Hello there, welcome to another edition of ‘Passion to profession’.
I have in the house today a fashion girl and a big promoter of Nigerian brands. I’ve been trying to get her for a chat for a while now. I’m really glad we finally made it happen.
My guest today is fondly called Tata. She is the founder and a managing partner of popular retail brand, 41Luxe. Tata’s love for fashion is inborn. She has been one of the early promoters of #wearnigeria which makes her a girl after our hearts. We had the opportunity to ask her all the questions we wanted. She tells us about how she birthed 41luxe and what the future looks like for her store.
Have a read…
My name is Halima Yunusa, I am a daughter, wife and proud mother of 3 wonderful children. I am from Borno State. I was born and brought up in Maiduguri.
Ta ta ta tafiya ta nuna
I got that name from my dad when I was a little girl and it has surprisingly stuck. My dad said I was quite a handful child and in order to relieve my mum, he decided to take responsibility for my care, as they were both in school at the time. He taught me how to walk and encouraged me to take my little steps with a popular Hausa phrase – ‘Ta ta ta tafiya ta nuna which means the walk is set. That’s where it came from, It’s amazing how that stuck! From that time, everyone called them, Mama Tata, Papa Tata and that’s how I got the name.
Once upon a store
I studied Economics at the University of Maiduguri. Sometimes in 1999 (whilst in University for my degree), I thought of a way of making extra money – you know how your money was just never enough. Any opportunity I got to travel, half of my allowance was used to buy stuff to sell in school. I did that all through university and built up my own clientele there. This business idea came naturally as I have always been interested in fashion.
I continued in retail after I got married. However, after I had my first child in 2006, that was impossible. I couldn’t travel as often as I used to. As a new mom, I had to pay attention to my son and that was two years of being grounded. After the two year hiatus, I was ready to get back to my retail business.
It’s a Style Thing
As a fashion-conscious person, I always knew that whenever you stepped out, there was just always something about the next Lagos girl. You notice this everywhere you go in Lagos, from the girls hawking on the street to the high flyers. They are dressed stylishly, totally different from what we will see in Abuja. What is it with these people, I wondered. They don’t have two heads, so it’s not impossible, there has to be something! I did my research, I tried to find out what it was? I came to realise that It’s just-style. It’s embedded in the Lagos person. It’s a style thing.
So I thought as opposed to travelling to get stuff for my retail business, it would be great to ‘bring Lagos to Abuja’. It would serve as an ‘easy access’ for Abuja people. I thought it’ll give people the ease to just stroll in and have their choice of the best of Nigerian fashion under one roof.
I reached out to a couple of brands at the time but no one was responding to me. As far as they were concerned, Abuja people are not so fashion conscious. Those were the days of blackberry, there was no social media and influencers then. They were not aware that Abuja people were fashionable they didn’t know what we were capable of doing. To get through to them, I had to sell the idea that northerners have the means, and they will be willing to buy if you do stuff for their style, which is conservative. I did this for about a year, pleading and begging and no one would just give me a break.
I reached out to Lanre Da silva – and I always say this in every interview I have – that is one person that gave me my big break. Lanre decided to stock her apparel with me. She said she had a couple of friends she sews for in Abuja that come all the way to Lagos for her pieces. She felt they would be excited to have a place to get them in Abuja. The minute Lanre signed up, it was like, the whole world just wanted to be a part of 41Luxe! That birthed 41 Luxe, we decided we were bringing Lagos to Abuja. We started with about 12 designers at the time, got our small space and started selling.
Over time, our clients started asking that we add more lines to what we already had in store. This was between 2009 and 2011, it also happened that a lot of Abuja brands had started picking up as well. We registered 41 Luxe fully and took some of the Abuja brands to Lagos and that birthed, our Lagos store. The whole initial idea was to bring Lagos to Abuja and Abuja to Lagos as a form of access. The major objective I’ve always had for 41Luxe is – access, we’re giving people access to the best of Nigerian fashion.
The journey so far
We decided to open a 41Luxe store in Kaduna in 2018. That move turned out to be the biggest disaster of my business to date! It was a washout, a big blunder. The issue was, a business decision was made based on word of mouth. Our customers from Kaduna persuaded us to open the store, promising to patronize the store. We were going by clients’ promises and did not do a proper market survey to see what people would do. We just went ahead and spent money there that has never been recovered! I don’t think we made 20% of the money we invested in Kaduna over a period of two years.
Kaduna just never picked up, we actually had clients that would leave Kaduna to come to Abuja to shop the exact same things that were in the Kaduna store. I would always say, ‘you know you can just go to the store, see the store?’ It was not in a rundown area, it was actually in a new mall, the ASD mall at the time was the hype of Kaduna. We paid premium rent in Kaduna, but there was a mentality that people would say, they made their purchase in Abuja which I think worked against us.
We had to shut down the Kaduna store and we stuck to our model – Lagos and Abuja. Abuja is quite central to the north, we cater to every part of the North, Lagos on the other hand caters to southern parts of Nigeria. That’s the plan we’ve stuck to.
On Promoting Nigerian brands
Towards the end of 2009, there was a major break for Nigerian brands, that was also the period Selfridges did a pop-up with some Nigerian brands including Tiffany Amber, Lanre Da-Silva, Lisa Folawiyo and Odio Mimomet. At that point, it was obvious that the Nigerian fashion industry had gone global. I also wanted to be part of it – not just wear Nigerian brands but promote them.
There’s also a survey that says that the Nigerian fashion industry had started increasing to our own GDP as a country at a certain point. It was at that point that I decided to stick to Nigerian Brands. The birth of social media and all the tools that are being handed down to us have helped accelerate the popularity of our brands.
It was good to stock 100% Nigerian brands, however, over time, we have brought in some designers from abroad. We stock some designers from Nairobi and a few other places. Some of our clients that come into town for an event often want to dress African, they want to wear Nigerian outfits but they want shoes to go with their outfits. This prompted our decision to stock some international brands. Now about 35% of our stock are from popular international brands, we have Loius Vuitton, Gucci, etc to complement these Nigerian outfits.
Maybe She’s born with it
My interest in fashion started from my mum, it has to be from my mom. My mom didn’t always have access to the best of fashion, but she would take a small piece and change what it looks like, she’ll make it look more interesting. She was definitely the first person that piqued my interest in fashion.
I still have a thing for Iro and Buba, I think there’s no woman that’ll wear it the right way and not look wonderful. It’s amazing how it has evolved from what our parents wore into different interesting variations like the fitted Iro and Buba styles. I think I picked that love straight from my mom. If you wear a simple fabric in Iro and Buba tied properly with a scarf, you’re good to go anywhere and not look out of place.
I’m still learning about accessorizing. I don’t do a lot of accessories but I find that the most basic outfits come to life with the right accessory. I have noticed that some Nigerian brands are now moving into doing accessories, so you don’t have to spend too much to get something really cute and nice. There are bags made from raffia, beads that we can source locally, really lovely accessories that you can wear with your simple adire and you’re good to go.
On Brand Selection
Some brands approach us and there are brands we approach. We approach brands when we see that they have the potential, but they just do not have the wherewithal to go about it. We found out that some brands initially assumed that we were a high-end store that only stocked expensive things and they were scared of approaching us. So now we have to approach them.
It’s all about investigating, just doing checks online. There are certain brands that have no awareness, but they’re so good so we approach them. So I would say about 50% of our brands approach us while we approach the other 50%. It wasn’t so at the initial stage, at that time, I had to personally approach all the brands we stocked.
For the brands that approach us, we carry out quality checks. This involves checking how consistent the brand is online, browsing through the brand’s lookbook, and viewing a couple of pieces to be sure the style and quality are good enough. If there is no availability of spaces, then we can only advise such brands to wait till the next year. Our rent is annual, We could have space if we’re not renewing our contract with another brand.
41 Luxe clothing brand – To be or not to be
I don’t want it. It will take away from paying attention to what the clients want. Also, regardless of how you want to look at it, chances are, people will feel you’re promoting your brand more than their brand. No matter how you try to level it up. I think there’ll be more collaborations with the brands we’ve known and trusted over a period of time, we could have exclusive collections with such brands. Having our own brand is not in the works.
There’s always time to start something but I don’t have the energy for that now. I see what these brands are going through and I give them all the credits. They’re doing so well to manage human resources in this industry. You find that people are now going abroad to manufacture, they’re going to Istanbul to China. The efforts required for all of that would take me away from the family, which defeats the purpose of why I started the business. It’s something that may happen eventually or maybe my kids will take it up when I hand over the business to them.
The Lock down effect
The Lockdown was a major hit for a lot of brands. Some of them decided to drop bricks and mortar, and are now strictly online. Some went out of business, In that regard, we lost some brands. They’re not thinking of coming back now because of capital, they lost money and to recoup and have more items pulled out was hard for them. Most especially the small ones that were doing so well at the time. This is where government intervention would have helped these businesses. For the ones that stood the test of time honestly, you just have to say well done.
We resumed business in August, and it was a really slow August, September, October and November. Interestingly, the lockdown was probably my best period. People were not buying clothes but they were buying home fragrances and incenses. People were spending more time at home than they were used to and so orders for fragrances was incredibly high. That was the biggest time for fragrances in the store. I had to divert a bit of our income into investing in fragrances and scents.
We have a good mix of made in Nigeria fragrances and popular International brands which some people prefer. The Nigerian brands are also doing amazingly well as they are more affordable.
Finding a befitting name
This is the funniest story. I had carefully researched and picked possible names I wanted for the store. I came up with a few nice and catchy names. However, when we applied, the names were either rejected or they were taken. I sent different names on four, different occasions and they were all turned down. Sometimes they gave the most inconceivable reasons for rejecting the names, it was amusing and frustrating at the same time!
After the fifth time, I was frustrated and all out of names, so I said to my team, ‘this property is #41, right?” Then we sent – 41 luxury, 41 Luxe and another name and 41 Luxe was approved. After all the back and forth, we finally got a store name! That got me thinking, what happens when we move away from this location? Do we have to look for another property that is 41? Anyway, that’s the story of our brand name – 41 Luxe.
Future for 41Luxe
The ultimate plan for me would be to open outside of Nigeria. My team are currently carrying out a survey to see which countries we can start with? We’re not ruling anywhere out, we’re looking at Europe, North America, it could even be somewhere in Asia or Dubai.
We’re aware that a lot of brands have come up with pop-ups. You can readily get Nigerian outfits wherever, even online. However, my model is focused on being given that access. So the ultimate and the end game for me will be to open at least three additional locations around the world. I would like to have a succession plan where my kids take over. I think by the time I have the fifth brand, the fifth location, I will be ready to hand over.
Business and Family Matters
I have found a way to make it work although, I can’t say it’s been a bed of roses. There is so much more that I could have done, or I can do for my business but I can’t do, because of my family commitment. I would want to network more, I would want to be in more events but I’ve been restricted. There are a lot of factors that hinder me from being out there.
There’s a whole lot to it that is much more than the business. For instance, I have to think of my children, and even my own security. Then, I also have to think of where I come from, I’m a northerner, I’m too out there as it is already because we are very conservative people. I’m conscious that some people feel, ‘you’re already too out there, but you seem to be wanting more!’ For my line of business, I actually need more exposure. Unfortunately, most of these people do not think about it as networking to meet more women who will influence my business and give me access to organizations like Shetrade and all these other backgrounds and knowledge that you get from networking.
I would say I’ve tried to create a balance in that I spend time with my kids and with my husband accordingly. I also try to create adequate time for my business. When it comes to business, I would not shy away from giving space to every single one in the home, just to focus on my business. I know that I can and should do more. But I think there’s a time for everything. When the kids are much older, when they have left home, I will have time to concentrate on pushing my business more.
But then again, people often say that’s the period of bonding with your husband, right? So with every stage of life, there’s just always one thing stopping women from throwing it all into their businesses or career. I often say to myself ‘I can’t wait, my littlest is going to school next year, I have to do this with my business, I have to do this program, I’ll do that, I’ll do blah, blah, blah’ then I hear my mom’s voice say – ‘But this is time for you and your spouse!’ How would I ever move my business forward to be a legacy for my kids so that when they’re done with school, they have something on the side!
The good thing is having understanding within the home. I think the balance I’ve created so far has allowed my family to be much more understanding towards my business. My husband is very supportive of the business and encourages me to do more. He’s ready to do more to make sure that the business thrives.
It Is getting easier the older the kids are getting, sometimes it involves a little cajoling or enticement on the path of the kids, but they are now more willing to travel with me if necessary. They are more aware of my business and are proud of their mum. This makes them more willing to do their bit to support the business.
I walked into my kids’ school a few weeks ago and someone said, “Oh my God, you have the 41 Luxe mask,” So I said yes. I’m a very shy person – that’s one thing people don’t know about me – I’m shy. My daughter responded “my mom owns 41 Luxe,” I tried to stop her but the lady told me not to, “She’s very proud of you and you should be more like your daughter” she said. If she’s actually proud of me then it’s a plus on my path and yeah, that’s good.
My husband and I were initially trying to raise them based on the way our parents raised us. But we see that kids of this generation need to talk, they need to express themselves, they need you to pay attention. So we play good cop, bad cop. That’s the balance that I’m telling you that we always have to have for the home front to thrive, and then the business grows. If there’s a problem in the house, it affects everything, you come to work, you’re not sure what’s going on and the whole day just goes downhill. I think we’ve created a careful balance. The rest is just prayers, committing everything to God, basically, that has helped.
Building a Lasting Legacy
My children are quite creative, they’re good with their hands, which I’m not – I’m more of a ‘thinking’ person, it’s my brain that is working. We encourage their creative nature because the store is not just about fashion, it’s now a lifestyle store. I see them do things and I’m thinking, ‘Okay, this can be an angle, it could fit into 41 Luxe’. In part of our rebranding, any creativity can fall under the 41 Luxe brand, be it photography, interior design etc.
They’re learning so much online, they know everything, kids these days have access to so much information. A baby born yesterday will tell you something about what you’re doing that you think, Oh, how?
I think they’re interested in the business and may want to do it, but we also speak to them and make them understand the importance of having a profession. What we have is our own passion, it’s not their passion, and they have different interests. This can be a side thing to fall back on.
We’re ensuring they understand how business works though, they come to work once in a while and we try to get them through the process. We started them from being a cleaner to inventory. They’re not really interested in all of that though, they want to do things on the computers. We’re engaging them by giving them an opportunity to figure out how we can change our Instagram page and things like that, it’s all in the process.
Funding, it’s basically funding. Then there are human resource, electricity and infrastructure challenges. Just one agency after the other, coming with different bills for different reasons. Businesses get charged for the flimsiest of reasons. Some months you can have like 10 different departments from FCDA coming to you with different amounts of money that you have to pay. We’re funding our business with the little that we have from profits that we’ve made, yet these people show up with different ambiguous charges.
With human resources, the staff can be very unreliable, A newly employed and trained staff can decide to leave the next month without warning, it’s always hard. Unfortunately, we don’t have laws securing employment for a period of time. So what I’ve decided to do now is to have a heart to heart with any new employee. We agree on their employment duration so I can plan accordingly. Even with that, I still get a lot of disappointments.
One of my main reasons for not going into manufacturing is the lack of infrastructure. I know the amount of money I spend on diesel on a monthly basis because there’s no electricity. Imagine how much I would have to put in to do a manufacturing plant!
So it’s a whole lot of back and forth. I would say the major one for me is just funding. If we had the resources- if there were loans if they were incentives and grants given out to businesses like ours – then we won’t still remain in two locations. We would have been looking to expand out and then bring in foreign exchange. Unfortunately, it’s not like that, it’s restricted.
On the difference between the Lagos and Abuja Stores
In terms of structure, physically, the Lagos store is small, but the revenue it brings in can almost match our Abuja store which is a bigger store. I think it’s because Lagosians are more social. There’s always something to be celebrated in Lagos – there can be a party on a Tuesday! You find ladies walking in to pick outfits for a particular party that everyone is going for. They could pick a dress that Abuja ladies would wear as a casual outfit and accessorize it in such a way that it looks like a different outfit? That’s the thing about Lagos, any outfit could work at any time.
The major difference in Abuja is the foot traffic. We always have people in and out of the store. Whenever clients cannot make it into the store, we offer a personal shopping service where we take outfits to our clients to pick from based on their style.
Letting my hair down
In my spare time, I try to spend time with my friends- discussing the dynamics of love, life and more… general discussions that build up in every way possible. I love to sleep when the opportunity arises, eating the best of what’s available is embedded in my DNA 😂.
Thank you Tata for making time for us, we wish 41Luxe the best in the future.