Clothing is one of the basic needs for every human and because of the necessity attached to it across the globe, makers of this essential need continue to expand and improve on their designs and brands for profitability. In Nigeria wearing smart and trendy clothes has become a fashion statement for all ages.
For designers in the country, producing smart designs requires hard work, skill, effort, and creativity but in the end, it is a very rewarding venture.
Meet Adenike Ogunlesi, the founder of the Nigerian children’s clothing manufacturer and retailer, Ruff ‘n’ Tumble. A company which started in 1996 out of the boot of her car in Lagos, and today it has over 15 stores across several cities in the country.
Early Life and Education
Born by a Scottish mum, Mrs. Betty Okuboyejo, who came to work and live in Nigeria. While in the country, her mum came across the popular Adire fabric and decided to build a business out of making clothes. She described her late mother as one of the most impactful individuals in her life in terms of her courage, resilience, work ethics, standards, and creativity to build something from nothing.
Her mother owned fashion label ‘Betti-O’ famous for designing distinctive and flattering clothes with local fabrics (the Adire) for both sexes when western clothing was still in vogue.
During her second year as an undergraduate Law student at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Adenike opted out of school unsure of what to do with her life. She reluctantly accepted her mother’s invitation to work in her women’s Afrocentric clothing business at Ibadan.
That experience helped her realise what she wanted to do, as she discovered in the long run that she loved making clothes.
As her business evolved, she enrolled at the Lagos Business School for a course in Business Management and Customer Service. She also took some senior management programs. The trainings helped her to gain insight on how to grow, expand and brand her outlets.
The birth of Ruff ‘n’ Tumble
Ruff ‘n’ Tumble started in 1996 when she first sought to make some pajamas for her three kids. The designs of these pajamas made them stand out from anything that was currently in the market.
She advertised to a friend and her sister-in-law that she could make pajamas for their children. They showed interest and from there, the journey to the creation of Ruff n’ Tumble started.
She later moved on to other types of clothing which include: playgroup 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 playgroup.
She became a popular figure at events such as bazaars and even school markets where she displayed her wares. She saw the opportunity in the market which at that period had few Nigerian brands.
After this realisation, she conducted a market research on consumer preference for children clothing. She drove through major outlets to observe what other children businesses were selling and what they were not. Her findings revealed that none of them were selling children’s clothing as individual items. Her findings helped her to come up with the colorful designs 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 after obtaining a loan from her brother.
In a bid to put her product in the face of her customers, she used her children as models for her clothes. She would dress them in outfits made for sales and take pictures of them which served as catalogs for potential customers.
Growth in her business chain
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 the country.
With more than 50 employees and several branches nationwide, the business has grown from being 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. Her brand has transcended beyond making just pajamas and T-shirts to producing socks, jackets, swimwear, shorts, trousers, suits, shirts, and other clothing items.
While targeting young adults, Adenike has also widened her business model from the Ruff ‘n’ Tumble children’s clothing line with the introduction of newer brands, introduced to cater for the unique fashion of millennials.
Challenges doing Business
One inspiring lesson from Adenike’s success story is that she grew the brand at a time when there were no investors’ funding rounds or adequate infrastructure necessary to support small to medium businesses in the country.
Like many businesses in Nigeria, she encountered challenges in getting access to finance at the early stages of the business when she wanted to scale, despite the fact that the business had been consistently profitable. Her business continues to thrive amidst the challenge of social infrastructure and lack of government support.
Awards and other Appointments
Mrs. Ogunlesi has won several awards which include:
- The City people Awards – Female Achiever in the Children’s fashion sector 2001.
- The Glam Awards 2014 – special honor as a female game changer in the Children’s fashion industry.
- The Nigerian Entrepreneur Awards 2014 – Award for Creativity and Excellence.
- She is also a mentor at the Mara foundation and a finalist at the CNBC AABLA (All Africa Business Leaders Awards) in the category of the Business Woman of the year 2014.
- She was featured in the Africa Open for Business documentary and was recognised as the FATE Foundation Model Entrepreneur in 2005.
- She has also been a Non-Executive Director of Lafarge Africa Plc since March 11, 2015.
Her Advice to Aspiring Entrepreneurs
“Find your authentic self – everybody else is taken. Find out who you are, what your purpose is, what you doing, what you are passionate about, and then go after it with everything in your total being.”
She now spends most of her time mentoring and training the unemployed and the vulnerable in the society.