Olawumi Ajoke Olatunji is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Admire Wardrope, a bespoke made to fit clothing outfit based in Lagos. In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, she talks about how fashion is her first love, building a global brand, and some of the challenges that come with it.
Sitting at her store in Lagos, surrounded by beautiful, trendy clothes, Olawunmi said fashion found her and not the other way around. A graduate of Chemistry from the University of Lagos, Akoka with a Masters’s degree in Industrial and Labour Relations, her passion for style and fashion cannot be overemphasized.
Developing interest in fashion at a young age, she is of the view that one does not necessarily need to break the banks to look extraordinary and has over time, carved a niche for herself as an exceptional fashion influencer.
Speaking on what motivated her to finally go into fashion as opposed to practicing what she studied in school, she said, “I went into the business of fashion because I always like to look good and want my surroundings to look great as well. The name of my brand came up because the word ‘admire’ was always used by people to me anywhere I went, both at home and abroad. People always told me they admire my look, the way I combine outfits, my fashion style, and so on. This led me to start to Admire Wardrope in 2002, about eighteen years ago. Every outfit made here is meticulously made here. If I’m not satisfied with the work, we won’t put it up for sale, some have to be taken off for further quality control, improvements, and so on.
Olatunji believes the fashion business is sustainable and unique because it appeals to everyone, both young and old. ‘Fashion will never go out of style because no matter the age, everyone wants to look good always. We work with various fabrics, both local and western and our apparels are for every woman, adventurous, sassy, bold, young, fresh, reserved, or not.”
When asked what other business she’d have done if she didn’t go into fashion, she said it has always been fashion for her. “I’ve always been fashion inclined, and even when I was in school I used to sell bed spreads and home decorations on a small scale but I didn’t imagine I would go into Fashion Design someday. Perhaps I would have been a lawyer or an activist if not fashion because I like the truth and hate injustice in any form.”
What else does she do aside from designing clothes? ‘’I am also heavily into recycling. We can turn a used plastic bottle to something beautiful, remnant fabrics into lovely items, and so on. It’s a God-given gift because I didn’t learn it from anywhere. My vision is to impart this knowledge to the younger generation who are ready and willing to learn. Our brand also includes space improvement and management. You may have a space that you think is small but, we can help you manage and turn it into something beautiful.”
Olawumi does not share the view that African women have completely abandoned their cultural heritage to embrace the western way of dressing. According to her ‘’African women are strong, especially Nigerian women and they are also very fashionable. However, a few years back, many people got tired of tailors who most times, disappointed and did not satisfy their requests, but thank God things have changed now. We have many wonderful Nigerian designers these days with mind-blowing creativity. For instance, as you can see, everything I’m wearing is tie and dye (adire), so I won’t say we have abandoned our way of dressing. There’s no way we won’t inculcate a few western clothes into our style, especially if you’re a working employee. Nigerian fashion brands have taken over global fashion and I must commend all of us for that’’
On the challenges associated with the fashion business, she said, “The first is sourcing for good fabrics. If you want your business to thrive, you must use fabrics that are of good quality, durable, weather-friendly and uncommon. Luckily, we now have textile graduates as well as skilled artisans from Nigeria producing beautiful adire, which is taking over the world now. Another challenge is the issue of epileptic power supply. We run on generators, clothes we’re supposed to produce within a week could end up taking a whole month. We also have the challenge of good staff; many of our youths are lazy, proud, and disloyal. Once they learn a little bit of the work they will just stop coming but I’m grateful that I have managed to get wonderful, loyal staff who stick by me through thick and thin and I believe this is because we have a very good structure which I believe is a solid foundation for any successful business.”
On her dream for Admire Wardrope, she said, ‘‘my dream is that this brand outlives me, to make women beautiful no matter their size, to design beautiful spaces, to have franchises all over Nigeria and the world in general, thereby putting food on people’s table, empowering younger women and make a lasting impact in people I come across.”
On if she has any regrets, she said she has none over what she does. “I am fulfilled and I thank God for everything. My husband is awesome and has been my inspiration. Despite his busy schedule, he has supported this venture from infancy, he inspires me a lot and for that, I’m most grateful’’.