Adenike Ogunlesi looks around in her modern clothing store on the outskirts of Lagos, Nigeria’s economic hub. She is happy, “I always wanted to use fashion to inspire, create self-confidence, and show what it is possible to achieve.”
Who could be better placed to show what is possible than she is? Ogunlesi started her own business 20 years ago – from the boot of her car. Day after day, she stood outside her children’s nursery school and sold children’s pyjamas that she had made herself. She is now the owner of Ruff ’n’ Tumble, Nigeria’s leading children’s clothing brand, with more than 250 employees and 17 shops across the country.
It was here in Ikeja, the capital of the Nigerian state of Lagos, that she made her dreams a reality. The modern complex is home to the flagship store, offices for administration, marketing and sales, and the company’s own sewing workshop – all under one roof.
“The idea to start my own business really came to me by chance. At the time, I just could not find any nice, good value pyjamas for my children,” Ogunlesi laughs. So, she went ahead and made the pyjamas herself – and they received an enthusiastic response not just from her family, but also from other mothers among her friends and acquaintances. Ogunlesi quickly realised that the demand for good, high-quality childrenswear is huge. She expanded her product range and created her own children’s clothing brand.
Adenike Ogunlesi got her enthusiasm for fashion from her mother, who came to Nigeria from Scotland as a young woman and also worked in the textile industry in her new home. “The most important lesson I learned from my mother is that you need to be financially independent as a woman. This is not a matter of choice. It is a matter of necessity. It’s the only way you can live a life based on your own choices,” says Adenike Ogunlesi. She now shares her knowledge with other women – through her own foundation. She advises women on how to take control of their own finances.
It’s not always easy for women to access financing and loans – and Adenike Ogunlesi has first-hand experience of this issue. As a young woman founding her own business, she visited one financial institution after another. “But nobody believed in my business model. The advisor at the bank thought I wouldn’t be able to handle the pressure of international competition,” she says. Lack of access is a well-known problem for many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This is why DEG finances financial institutions that supply financial services to SMEs. Institutions such as Access Bank in Nigeria, which in the end offers her the right financial products, advice and access to a network of female entrepreneurs. Access Bank, which was then still a small financial institution, is now the largest bank in the country.
Also Adenike Ogunlesi has been able to grow her business and expand to other cities in Nigeria, successfully managing her company even through challenging times, such as during the ban on imports of textile fibres, which was in place for several years. She uses sustainable production methods. Fabric remnants from the production process, for example, are used to make accessories such as headbands, bracelets and bags.
Ogunlesi has now handed over operational management of the company to a general manager. She still looks after product design herself, meeting with her staff in the design department to discuss designs, patterns and fabric samples. The finished designs – inspired by African and European style elements - are made in the sewing workshop two floors above the shop floor.
If Adenike Ogunlesi gets her way, the sewing workshop will soon be making not only garments for her own brand, but also pieces for other, large international brands. She wants to extend the sewing workshop in the near future, and a dual training centre is also in the planning stages. And today, nobody doubts that these plans will become a reality.