14 years of doing business and still waxing strong, Message’s boss, Ifeanyi Okonkwo itemizes his success secrets.
How does the brand, Message evolve over the years?
The brand has evolved over the years due to creativity and style. Basically, what we sell here is creativity and style. We try to be different, we try to do our own differently. We try to bring out the true definition of fashion which is style in the product that we sell. Creativity has been able to keep us alive and going.
Where did you learn this art of creativity?
In my own case, I will say it’s inborn because this is what I have been doing at the very early stage of my life. Apart from that, I have attended different fashion courses abroad and in Nigeria. This is what I truly have passion for, so that has been the drive that brought me to this level.
Before going into the business, can you tell us how you used to dress compared to now?
My dress sense is basically part of what brought me into the industry because before I started I used to create things for myself and wear. It got to the stage when people started asking me why don’t I do it. That was when I gave it a thought to go into the business on a commercial level. Since then, people have supported it and that’s why we are still in business till today.
Did you have a large start-up capital?
No, we started in a shop that is less than 20 square metres. We started small, it’s always good to start small then you learn from it and grow. That is the best way to start whatever we want to do. We started small with the vision knowing we are going to grow with time.
You have been around for how many years now?
14 years, since 1999.
What will you say sustained the business?
I guess one of the reasons we are still in business is still the same creativity. Over the years, we have been able to sell things that are different. We are closely knit with our customers. Our customers don’t leave once they start patronizing us because they would have realized that what we do is totally different. We are truly a style shop, we are stuck in style and creativity and that has kept us in business till today. If we were like every other outfit that’s normal, we would have folded up. We would have been out of the market.
Can you tell us our client base?
We have a wide client base. We have the high and mighty to the young ones. We have senators, governors, music stars, actors, great footballers of this nation. We even have students of the most expensive secondary schools as our clients. They drag their parents here to buy things for them especially students from Grange and Oxford College. I found out recently this is their store.
Where do you shop or who are those that make all these clothes?
The truth is that most of the things you see in this shop, I participated in them 99 per cent. The suits, shirts, shoes, I work with private designers. We come up with designs for the year, I work privately with them, I am a creative person. We produce and send them to the market. So, most of the things you see have my input.
Where did you get the logo of Message?
I created the logo myself. It took me almost a year to come up with the concept. It was actually done in Paris, France.
How do you take care of your clients?
A lot of them come here wanting to be taken care of personally and they bring their friends. One thing is certain, most people wouldn’t want to disclose where they shop, except if you are very close to them. They want to be the only one looking good. So, we have some clients like that and some others who refer us to another of their friends.
How do you feel when you enter a gathering and see your clothes around?
I have seen that for many years. It makes me feel real good. I see people step out on red carpet with my clothes, it can only give me joy and happiness.
What’s your social life like?
I am a kind of busy person, I create time for myself, I go out socializing.
How will you describe the fashion industry as it is today compared to the previous years?
Now, so many fake products have come up. The Chinese, Portuguese are there now. They sell cheap, you now see people advertise suit for N12,000, coupled with the economic situation of the country, now a lot of people are ready to buy cheap. That is one big problem we are facing in the industry now, people now produce cheap for the masses compared to what we sell. We sell to a unique clientele.
Going by what you just said, is Message just for the high and mighty?
No. We have brought it down for everyone to afford. For example, our suit now sells at N60,000 which I don’t categorise as too expensive. We used to do suit of $2,000, $3,000, we have stopped that. I don’t see what we sell as too expensive, rather we sell to the very stylish people. We are for those that are very stylish and looking for things that are totally different.
How do you want to sustain what you are known for?
To keep doing what I love to do, keep creating stylish and quality products. Once you have what the people want, they will always come for you. The moment you stop doing that you won’t see them anymore. I will keep improving on what I do, put in the best.
What does the word Message really represent apart from its literary meaning?
We want to pass a message in the fashion industry. Message is like CNN that tells you Be the first to know. We dictate the pace while others follow.
What was growing up like for you?
I was born and bred in Lagos. I went to Maryland Comprehensive High School, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, where I studied Political Science and Public Administration. I have three beautiful children and I am happy with life.
You can speak Yoruba fluently?
Yes, because I was born here and a lot of my friends are Yoruba. It has opened a lot of doors for me. It’s an advantage for me because if you can speak the language that the people around you understand, it gives you an edge.
What are the elements that make a man stylish?
A stylish man is that man who can put things together, look simple, yet very elegant. They are not many. We see them once in a while and our country has few of them.
Would you like to name some of them?
I have a friend, Yomi Sola, he owns Formular, a fashion store. He is one of the best dressed Nigerians and nobody has been able to come up with his name. We have others like Sam Okoro, he is an icon and he is still in it.
How would you advice stylish people to remain like that till old age?
They should keep doing what they are doing knowing full well that looking good is good business, looking good can only open doors for you. It tells who you are. I believe once a man is stylish, he would remain like that unless if he has financial difficulties. Looking good is an act itself that needs to be kept. Some people lose it while some take it to their grave.
Does looking good require a lot of money?
Fashion is not cheap yet looking good has nothing to do with price. Price tag has nothing to do with beauty. The eye determines beauty, one can still dress cheap yet look elegant.
What label do you enjoy wearing?
I am through with labels. All I concentrate on now is the style and what I wear. That does not mean there are no designers I don’t appreciate. I love Roberto Cavalli, Patrick Kelly, Giorgio Armani even our own Emmy Collins, Mai Atafo, the Okunnoren Twins, Fusion. There are few of them that know about style.
We don’t usually see you in native clothes?
Why not? I wear native attires. I am a man who believes in our African clothes.
- This story was first published in ENCOMIUM Weekly on Tuesday, July 16, 2013