Building An African Clothing Empire: Adenike Ogunlesi’s Ruff ‘n’ Tumble

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Adenike Ogunlesi photo

Adenike Ogunlesi

For more than a decade now, Adenike Ogunlesi’s has earned accolades, both at home and abroad, with her exciting and hip apparels in the children clothing business. From the time she “kicked herself out school” during her second year as a law student at Nigeria’s foremost institution, Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, to discover what she really wanted out of life; Adenike’s journey into the  business world has been reckoned with as a business model to entrepreneurs not only in Africa but the world as a whole.

After opting out of school, Adenike Ogunlesi reluctantly accepted her mother’s invitation to work in her women’s Afrocentric clothing business called Betty O at Ibadan. That experience helped her to discover what she wanted to do as she discovered at the long run that she loves making clothes.

However, after getting married with kids, she took a break from the clothing business to be a full-time mum in order to spend time with her children.

However, the idea that metamorphosed into the creation of her business, Ruff ‘n’ Tumble, was conceived when her kids ran out of pyjamas. She then decided to make pyjamas for her kids.

Subsequently, she thought that pyjamas could not be the only thing children need. With encouragement from her husband, she decided to take some of her children’s clothing apart to see how they were made and started making clothes for children.

At the long run, she advertised to a friend and her sister in law that she can make pyjamas for their children.  They showed interest and from there the journey to the creation of Ruff n’ Tumble started. She later moved on to making play group wears like jeans, t-shirts and skirts for her children. With time, her business started gaining ground as she started selling the clothes to mothers with kids at the play group.

Moving on, she enlarged her business coast by taking her clothes to bazaars and reasonable places where she could make reasonable sales.

“I started in 1996; I was selling from the back of my car.” “Wherever there was a bazaar, I was there, my table and my suit case, my children and sometimes even my husband.”

Discovering that the venture of making and selling children clothes was actually a lucrative business, Adenike conducted a market research on consumer preference on children clothing. She did this to know and understand the gap she would be able to fill in the children clothing business.

Her market research did not entail hiring a professional to do the work for her as she could not afford it at that time, rather, she drove through the city to observe what other children businesses were selling and what they weren’t. Her findings revealed that none of them were selling children’s clothing as individual items. So she came up with the idea of selling producing and selling ‘separates’ for children.

From there, she began hiring tailors to meet the increasing demands of the business. She also rented a small shop to create a permanent location and a retail outlet for her business.

To get more people informed about her product; Adenike did not rely only on direct marketing, she also devised a plan by using her children as models for her clothes. She would dress them in outfits she has made for sales and take pictures of them which will serve as a catalogue for potential customers .

According to her, this was the most powerful and effective advertising campaign ever. People were quick to identify with a Nigerian face, wearing ‘Made in Nigeria’ outfits. Till date, this has been her advertising line.

This innovative marketing strategy was devised at a time when such move was unheard of. ‘It was the first time that anybody had ever marketed children’s clothes like that. Not a clip art of a foreign magazine but actually using Nigerian children,’ Adenike said.

In the third year, the business has grown as many people started showing preference for made in Nigeria product. She then moved to a shop opposite her business site at the cost of 500, 000 naira ($3, 171) per year. Nike moved into the building all self-financed through profits from the business. She situated the workshop on the first floor and a showroom on the ground floor.

ruff tumble photo

Ruff ‘n’ Tumble models

For a company that started out of need, Adenike’s Ruff ‘n’ Tumble is today one of the most successful and innovative children apparel companies in Nigeria with outlets carrying its own brands as well as other brands. She has built a reputation as one of the best manufacturers of children’s clothing in Nigeria.

Ruff ‘n’ Tumble is also a strong children clothing line in West Africa. With more than 50 employees and 7 branches nationwide, the business has grown from her home as a creative children clothing line to a lifestyle brand that has transformed into a multi-million naira business with recognition beyond the borders of Nigeria.

Apart from this, Ruff ‘n’ Tumble has transcend beyond making pyjamas and T-shirts to producing socks, jackets, swim wear, shorts, trousers, suits, shirts and other accessories.

While targeting young adults, Adenike’s have also expanded her business from the Ruff ‘n’ Tumble clothing line with the introduction of two new brands – NaijaBoysZ and Trendsetters brands. This brand was introduced to cater for the unique fashion sense of today’s young adults while celebrating the colourful iconoclastic fashion sense of Nigeria’s emerging youth.

One amazing lesson from this trailblazer is that she grew her business at a time when there was no business support system or matured infrastructure necessary to support small to medium businesses in her home country, Nigeria. It has indeed not been a bed of roses so far as she encounters blockage in access to finance at the early stages of the business when she wanted to move the business to a bigger premises despite the fact that the business had been consistently profitable.

Her business, however, continues to strive amidst the challenge of unreliable electricity supply, ban on importation of fabric, increasing cost and overheads and human resource challenge, where the people who are coming out of school do not have the real education and what they bring into the business is very little.

Through diligence and hard work and creative license which she says has always worked for her, she was able to build a successful venture. Adenike’s story proves that it takes passion, strong will and patience to own and run a business in Nigeria.

According to her, “one of the things that had helped our brand is the fact that we always move with the global trends.”

Adenike really believes in the African dream , as she is quick to say that investment opportunities abound in Africa.”We don’t export now. Export to the West African coast, yes, all along the West African coast, yes, but to say, America or to England, I’m not interested in it at all. If 40 percent of the 120 million people in Nigeria are children, I have the potential of a huge market here.”

She posits that “most of the solutions that black communities in places like Nigeria are looking to the west for especially in the area of business can be more effectively proffered and implemented by the people living in the communities because they understand the culture and how the community works.”

Over the years, Adenike has been featured in the BBC World Documentary of the Year winning entrepreneurial documentary, Africa Open for Business Documentary and was honored as FATE Foundation Model Entrepreneur in 2005. She is currently a mentor of the Fate Foundation and Junior Achievement of Nigeria organisation. She also featured on the CNBC program Dangers and Dollars: Africa the final investing frontier anchored by Erin Burnett who went all the way to Nigeria to interview Adenike for the programme.

Will she tag herself successful? Adenike said in an interview: “Success for me is a journey. It is not a place you would say you have reached. It is not only about money, it is not about awards or accolades. It is about what you stand for, what your values are. For me, there has to be a wholesome definition to success.”

“The most important thing I did in the past was centering myself in God and His knowledge. It is very important for your spiritual and emotional balance.”

Are you planning to come out with your own production or explore your God’s giving talent, Nike says, “Be focused and clear in your mind about what you want to do. If you set out to do something, complete it. Don’t procrastinate. It is also important that you develop yourself. Finish your degree and then you start a whole way of learning. Self development makes you know yourself, your strengths and weaknesses.”

 

By; Oluwabusayo Sotunde