EVANS Akere, the chief executive and creative director of award winning fashion brand, Vans Kere, has every reason to be in a joyous mood. His brand just clocked eight. It was established in 2004. The man of style had an interview with ENCOMIUM Weekly on Thursday, August 2, 2012, where he told us how the journey all started and what has sustained him in the last eight years. He also had a word of advice for upcoming entrepreneurs going into the fashion business.
How has the journey been, eight years down the lane?
It hasn’t been rosy. We have had our challenges, it was very difficult at the initial stage but I thank God things are getting better. We can only continue to make progress. The sky is not our limit. I think we are on the right path to achieving our goals to fulfilling our dreams.
When you started, what were the goals you set out to achieve?
Funny enough when I started, it was just like a hobby. It wasn’t something that I thought I will do as a career. I was just doing it for fun because I enjoyed it. I started making clothes while I was in secondary school. Then I used to re-design our uniform for my secondary school friends. Not necessarily changing the colour, but just trying to make it a bit funky. When I got to the university, I made a lot of clothes for myself. I never for once thought I will be a fashion designer. All I wanted was to be like my dad, who was a big time lawyer. I went to the university to study Law, graduated and went to Law School. So, it wasn’t something that I actually planned but God had entirely different plan for me. It was after schooling that I made up my mind to go into fashion fully.
What were the challenges of running the business in the last eight years and how did you surmount them?
The problem has been the same with every entrepreneur in Nigeria. Epileptic power supply, lack of skilled personnel, personal management, trying to let people embrace your vision. It is not easy at all, also lack of funds for investment. Government is not really doing enough to support entrepreneurs. We have to do everything by ourselves and it is not easy. Those were the major challenges. The challenges are still there, we haven’t overcome them. We just have to live with them and manage them. That is what we have been doing.
Will you say it has been worthwhile doing the business?
Yes, it has because I am fulfilled. Like I tell people, life is all about fulfillment. It is not about money. Money doesn’t give you fulfillment. I am doing what I enjoy doing. I don’t see myself doing any other thing other than what I am doing right now. I am happy and I am fulfilled. I have no regret. It is what I want to do till I get old. I am not into fashion to see what I can make of it and probably pursue my Law profession. It is something that I have embraced and I will be there for a long time by the grace of God.
What has the business done for you, your greatest achievement in the last eight years?
The business has made me more popular. People know me now, it has also given me the necessary exposure. It has actually made me connect with some high profile people. I have been able to establish good relationship with my clients. I have some clients that have been there over a long time, over the years. We have become very close. Most times, when I go to them or they come to me we discuss a whole lot of issues. Basically, I think the business has really made me connect with so many people. I think I have learnt so much about business, and what it takes to have a successful business and I am still learning. Fine, I have made a living out of it. I have made some money to pay our bills.
When did you make your big break?
I haven’t made that big break. I am still trying to make the big break. We are still hoping by the special grace of God to make that big break.
For an entrepreneur who wants to be like you, what is your advise?
It is not easy. I wouldn’t lie to you, it is very tough. Entrepreneurship is a serious thing, your mind is always working, your brain is active, 24/7. You are thinking about how to move your business, how to take the brand to the next level. At the same time, you have people to cater for. Your staffers are there, they really don’t care how you make the money or how the money comes in. Salaries have to be paid. It all boils down to you, everything rests on you. It is like in the family circle. The father has to provide money for school fees, put good on the table. So, it is not easy. If you are not focused, if you are not determined, you can’t achieve what you set out to do or have a successful business. Also, you have to make a lot of sacrifice. You will work late, no time to socialize, you don’t hang out for a drink. You hardly have time to attend functions and events. You are always trying to meet up with targets. We try as much as possible to meet up with deadline. Doing all these means you will sacrifice a lot, it is not easy at all. coupled with the Nigerian economy where the basic infrastructures are not there. You have to work with alternative power supply. It is not easy at all. That is why I will advise people to set up a business they have passion for, because at the end of the day, the passion is what will keep you going. If you are not passionate about it, when frustration comes, you will give in. So, it has to be something you enjoy doing that is the only way you can succeed.
How long does it take for someone to make money in this kind of business going by your own experience?
Generally, it takes a long time to build a solid brand. If you rush in, you will rush out. You need to have a business plan, you need to set a target for yourself. So, there is usually no stipulated time. It depends on you and the target you are trying to service. People should always realize that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Any good and legitimate thing takes a long time, it is a building process, you are making money and re-investing it. You are setting targets, it takes a long time to build a solid brand.
How many branches do you have and what is the next step now that you are eight years?
It takes time to build a solid brand and I am actually taking my time. I am not in a hurry. I am doing it in phases. That is why I haven’t rushed into opening an outlet yet. I have a project at hand, hopefully as soon as it is completed, I will start work on the outlet, which is the next thing on my business plan. But prior to that time, there are still some basic things that have to be on ground. By the time you have all these outlets, you have to feed them, stock them with new designs, you need manpower and machinery for quick production. So, it is not just about having an outlet. We are taking our time, hopefully, by the special grace of God, we will kick off one day.
How much did you start your business with and what is the worth now?
I will say, the first job I did was for my brother and he paid me. I guess, he was tired of me sketching every other day, so he decided to give me money so that I can make something for him. He was going for a wedding and he said, I should make something for him. I had the vision to make sketches but not the boldness to start it. He was the one that kick started it for me. I started from the scratch, made sales, saved the money. I started with tailors in my neighbourhood. I couldn’t employ one because of money. I was staying around Akoka, Yaba, Lagos. Then, I got the tailors, I bought the fabrics, sketched the style and gave them. I didn’t start with any big money. I can’t really evaluate the business now and tell you how much it is worth.
We noticed that you use celebrities a lot as your models, why is that so?
Celebrity endorsement is something that is done all over the world. Giorgio Armani and the other big brands do it. Even non fashion companies do it, NGO inclusive, they use celebrities to push new products out to the market. What we are doing is following the acceptable norm and practice. That is why we also use celebrities to push our products into the market.
What will you say has sustained the market up till now?
I think it has been the grace of God coupled with every day challenges. It has really been the grace of God and my determination to make sure that my business doesn’t fail. I can’t see myself doing any other thing, so the business must not fail.
Tell us about your family, is your wife into this kind of business as well?
My wife is a very fashionable person. She has always been in business, even while we were in school she always had a boutique. She also sells other home utensils. She is a business person but she is not a staff of Vans Kere.
Where do you see Vans Kere by the time you are 10?
Let us wait and see, my prayer is that by the time we are 10, we would have achieved a whole lot. I have certain things I will like to achieve by then. Hopefully in two years, I would have achieved all. It will only get better. By the grace of God, we will get there.
- This story was first published in ENCOMIUM Weekly on Tuesday, August 7, 2012