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“You can’t have everything before you start” An Interview with Kola Kuddus on #SBrands

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By Demilade Osoteku, Omowunmi Ayeni and Philip Shobande

Kolawole Kuddus is a graduate of Philosophy born into a family on 5. He didn’t start being a fashion designer early enough until his second year in the University where his attention to details and fashion instincts earned him the rare role of being a personal shopper for some of his friends and colleagues. He didn’t go after fashion, fashion found him. Although not a loud dresser, his attention to details is impeccable.

Kola Kuddus designs male apparels that are African inspired. He gets his inspiration from everywhere from the collections for the time,  fabrics style, his imaginations and even people around.Individuality is something that has been able to rub off on his designs. According to him, “everyone is unique except you start cheating yourself by looking into other people’s works.”

With a monthly expesnses of over N200,000 ($1200) on the electricity generating set, the Nigerian environment has not been one that has been very supportive. Despite these challenges, he has been able to forge ahead and create success of his fashion line which he started in 2005. “Many of the people we started together have left the profession for paying employment, only passion has been keeping me going” he confirms.

He has big dreams for Kola Kuddus Coutour (KKC), his fashion line which according to him continues to expand by the passing of each day. He sees light at the end of the tunnel in every situation even if cash is not available and sees himself in charge of the big dreams.

Inspiration thrives in an atmosphere of positive association. “Surround yourself with people who believe in you and your dreams not saddists because during your down-time, you need all the positive energy you can get.”

Having built a brand that grows even without his active involvement, he enjoys remarkable flexibility that enables him to balance work and family effectively. In the early years “when I wake in the morning, I am thinking fashion, drinking fashion 24hrs, but right now the business has gotten to a level where it has a kind of structure and a brand to reckon with so whether you see the CEO or not, the business can run itself to a large extent.”

He advocates for building of an effective organizational structure by entrepreneurs to afford them a lot of flexibility to be able to do other things around apart from core business and have enough time for family, attend social gatherings and enjoy oneself.

KKC works with cotton, wool and fabrics that work more for men. His designs are very versatile. He has a dream for KKC which he wants to keeps getting bigger until it becomes a lifestyle brand. Not just a men’s clothing line but for women, children, and other fashion accessories. KKC will even in the future delve into furniture because “we are in a creative industry.”

KKC sees Nigerian Fashion industry as a growing one. It’s one that has a lot of potentials. As the Welfare Officer of Fashion Designer Association of Nigeria (FDAN) he says, the future for the industry is bright. With Armancio Ortega being the 3rd richest man in the world being a fashion designer and worth $56.7b the industry is quite big even if Nigerian designers design for  Nigerias alone.

On survining the competition, “There is no industry without competitions except you are PHCN or Nitel, every business has competitors and these are things one must consider before going into business. For me, immediately I conceive a design I implement it cause I may not be the only one having that design in mind.”

KKC has a new outlet at Shoprite Surulere which he regards as his second wife. He also has retail outlets in Abuja and Port-Harcourt. They also retail on a number of e-commerce websites across Africa,  Jumiabuyer.com.ng,  Alibaba.com.ng. KKC also has  stores in Ikoyi, Omole phase one and Surulere all in Lagos, Nigeria.

Kola look up to N Bassey, Lanre Da silva, Mudi in the Nigerian fashion industry while looking to Zara, Georgio Armani, and Gucci’s lifestyle on the international scene.

KKC will be launching a mentorship scheme by the end of the first quarter of this year called “Learning From the Pro” a program where he will be training and teaching people not just on fashion but also the business of fashion itself. After the training, the mentees will work for KKC for a while so as to understudy and understand the concepts before stepping out to start up. Consequently building more sustainable start-ups.

His advice for upcoming entrepreneurs goes thus: “You don’t have to be big to start, but you have to start to be big.” People usually want to wait for the perfect time they say ” let me have everything before starting” the truth is you can’t have everything before you start, even if you have all the money to start, you won’t have all the experience to start. So just start as small as you can and grow it then surround yourself with people that believe in you, that share the same vision with you. So when you have down times you can always talk to them cause you are going to have lots of challenges and you need people to encourage you.

With a big smile, he says “I used my first million to develop my business.” Kola Kuddus Couture won the Nigerian Youth Merit Award for Best Use of Fashion in December, 2013.

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