Tosin Kunu, a graduate of Demography and Statistics from the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Osun State, is a fashion entrepreneur and the Chief Executive Officer of Tweetly and Repertoire by Kunu. In this interview by TAYO GESINDE, she talks about her passion for fashion and the need for every designer to know how to market their products.
Foray into make-up artistry
I am in the fashion business by choice. I had a short stint in the banking industry before starting my own business. Let me say fashion found me. I have always been passionate about fashion since I was a kid. I used to get into trouble because of fashion. Most children had different reasons why they were punished but mine was because of fashion. My mother was fashionable so she understood the bulk of my problem. When I completed National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), programme, I looked for job for a number of years before going into business. Somewhere along the line, I was invited for a make-up party. There I got in contact with make-up and worked with some make-up artistes. I also became a consultant for some beauty products. Then, I had the dream of dealing with everything that concerns women, taking care of them from head to toe. That prompted me into cloth making. Before then, I was selling shoes because that was another passion of mine. Shoe was my vice and I decided to make profit of that vice of mine. That was how fashion found me. The business I was doing before died a natural death because when I discovered fashion, I found my niche.
When and how did Repertoire by Tosin Kunu start?
I have two companies, one is Tweetly, where we retail cosmetics, make-up products and we do make-up artistry and the other is Repertoire by Tosin Kunu. Repertoire by Tosin Kunu is a clothing label. My plan was to sell other people’s clothes but I started making clothes by error. Like I told you, I like fashion and I could turn a rag into fashionable attires. Back then, I used to have problems with tailors because whatever they made for me, I would take it home and make the best of it because I always wanted something simple. Sometimes, my friend and I would go to a particular tailor to make an outfit and they will see mine and ask if it was not the same tailor that made theirs that made mine because I have a way of turning things around. One day, I wanted to go for a party with my sister but the tailor messed up the expensive clothes we bought despite the fact that her fees were on the high side. My sister was upset and was shouting. There, I decided that I could make my own clothes but as of then, the only encounter I had with a fashion designer was my mother’s tenant that people used to call ‘agba tailor.’ I decided to learn how to sew during ASUU strike but it was the week I started learning to sew that the strike was called off. So, I only learnt for two weeks but I went online, bought books and I trained myself how to sew. I had my business Tweetly going on one side and started making clothes for myself and my friends. After a while, I couldn’t do it alone and I employed a tailor. That was how Repertoire by Tosin Kunu started.
What were the challenges you faced and how were you able to overcome those challenges?
My major challenges are capital and human resources and that is what most entrepreneurs in Nigeria will tell you. The truth is that I have not overcome the said challenges but I was able to manage it. But with experience, you will know how to manage people.
What do you need to do to become successful in the fashion business, especially the clothing line?
To be successful in fashion business, you need to learn the business part of it. If you don’t learn the business part of it, you will have beautiful designs sitting on your shelf for years without any patronage. I have a training school here and I always tell my students that talent, design and production should take ten per cent of their time while they need to learn how to sell themselves. A lot of people who know me very well know that a day will not go without me wearing my design. So, I understand that I am the number one ambassador of the brand, nobody can sell me like I can sell myself. I have learnt how to market my products and how to market it everywhere. Now the world has gone digital and I am learning the rope in that regard, I even paid people to teach me how to go about it. I am a good student to that effect. Also, you need to define the part of the business you want to go into because we have so many parts such as ready to wear, made to measure and haute couture. All you need to do is map out your business path, no one will do that for you. Whichever aspect you want to play in, go ahead, the market is large. Life of an entrepreneur is not easy. I slept 4.00 a.m today and I am here talking to you. You have to sit down and note that the larger you get the more you have to get involved. There are people who are ready to take the work off your shoulder. For me I am in ready to wear, made to measure and couture, but the most stressful and frustrating part in this industry is the made to measure, it can frustrate you out of business because you deal with owambe attires, ankara and others. However, it pays too because it is from there that I pay my staff. I don’t turn back clients; I deal with them as they come. Couture is the money-making aspect of the business but it is time consuming and in case that is where you want to specialise in, go and get the clients who are ready to make the pay.
How do you get inspiration for your designs?
I get my inspiration everywhere. When you bring your fabrics to me, I go for the design that best suits it. I have a drawing book and sometimes when the design comes to my head, I draw it.
What makes Repertoire by Tosin Kunu different from other fashion outfits?
We pay attention to detail and we also ensure that we make our customers stand out even if it is a simple design. We pay attention to the need of the client. Sometimes what the client thinks he or she needs is not what is best for them so we advise and consult with them. We are in the market to make them come back not to service you once and you are dissatisfied. We make our clients look stunning.
What is your take on the allegation that Nigerian designers usually disappoint their clients?
If you ask every customer that has ever walked in here, they will tell you that if Tosin tells you to come at 12’ o clock, your dress will be ready at the scheduled time. If it is not going to be that time because sometimes we have issues in the industry and if I tell you some stories, your heart will bleed. Then, integrity in business is very important, you have to call the client and tell why his or her need might not be met at the set time. Here, we don’t take more than our capacity. Recently, we made a wedding dress that we should have shipped to USA in July but I had to sack one of my tailors who was incompetent so I had to make the dress myself. I have learnt not to shift the blame because when they bring the clothes here, they bring to Tosin and when we mess it up, I don’t say the tailor messed up, I tell them we’ve messed up and how do we get out of this? That was what happened with the wedding dress. I had to get a new tailor and because of the size of the machine I am using, I directed the new tailor to deal with it but she stained the dress. I had to take it to the dry cleaner to see how I could save the dress but I was told it was beyond control. At that point, would I have called to say we can’t go on with it? No, and fortunately there was ample time for us and I had to call the client who happened to be a non-Nigerian who was doing business with a Nigerian for the first time to tell her what happened. She was the one that was even consoling me. Before I called her, I had already started sewing another dress for her. That is the right way to handle it but the wrong way is to keep quiet and try to rush the new cloth and not being able to reach the set time for the wedding. For me, when we have issues, I am already thinking on my feet for a solution to resolve it. If you know you have messed up, call your client but don’t make it a habit, always try your best possible to deliver on time. I always try to get extra fabrics for unforeseen circumstances.
How do you combine your career with the home front?
I thank God that I have an understanding husband and that is the number one help God has given me. I am not a supernatural being. I delegate what I can’t do. If I tell you the last time I went to the market, you will laugh. I pay people to do it for me. Moreover, my mother taught me something that what you can do with money, don’t kill yourself doing it. So, if I can pay someone to take care of my domestic chores, we women we should stop killing ourselves. The fact that you are not the one who swept the floor of your house doesn’t mean you are useless. Sometimes, my career still clashes with the home front but I have got the trick of preparing my meals and keeping them in the freezer. More so, I know how my schedules are and if peradventure I don’t close on time or get tired from doing the day’s job, I will go to an eatery and package a good meal and respectfully give it to my husband. What people can do for you, let them do them for you. What you can do yourself, do them.
Finally, what is your advice to young ones out there?
They should follow their dreams. They should follow their hearts and the earlier they do that, the better. Don’t slave around for people and wait till you don’t have energy again to start doing your own. They should start saving as soon as possible so that they can point to the fact that they have invested in something through thick and thin. Peradventure, you discover that such path is not going to work or is not working, if you need to train yourself and go for training, if you need to learn, go and learn, and if you need to start all over again, then start all over again.