by Mercy Atigan
In an exclusive interview with CEO of Vodi Group, Mr Seyi Adekunle, he stated that growing up he never thought he would end up been a tailor, because back in the day no parent wanted their child to be a tailor, teacher or mechanic, but rather wanted to hear their children are either studying to become engineers, doctors or pilots.
He said that Vodi Group wasn’t setup in a day, it took 19years to setup the entity which also needed a lot of patience and was taken one step at a time, but he never really knew it would turn out this big. He said, after graduating from the university and going for the mandatory NYSC the little funds he had he used in typing his CV, buy soap and started making boxer shorts first for his fellow corp members, and from there he met a few graduates who were fortunate to work at the first generation banks in those days, standard trust bank and diamond bank and started making his second product which was the white and sky blue shirts, but still didn’t recover financially so they began adding more products to their collection.
He went on to say that the challenges he faced in setting up Vodi ranged from capital, sourcing raw materials, access to good workforce (tailors) which is still currently a challenge and also the general problem everywhere which is electricity. However, he stated that we were born for challenges and challenges are forever going to be a part of man’s existence. Going further, Seyi Adekunle never went to any formal fashion school to learn how to sew he practically learnt tailoring on the job from his first two tailors as it was a win win situation for them both as at 2001/2002. He made up his mind he wanted to learn tailoring so every rudiments and basics of tailoring he learnt and it was much more than what he would have learnt in a fashion training school which would have been for just a maximum period of one year, He said that even the first degree you get takes four years to five years max. If you were going for masters and PHD probably 10yrs, but as it is now he can be called a professor of tailoring because he has been in the game for 19years. He further advised that in having an entity like his or otherwise, you must be a part of the whole enterprise and you shouldn’t just sit and give instructions & directives alone.
On how Seyi Adekunle was able to raise initial capital to fund his Business, he said that he always advice young fashion entrepreneurs that the capital will not always be there, and that he is and always been an advocate for what you have in hand per time, is enough to set you up. He went on to say that, his own starting capital was the stipend that was given to him when he was an NYSC member and as at then it was only N3,600 that was in the year 2000/2001. He used the money in making his first boxer shorts and from there it grew to N5,000 then N10,000, he vividly remembers when he celebrated N100,000 and N1million and that was how he grew the business over the years. Seyi Adekunle went on to say that, this period of the covid 19 pandemic became a blessing in disguise for his business. He was able to look inwards and had time to challenge his creative ability. He realized that most of his work that weren’t captured by the media for the first 10yrs of his business, he used the covid 19 holiday in recreating some of those designs and today those designs are mostly what is been displayed today on his online platforms like instagram, that was one advantage he had during the covid 19 times. However, in terms of clientele, it was a big loss because they lost money for three to four months. He imagined that if they made N10million per month that means N40million was already lost and they had to cope with paying salaries in other to stabilize and keep their workforce. But with all the challenges the covid break gave them time to create, rebrand and work on all loopholes and now Vodi group has come out even stronger.
His fashion icons he looks up to are: Amancio Ortega (Founder of Zara), Karl Lagerfield and Dakova for Nigeria. He said, he loves Ortega because of the business prowess and the entrepreneurship acumen. The ability for Ortega to diffuse a top brand to suit every home, where both the average and young people now wear Zara. While Karl Lagerfield of blessed memory, brought style, color, panache and flamboyancy to fashion which to some extent inspired him over the years. Coming home, he stated that Dakova is the most creative fashion designer ever in history of fashion Africa. Seyi Adekunle said he was fortunate to meet him in his early days and was inspired by the detailing in Dakova’s work. He concluded that if there is anybody that has ever played with linen than any other it is Dakova. These three fashion icons has been his greatest inspiration over the years.
He further adviced young fashion entrepreneurs to always define their story on their fabrics, because that fabric and design should be able to tell a story about who they are. Creativity he said can never be overused, you can’t tap creativity and finish it. For Vodi tailors of Vodi group it’s about simplicity, their embroidery is their heritage and then the choice of fabrics has been their strength too. They go for the best of the best in the market. So apart from creativity, you have to learn to be patient. It took Vodi group 19years to get to where they are today. You can’t expect 19years in 3years it’s never going to happen. Seyi Adekunle stated that young entrepreneurs must understand were they are going, from the word go, they should know their story and their style, because other people’s style can be a distraction. You must create what defines you. If you have to copy, copy well and make sure when you see something you try and twist it, make it look different from the original so that your own can be original from your own end.
In terms of funding: He said capital will never be there. They will always tell you that Africa is broke and that’s the truth. He said there is no fashion designer that the government has helped to be big, you will grow if you are patient and manage within your means, Once you can put all these things together, persevere and keep improving on your character and also note that you can never be bigger that your clients, because they are your number 1 and they are your word of mouth before you do the billboards and adverts on Instagram then you will be surprised to see that overtime you will find out you are among the elites in the fashion world.
There are times I, Seyi Adekunle of Vodi felt like giving up and not going to work, because plans may not be working out or complains from clients or the tailors are not meeting up, just so many things. But with all, that he had to encourage himself to make it to work everyday. He said he belongs to the class who wants to impact, employ, create and export. He wants to create life out of the business and he wants to inspire a generation and its about work, work and work. According to him, you can’t do any legitimate work without having the normal challenges especially in this part of the globe, Nigeria to be specific. We have the issue of decline in Naira against the USD, so we do the business as if these challenges don’t exist. He said, once you are able to do business in Nigeria as if there is no government you will succeed, He sincerely stated that, that has being his mantra so he isn’t expecting, light, loan or anything from government in other to succeed in his business.
In conclusion, Seyi Adekunle told us that his personal mantra is ” Fashion is Life”. He went further to explain that if fashion is life then you look at it from the air you breathe, the blood inside you, the food you eat is life. So he lives fashion and lives for fashion.