Kelvin Okwuibe, a South Africa based clothier with business outreach across Africa is extending tentacles to the Asian market. His Kelvano brand is coming back to Nigeria, his motherland pretty soon too. He spoke to LANRE ODUKOYA on his winning ways, the little and crude beginning among sundry matters
What about Kelvano label?
Kelvano is a premium brand that's into fashion designing based in South Africa and fast spreading to other African countries. Currently, we are planning to open more stores in Pretoria at the beginning of next year. Already Kelvano is big and well-known brand in South Africa and we clothe a lot of celebrities and corporate people. We also deal in casual wears as well as cater for the politicians as well. The idea is to make people know that an African designer could do better than his international peers by delivering world-class outfits and accessories.
My story in the fashion business?
The Kelvano brand started from my childhood. The love I had for fashion when I was a young boy was huge. Back then I always chose my outfits, I loved looking different and when my mum bought me any outfit, I always tried to re-create it to suit my style. I used clothes to design my school bag, while my sandals were also always custom-made by me. So I kept at it and deep down inside me, I knew I wanted to become a designer. I've had to make bags and other accessories from my mother's torn wrappers and she would see the end products many times in utmost amazement even when the work lacked sophistication.
More than a mere passion it once was?
When I was in Nigeria before traveling, in 2002, I used to do fashion on the down low, but when I got to South Africa, I told a friend of mine my dreams, and in 2005, I floated the Kelvano brand almost out of nothing, making T-shirts, caps, shoes, office wears, belts and every other accessories. But today, we thank God we are growing. We have our merchandise in Angola, South Africa and more people are seeking our franchise.
Our magic wand?
It's a success because God is involved. I always commit whatever I do in the hands of God, I always pray about things. I remember the first time I registered my company name in South Africa, it was Kelvano & Jaco Collections, but they rejected Kelvano and accepted Jaco, so I went back in prayer and told God I wanted Kelvano. Lo and behold, they called me back and approved it free of charge.
Carving a niche on foreign soil?
It wasn't easy initially, but I just kept on praying and believing God, because I have so much faith, especially because of the fact that I know a lot of people have tried and failed. So I kept on working hard and believing God. Gradually, people started falling in love with the brand, and till now, most people don't know it's an African brand, but I thank God today, because today in South Africa, Kelvano is a household name and it's a top brand in the fashion industry.
What manner of clientele?
I started by servicing the corporate world, we clothed them with Kelvano suits and shirts, then gradually I began to clothe showbiz stars as well, like HHP in South Africa, DJ Movado from Angola, Channel O's DJ Waxxy and many others. I also clothe models for musical videos, and gradually moving into the Nigerian market. Currently we are also working on blending fashion with showbiz because music and fashion go together, and really in the coming months, I am planning to open a music-recording studio and video production company in South Africa that would be collaborating with Nigerian artistes.
Building Kelvano into big brand without formal training?
The spirit and passion is in-built. I love to watch Fashion TV, and then I also get inspiration from successful fashion icons. And coming from a family of creative people, I naturally create a lot of unique designs.
Doing business in South Africa as a foreigner?
Life in South Africa is not easy, but it's easy for those who believe in God, all things work together for good to them that love the Lord, but infrastructure wise, South Africa is very good and the market is favourable as well.
Constraints of doing business in South Africa?
The cost of living is very high in South Africa, it's very high-rentals, tax and food are all on the high side.
Bringing Kelvano brand to Nigeria?
Yes, home is home, I love my country, and I will be very proud to bring my brand to Nigeria, and we will launch it here very soon.
Before fashion came calling?
After my school days in Enugu State, I came to Lagos and I was into clothing, buying and selling on a part-time basis.
Where's the Kelvano coasting in 2013?
As we speak, I have about two designers requesting Kelvano brand and I also have requests from Singapore, so the plan is to build the brand to an international fashion label for the world to see.