The founder, Cotton Loops, Bolupe Adebiyi, in this interview speaks about efforts by the company to reposition the fashion industry in Nigeria. Excerpts:
Recently, you won an award at an event organised by Access Bank and the International Finance Corporation. What was the main focus of the event?
Cotton loops is an ethical black and white fashion lifestyle brand. The event was the womepreneur Pitch - A - Ton programme event and it was put together by Access bank and supported by International Finance Corporation (IFC) which is under the World Bank group. It was a programme that had over 36,000 female businesses in Nigeria and a few people were chosen from the 36,000 to attend a mini- MBA and after the MBA you had to give an elevator pitch. The MBA was in Access Bank Training School, it was facilitated by Rainbow Consult which is a Ghanaian company that is under the international finance corporation umbrella and the owner of Rainbow consults is Mrs. Margret Jackson. She is a master trainer with the IFC, seeing that she was working with ISC, Access Bank brought her into training.
What were the opportunities you leveraged on from attending the MBA training, and meeting designers and entrepreneurs?
The event was not only for designers, there were green companies that are recycling companies, saloons people in tech, it was just like innovative businesses, and it was open to all businesses across Nigeria, which explains why 36, 000 women that applied for the programme. So what did the programme mean to me? First, I want to say thank you to access bank and ISC. It was absolutely fantastic MBA training; there were lots of areas in business we covered, such as strategy, brand positioning, sales, financial, customer relations, people management and others. It was great for me because again, I met a lot of other business female owners, we were able to collaborate and innovate together, and we are friends now. I am in business with a lot of them. So beyond the grants of the MBA, it also helped to open up my business and helped to forge a better community between the business owners in Nigeria.
Regarding the award, what category were you recommended?
There were 36,000 women that applied, out of the 36,000, 500 women were selected to send in their videos and talk about their business and also send their business plans, just to understand what your business does. Out of the 500, 50 of us were selected for the mini-MBA. We went in for the mini-MBA for a couple of weeks and after the MBA, based on what an individual learnt and what the individual does, she supposed to give an elevator pitch. You pitch to a panel of judges who have not heard about your business before, the judge base on a few parameters such as social impact, in terms of how your business impact socially, scalability, (how scalable is your business) and innovation of ideas, how innovative are your ideas, how does it solve a problem, how does it help people? Can it employ people and if it has people content? Is it solving a problem? Is it useful and is it something that is exportable to the rest of the world beyond the shores of Nigeria? I did not win the best designer, I won the grand prize overall, and there were three prizes. Regardless of what category your business is operating, you were supposed to pitch your business. So different people pitched their business and there were three grand prizes, 1million prize for the third winner, N3 million prize for the second winner and the grand prize of N5 million which was won by Cotton Loops. So Cotton Loops was the best out of 36, 000 business.
Why did you delve into production of high street wear?
I recognised that there was a gap for high street wears in Nigeria. High street wears are like casuals, and work wears. Easy wears that are still cool, stylish and edge. High street wear is something you can play up or play down in day time. When you can wear for date night, work or to the beach and that has good price for it. Well finished, high quality, and good price point where the things that were lacking in the market. In most stores, where you get a good quality high street wear, it is usually very expensive (N50,000 and N40,000) and we found out that it was not nice and stylish enough, so that was the gap we identified and tried to fill. So for me personally, why I started Cotton loops, because I thought it will be great to have a line of casual, cool, stylish high quality wears that is also produced ethically. I realised that a lot of fashion companies or brands in Nigeria do not think of the sustainability effects of how they produce their clothes. We are big on being ethical; stylish, edgy and good clothes.
Why black and white?
We invested in black and white, because we wanted classic pieces. We wanted pieces you could dress up or dress down which any colour can match. Our goals by 2023, to be among the top-selling high street brand in Africa. So we want you to be able to wear any sort of colour you want, who doesn't want a classic white shirt or classic white shirt dress that you can wear and still look good. It's called black and white because it is easy to wear, maintain and its classic colours spread across the board.
In the next five years, what is the target for Cotton Loops?
Our goal is to be the top-selling ethical high street brands in Africa in 2023 that is the biggest thing for us. We are expanding to the African market. We want more people to wear our clothes; we are extending and expanding our factory. At our factory, we have all local artisans, so all the artisans that stitch for us are Nigerians and we don't engage in child labour and they are all over 18 years. We upcycle all our production waste, we want to do more in terms of upcycling, currently, we are working with a lot of green companies on green projects in order to make the fashion industry more sustainable. Even though we are expanding, but we still practice low fashion as against fast fashion which is obviously killing the environment. The two main things are to be the top-selling brand in Africa in 2023, and also be the global focus, to be present in Europe and America. Those are our focal points for now within the next five years, and also increase our organic cool footprints, and we are doing more in being ethical and sustainable in all our practices.