Tese Onokala is the brain behind, Needlecraft Couture with specialty in training fashion designers. The next batch of students will graduate on Saturday, July 15, 2012.
In this interview with ENCOMIUM Weekly, she bares her mind on the operations of the outfit activities lined up for the graduation ceremony and much more.
As the CEO Needlekraft Group you render a dual service of making dresses for customers as well as training fashion design students. Could we formally meet the personality behind Needlecraft Group?
Thank you. Simply put, my name is Tese Onokala, a lawyer turned fashion designer, an ex-beauty queen and a mother.
The business name Needlekraft is pregnant with some significant meaning. Could we have an insight into what informed that name?
Needlecraft Group is a holding company of several others providing products and services geared towards enhancing the God given beauty of the African woman. It is made up of Needlekraft Couture, NFS Fashion School and African Queen Beauty Emporium. The name NeedleKraft is derived from what we do that is craftsmanship. We are not the everyday fashion designers, our approach is different; we work with the customer to craft a bespoke outfit that will flatter and accenture her beauty.
The process starts with a chat with the customer to identify her dominant style/personality and the style and personality she will want to project with her dressing. Does she want to look amiable or serious minded? All these will inform our fabric selection, colour combination, styling, accessorization, etc.
When was Needlecraft established?
Needlecraft was formally launched in 2008
What challenges did you face at inception?
Our initial challenge was getting a workforce that shares our vision as embodied in our “ vision and mission statement “ which is to provide quality beauty enhancing products and services to our customers. We are so finicky about quality and finishing that if any strand of thread misses the line, it will not pass our quality control, hence it will be redone. So it was a challenge getting some members of the team to accept that this the way we do our business.
That our business is quality, that our business is customer-centric, that if the finished dress does not bring out smile from the face of the customer, we will not collect money from her. But today, we have overcome that challenge as our team has latched on to the vision and has made quality a ‘service charter’ that must be upheld for the sake of our customers.
What striking achievement has Needlekraft made so far?
Talking about achievements, I will confess that the Lord has favoured us. From a humble beginning of five customers to a current customer base of over 1000 within three year spread across the country and beyond. Interestingly, we now have our customers who are reselling our designs in the European and American markets. Our client profile has also recorded first ladies and Nollywood stars. Our fashion school has grown from 10 students to over 100 students within one year of operation.
What is the secret behind this phenomenal growth of your fashion school?
First, let me say that the floating of the school was informed by my desire to give back to the society, more of a foundation than a business venture. I realized that professionalism was lacking in our fashion industry as evidenced by sub standard designs and dresses you see people wear out there.
It is because our people were not ready to go to fashion schools around. I also realized that not everybody would have the kind of opportunity I had of attending the best fashion schools in the UK and Paris and working with a couple of renowned fashion designers in the world.
So, as part of my contribution to the growth of the fashion industry in Nigeria, I opened a fashion school to transfer knowledge to young men and women desirous of building a career in fashion. Now, on the reason behind the growth of the school, I will say it is because of its unique nature;
The programs are structured to suit the time schedule of the students, from the corporate workers to the housewives. Hence we run part-time, full-time, weekend and crash programmes.
The classrooms are well equipped with state of the art facilities , the look and feel is great , the ambience is refreshing with air conditioners working 24/7 making for easy assimilation of the teachings.
The training is carried out by practical oriented professional fashion trainers.
We also provide the students with links to micro finance banks upon graduation for the possibility of accessing funds should they want to set up their own fashion house amongst others.
You are planning a high class graduation ceremony for students of your fashion school, tell us about it.
Basically, we are having a world class fashion show in celebration of NFS graduation ceremony. We are also giving awards to students who have done exceptionally well in their commitment and creativity.
It will be an evening of razzmatazz. It is billed to hold in July, having in attendance top industry players, fashion and entertainment stars, Nollywood stars amongst others.
The highpoint of the event will be a fashion show featuring local and international models showcasing the works of these new fashion design stars. These designers include Nnoma Ikhadieze, Ihuoma Lechi of Zeleih Couture, Efijemue Ewomazino Harriet of Zeherb Rillers and others.
Other activities lined up include musical performances from some top Nigerian artists and comedy from some of Nigeria’s finest laughter merchants.
According to the president of the fashion school, Mrs. Tese Onokala, this is in line with our promise to the students to help them showcase their creativity to the world and providing credible platforms trough which they can realize their full potentials and dreams.
What makes Needlecraft customer-friendly?
Everything! From the warm welcome at the reception, through the cool ambience of the offices to the provision of products/services that exceed customer expectation. We are indeed a customer-oriented organization.
To be able to combine business management and teaching effectively definitely shows some business principle acumen. Tell us your principles in business.
At Needlekraft, our critical success factor is our shared vision and customer focus. Everybody, from the cleaner to the board members recognize that the customer is the reason why we are in business and must be treated with loving care. It is after we have given adequate consideration to the customers that we can now talk about ourselves for putting smiles on the faces of our customers. This is our guiding principle.
Any regrets choosing this profession?
Absolutely none as this is not just a profession to me, it is a calling. And God has equipped me with requisite knowledge, skills and talent to prosecute it.
When was your happiest moment in life?
My marriage to the greatest man in the world.
What advice would you give those looking up to you as a role model?
To you out there, I say, you are as large as your dreams, if you can achieve it. Be the best you can be in anything you set your mind to do. Get some education, get some training in that chosen area and dare to stand out from the crowd.
Finally what vision do you have for Needlekraft in five years?
It has already been captured in our vision statement-“To be the first place of choice to all women seeking quality beauty products and services”. But specifically, we are redefining fashion and driving a revolution in the industry that will soon embolden our women to make a demand on their designers to say “If you cannot achieve perfect quality and finishing like Needlecraft, I will not patronize you again”.
Enough of this zip snapping at important functions, creating embarrassment and a bad day for women.
This story was first published in Encomium Weekly edition of Tuesday, July 24, 2012