed Naeto C’s wedding suit. But come on, there is no way we will disclose our transactions with any of our clients to the press (laughs).
We learnt you are opening a flagship shop, tell us about it. Why did it take this long?
KEHINDE: Yes, we are and we are very excited about that. We have nurtured and built a very successful home through the past 10 years and we thought it was time for us to grow the business, so we decided the way to do that was to go into the retail segment. We decided to go into retail to take advantage of the spending power of the working class Nigerian. A showroom was not ideal five years ago or even eight months ago, every step we have taken as a brand and as a company was well planned and personalized services so we go to them. Thus, we did not think they were ready on visiting a showroom. Now, we want to increase our customer base and venture into core retail. So now, a showroom is necessary. Shopping for us is a unique destination where a customer can experience the touch and feel and be physically embraced by the unique beauty of a brand’s culture. We sell dreams and people want to be part of a particular dream. So, we are paying a lot of emphasis on the architecture aesthetics, culture of our flagship store.
It seems you are not media friendly, we hardly get to read about you?
KEHINDE: I totally do not agree with you on that. We are not media unfriendly and we have immense respect for the Nigerian press. But as I said, we are a brand that plans our every move. Taiwo and I have media training, he has a degree in Advertising and Brand Management, while I have a degree in Public Relations. So, we both understand the consequences of a brand or a person being over exposed. The Okunoren Twins as individuals are conservative people and this transcends into our brand. I will tell you this, a fashion brand should be the ideology and emotions of the designers from his name, individualism, philosophy and sense of humour. What people buy into is more than just the item you have to offer, it’s more of the raw content and values you offer. You need to make people believe in themselves, appreciate themselves and love themselves because to be dressed is a victory of the mind over the senses. So, your personal beliefs and ideology must transcend down to whatever you create. Fashion is a story, every designer must tell his or hers. Okunoren Twins is the story of Taiwo and I.
Who are your clients, who do you design for?
KEHINDE: Without calling names, let’s just say captains of industry, top political class and showbiz impresario (laughs).
Why do designers have petite clothes, do you have plus size as well?
KEHINDE: The average man is not a big man. So, you must retail what you think an average person can walk in and buy. But for a brand like ours, we have the bespoke services, where anyone who can’t find his size can feel free to join us in the bespoke room.
- SHADE WESLEY-METIBOGUN
August 28, 2012