Changing Mindsets!

Changing Mindsets!

Often times I have wondered why we designers complain about so much and yet refuse other viable options that are available simply because of certain mindsets.  I’ll give you an example…

The typical complaint with designers and fashion entrepreneurs in this industry are local tailors or lack of competent machinists to work with.  Of all the “challenges” I asked designers to send me during the Designers Connect gathering, predominant on the list is the issue of tailors.  From late coming to bad work to bad work ethics.

I have worked with local tailors in the past and I know the edge I had above them was my ability to sew and other viable options.  Where one left me in the lurch, I would simply call my local tailor to assist me churn out my work based on patterns I gave her and together we would churn out the work.  Other times when I was less busy, I tested her competency by sending a simple design for e.g. a boubou and asking her to do her normal “free-hand cutting” on a piece of paper so I could have a template to work with.  And she always obliged.  Where she went wrong, I would correct her.  Why was I doing all this?  I was trying to work out a process where she could easily create simple patterns and get my machinists to sew up the toile for testing.  Of course I paid her for her efforts.
Why am I saying all this?!  I have realized that designers complain without wanting to do their part or even entertain suggestions to current work procedures.  Due to the mindsets we have, we are averse to change.  Listen!  We need to change our mindsets and break up the production process!  You cannot own or be directly involved in the whole production process from start to finish!  It is simply not sustainable in the long run.  I know!  I have been there!  You cannot expect to get a different result if you keep doing the same thing over and over again!  In the same manner, how can you expect a normal local tailor, who is not super human, to churn out so much work in so little time and with much accuracy.  
First we need to train our staff no matter how experienced we think they are.  Why?!  Simply because work cultures are different and they need to understand your work process, especially if they have limited skills.  Like hello?!  How many months do fresh graduates or even experienced staff spend in training school for banks and accounting firms before they start to work.  I know when I first started at KPMG, we were at a retreat for 3 weeks learning the KPMG culture and basic accounting to prepare us for work.  Even those who were already in the system still had to go through the orientation programme called KBAC.
So why oh why do we not train our tailors and expect them to deliver fabulous work?!  How can we get a tailor today and throw him on the job without first training them to our standards and then complain that they are incompetent.  Are we forgetting we also run businesses?!  No matter how experienced you are, production methods vary in different establishments!  What you think is great might be awful to me so it is my job to ensure my tailor delivers good work… except of course he has simply refused to learn!  And oh…. let us also not forget the fact that if you can break down, so can your local tailor!  I know… I have been there and also made these same mistakes.  
When I first started out, I just found good tailors, ran a small test for them and just threw them on the job.  Of course, I suffered dearly for it when I had to redo some garments and other times, the tailors would burn them!  I sat down and began to review my methods and almost slapped myself!  First I never trained them.  These tailors were used to working with ankara and I was working with wool for suits.  They were used to high temperatures during their production almost to the point of “cremating” the fabric but it never affected the ankara fabric.  Of course they would use the same heat to steam wool which would obviously burn!  After searching deep within and realizing the fault was with me, I sat down to think of how things could work better.  
I compared my business to the places I had worked and almost beat myself up.  How could I have learnt all these things without applying them?!  And that was when I changed my strategy and it worked.  Yes, it took a while because most people I worked with were averse to patterns but eventually, seeing they failed all their tests, they conformed.  
You know what I think the solution to this tailor problem is?!  Simple!  Break up the  production process, let them handle only a fraction of the process, perhaps only the “cutting”.  What I mean is if you have a good tailor, get him to do only the cutting, and then take it to someone else to join for you…. or better still… get joiners in your production unit and start a small production line and get them to join it for you!  And I know it works!
One of the easiest ways to retain staff in my opinion is to teach people limited skills in certain areas and get them to rise through the system.. Sort of like a promotion.  I know the day I asked my local tailor to create a pattern for me, he was ecstatic because I was giving him a chance.  Of course he bungled but at least he realized he was moving up the ranks and my plan was to get him to start assisting me with pattern-making so I could find joiners he could oversee because he already understood my construction methods.
I think more of what designers in the industry need are machinists rather than tailors.  And what are machinists?!  Simple!  They are called joiners in the local industry?  Someone who can run a machine and who can sew straight stitches.  I tell you I believe that is the only way forward!  Why do I think so?!  
  • First they have limited skills so there’s really nowhere else for them to go.
  • Second, you can begin a form of promotion system where they move on to the next stage (which is essentially more responsibility) after they have perfected their sewing skills.  That way they also feel they are rising up the ranks.
  • Third, you begin a form of production line where different people know their areas of responsibilities and become specialized in those areas.  You can rotate them but ONLY when they have earned the right.

So please please please start thinking about this.  If you, however, keep searching for a good tailor so you can burden him with all your work, guess what?!  He will be over-burdened and leave you probably for the next best thing which is another better paying job or to set up his own establishment.  Or hold you to ransom.  One person should not handle a whole garment from start to finish.  

People wonder why things seem to work in other countries?!  Simple!  Division of Labour!  This is how proper factories operate worldwide.  I recall during my internship programme about 50 people, give or take, worked on a pair of trousers.  And guess what?!  Some didn’t even know where their work ended up in the whole garment.  I found it surprising but it made sense.  They only sew straight lines and where they do not show up, you can simply get someone else who can sew a straight line and take her place.  And of course since they know they can easily be replaced, they stay… in fact some had been there for 25 years!  
No you do not have to have up to 50 people.  You can set up a small production line with just 3 people.  When I started, I created the patterns, one person sewed the garment, the other person sewed the lining and the third just did all the running around like the steaming, tacking, buttons, etc.  They worked as a team and that way, we could identify problems before delivery to the customer.  Yes it was frustrating and a lot of hard work at first but after a while, things became much better.
So how can you as an aspiring designer get this system to work for you?!  Simple!  
  1. Get some basic formal or informal training in pattern making and garment construction so when you relate with your staff, they know you know your stuff.  
  2. Do not rely on your tailor for everything.  Get him/her to only your “cutting” and even the pinning.  Of course you do your proper homework by giving him proper well labelled drawings and fabric swatches not just some sketches of just the front of your garments and expect him to know what is going on at the back. How would he know?!
  3. Get machinists who you have tested and trained to sew the seams together.  Where you get stuck, call your tailor to explain it to you.  That’s what my staff did and I would explain the stuff over the phone to them simply because I created the patterns and they had detailed pictures to assist them.   And you take it from there.  


So in conclusion, I think we designers need a reality check and need to get over ourselves.  We need to start doing the needful and relying less on our tailors and more importantly, we need to start changing our mindsets!  Who says things always have to remain the same way even if they seem to be working for you much less when they are not?!  There are always better ways to do things.  This is how it is always done does not mean it is right especially if you have evidence of the contrary.  It is simply a fallacy!   
The truth is when you break up the whole process and everyone knows what they are meant to do then life will be easier and guess what?!  Work eventually becomes faster and you can more easily allocate your costs and charge better for your garments!
Here’s wishing you all the very best in the new week and hoping you do things differently!
I leave you with some pictures I took during my internship programme.  Yes this was a huge factory but I’m hoping this will stir us up to create our own small CMTs and hopefully we will begin to run proper garment manufacturing outfits in this environment!




OH… PS!  I have some machinists / joiners….looking for work.  Had to go to the middle of Lagos Island to look for unemployed youths who have taken the time to learn a skill and find jobs for them in the industry in a bid to alleviate poverty and make life easier for designers as well.  But guess what?  The same designers who are complaining have refused to give these people a chance.  But you know what?!  Someday, it will make sense!

So if you are a designer and you share my position and require machinists, please contact me.  Many thanks! 😀  

Cutting Costs in Your Fashion Business!

Cutting Costs in Your Fashion Business!

Many of us often focus all our attention on increasing revenue and profits in our fashion businesses that sometimes we fail to realize that having a higher disposable income, i.e. more money to spend, is not only possible by increasing our cash inflow but also by reducing our expenses.  Simply put, cutting costs saves you money! And YES we know we need to cut costs but just have no clue how to go about it since everything we spend our money on seems vital to the business.  However, there is always a way… if you know how…
Today, I’ll draw your attention to an expense caption in the books that gulps so much of our money that if computed over a period can actually buy all the machinery we need and even pay salaries for the next 12 months! Any idea?

Yup!  PHONE BILLS!  Those things I hate to see at the end of each month and which makes my heart beat faster anytime I check my account balance.  Yeah.. this may be the happy face 😀 I have when talking to friends, family and customers but then it quickly turns to: 🙁  when I see my credit balance at the end of the month & when it’s time to pay my bills!  Yeah… not a happy time for me at all I tell you.  Thankfully I use a post-paid line else it would have been much worse!

Many people ask why I use a post paid line.  Well I ask how possible it is for an entrepreneur not to use a post paid or contract line.  The excuses I usually get when I advise people to get post-paid lines are “I will be unable to control myself” or “I would rather pay as I go along so that when I run out, I know I’m out and I do not run into debt”.  All I say is HA!  Like seriously?!  
I doubt a lot of people chat as much as I do.  Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you that I can gist for state and country!  One of my most shocking moments was when I got banned from Facebook chat for reaching my chat limit.  Like really, who gets banned from FB chat?!  I didn’t even know there was any such thing as a FB chat limit.  BUT one thing I realized was that no matter how long my conversations last for, my bills are ridiculously reasonable in comparison with the costs I would have incurred if I was using a pay as you go line.  AND I have a chat limit.  Interestingly enough and contrary to what people think, I chat more when I have a positive balance and begin to watch how long I spend on the phone the minute I hit a negative balance since I do not want to get disconnected.  
And why do post paid lines make so much sense?!  I’ll tell you just now! 
1st, your bills are cut by half!  Ok forget the fact that you can’t make free midnight calls but seriously, why should you be calling people in the middle of the night anyway?!  
2nd, your phones do not go off in the middle of a conversation!  There is nothing more embarrassing and more unprofessional than telling your customer, “Sorry, I ran out of credit!”  Oh yah, I forgot.  Blame it on the network why don’t you?!
3rd, you have a credit limit.  Anyone in business or business school would tell you the best way to finance your business is to leverage on credit facilities to enable you have sufficient cash flow to run the business.  In other words, try to buy assets and raw materials on hire purchase or credit facilities where you buy now and pay later, or in instalments.  So if this can be done on assets, why not extend the same towards your phone bills and work towards paying the bills.
RECENTLY, I discovered an even amazing communication facility that cut my bills even further and no is not limited to post paid lines only!  I’m not even sure if it applies to post-paid lines.  Closed User Group (CUG)!  I actually knew about it like 2 years ago but never got round to getting one set up for my staff and I till like last month or so and it has been completely amazing!  And I tell you, this really is the way forward for business owners!  
On my current CUG plan, paying N1,000 a month for each of the 3 lines within the Group gives me 500 free minutes to talk to anyone within my CUG and reduces my call costs to those outside the Group to I think 25k per second as against 50k per second.  That’s about N12,500 worth of free phone calls and about N8,000 savings in my pocket for handing out more instructions over the phone 😀   And the best part is, you can add as many numbers to the CUG list and call your tailor, driver, accountant, marketer, you name it.  
AND even better!  At Oja Ara the other day, I discovered a company which offers CUG platforms on all networks at an even better deal.  With their CUG plan, you actually talk for free throughout the month!  @ least that’s what they told me!  I think many telecomms companies actually offer a CUG plan.  Now THAT’s what I’m talking about! 
So there you have it!  Be more efficient and get chatting for free!  You know what BT says… “It’s good to talk!”
Have a good day people!
PS.  Pictures culled from the internet
Words of Advice from a Seasoned Businesswoman…

Words of Advice from a Seasoned Businesswoman…

Yes I promised I’d do this AGES ago but somehow kept losing my interview sheet or something else always came up.  But today, though I had other stuff to write about, I thought it would be good to start off your week with an encouraging story from my major role model.  A story I grew up listening to but never quite appreciated it  until I became an entrepreneur.  A story that sort of corroborates my take on doing business without necessarily having lots of money.
Ok… here goes…

Meet Mrs Adebola Alanamu, my FABULOUS mother!  Yeah…. she’s a stunner right?!  Can…and will probably give me a run for my money anyday!  😉  She is one person I know who understands how to use overdrafts and the banking system to its fullest advantage.  I write her letters and I am amazed at how she is able to manipulate her finances in such a way that she is pretty much a don at her bank.
Anywayz… here’s her story…
“I had no money when I started business.  I was working in Nigerian Breweries Marketing Company, starved of promotion for about 3 – 4 years so I moved to Wema Board Estate Limited as an auditor.  As time went on, I felt it was time for me to leave as I had no help and had to stay at home with my young children.  But I was in a predicament.  I had to pay up my debt to the company and still had my children to feed.  But since my children came first, my mind was made up! 
Before I left the company, I had a side job where I was supplying cement and sand to build the Festac ’77.  I paid up my debt to the company with some of the money I had made from that venture and used the rest to take care of my kids while I was at home with them.  Of course the money ran out eventually.
One day, out of desperation, I thought to myself ‘let me meet my bank manager, maybe he can help’.  Mr Komolafe, still a living witness, listened to my ordeal, looked at me for a looooong time and approved a N2,000 overdraft.  With this N2,000, I continued to supply cement and sand and that’s how my business took off!  I worked hard, always paid my employees on time, saved diligently and never denied my children the necessities they needed.  And I never for once allowed myself to think about the fact that I was a graduate supplying sand!  
From there, my overdraft increased to N4,000 and then to N10,000 and before I knew it, my business expanded to include cement block making.  And from block making, I moved to the oil industry as the dealer of a petrol station of one of the major marketers.  
Same thing happened when I moved.  I needed to deposit N40,000 to Nolchem but I only had N25,000.  The person who promised to assist with the balance shattered my hopes on the eve of payment so I ran to my mother who loaned me the money and told me I must return the loan in 3 months since she had retired from selling ankara in the market.  And then again my business began and grew.  
I built my business with overdrafts and zero collateral.  And for those who believe everyone in the oil industry makes lots of money, that’s not true.  Only high turnovers make sense.  All I had was the determination to succeed, my major motivation being my children, building relationships and paying back my loans and overdrafts and that is what has sustained me till today.  I became such a good businesswoman that even my company then, National, became my guarantor at the bank when I was moved from one petrol station and was asked to be the dealer of their prime station that had just been built by Shell.
I look around me today and see so many proud yet lazy people.  There is nothing you cannot do to make money.  As you can see, I even sold sand! Even as I speak, I still sell pure water at my retail outlet and make at least N100,000 a month from it – AND I pay my taxes as at when due.  So many youths today are proud. They need to make ends meet YET they feel insulted when you give them options.  For me, it’s not necessarily what you sell but how you sell it and more importantly, how you treat your customers.  With diligence, hard work and steadfastness, you can achieve a lot and you need to be motivated.  My major aim was to educate my children to whatever level they wished to go and still live a comfortable life.  This I have done as a single mother.
I have been in business since 1978 and I am still in business.  So I count myself as a very successful businesswoman!”
😀  Yup so do I.  Not easy bringing up 5 kids pretty much all by yourself for a substantial part of their lives but she did it and I must say she did a mighty great job of it as well.  After all, look how I turned out 😀 (LOL)!  But seriously, she was really strict!  We used to fear her a lot but now we love her to bits!  Thank goodness she’s really chilled out now!  Goodness… she never spared the whip at all!  I still remember that electric wire rubber, we called “rubber” she used to flog us with! Now I look back and I’m thankful she did only some of and not all she did though I must confess, I understand why now.  She did what she had to.  Her story was much longer but I edited it to capture the important points.  
So what’s the moral of the story?!  I’m sure it’s pretty obvious.  Be encouraged, be determined and remain focused!
I leave you to enjoy pictures of my mom and I.  Yup, she is always with me every step of the way!  And y’all shouldn’t ask why I’m dark either.  People keep asking me like I’m supposed to know why I chose my dad’s complexion. 
                @ my graduation from fashion school in Cape Town        @ Lagos Fashion Week, April 2010
On a business trip to Dubai which also coincided with my bday last yr  & in her office last year, on her birthday wearing an outfit I made for her.

Anywayz, have a great week everyone!


Giving Up Is Not an Option!

Giving Up Is Not an Option!

Taken from a friend’s BB display picture
I woke up this morning to the following BB broadcast…

“I was raped at the age of 9” – Oprah Winfrey
“I didn’t even complete my university education” – Bill Gates
“In my childhood days, I stitched shoes” – Abraham Lincoln
“I struggled academically throughout elementary school” – Ben Carson
“I used to serve tea at a shop to support my football training” – Lionel Messi
“I used to sleep on the floor in friends’ rooms, returning Coke bottles for food money, and getting weekly free meals at a local temple” – Steve Jobs
“My teachers used to call me a failure” – Tony Blair
“I was a 3rd class graduate in my first university” – Prof Wole Soyinka

… And the popular story “GEJ had neither shoes nor a school bag!”

Wake Up Peeps! What’s your story? Is it an excuse for failure? The Lord be with you.  J.Okene (JP)”

These are famous people we all know and look up to and need we even talk about the Abiolas and the owner of Coscharis Motors (who never went to school).  But truth is we all have our own success stories and no we may not be popular yet, we are still an inspiration to ourselves and others and should continue to be.  We need to inspire ourselves to continue to “keep keeping on no matter what”.

When I read the BB broadcast, I immediately added 3 more to the list.  Here goes:

“I sold sand and cement to pay off my loan to the company and feed my children when I made up my mind to resign from paid employment since I never got promoted” – Mrs Adebola Alanamu, Dealer, Conoil Service Station (my mother) – I promised I would tell you her story…. and I will very soon…

“I used to walk for miles to school without shoes” – Adewale Ajayi, Partner, Tax, Regulatory & People Services, KPMG Professional Services (my mentor).

“I used to wake up at 5am and drive for at least an hour (to and fro) everyday to pick up a girl and drop her off at school every morning before she resumed at 8am and I still had to be at school by 9am else I’d get kicked out of school if I didn’t meet my 80% attendance.  Why did I do this?  I needed money to complete my various final projects and graduate collection to enable me graduate from Fashion School” – Temitope Williams. – Yup… that was my story!  In fact, I did so many odd jobs not necessarily to make ends meet but to maintain a certain lifestyle and I was determined never to work as a waitress!

So yes!  You and I have our various stories.  And it is what keeps us going everyday.  Someone told me that people only get inspired by stories of popular people who made it.  I beg to differ.  I am inspired by normal people who have achieved a lot… regardless of whether they are celebrities or normal people.  It’s the stories I count.  And it is even more believable when you see and speak to these people everyday!  It makes you believe in yourself!

I went through enough challenges in South Africa and almost quit fashion school when my friend died but I kept at it, of course with lots of support and encouragement.   When I also felt like giving up as a young business owner, I kept at it.  Not because I had a point to prove to myself (by then I was at my lowest ebb and didn’t really care anymore) but simply because I didn’t want to disappoint those who believed in me.  And now, it seems my hard work is finally paying off!

So what’s the moral of my story?!  You may be going through enough issues now with your fashion business.  And you feel like giving up.  I talk to people going through challenges all the time and who have either given up or are on the verge of doing so and I try to encourage them to keep at it.  And forget what others say…. only giving up totally makes you a loser.  Giving up on a certain perceived route to success does not!  It simply means you need to backtrack and carve out another route for yourself and try to do things differently.  

And know this!  As long as you have life and God, it is not over until it’s over!  Make positive confessions and surround yourself with people who have your genuine interests at heart.  Keep at it and it will eventually pay off! 

Enjoy the rest of your evening…

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