I've had the opportunity to speak to several corporate investors on many occasions, and each time the discussion about investing in local fashion come up, the answer is always the same, "It's not a profitable investment for us". A few weeks ago at GTBank Fashion Weekend in Lagos, a platform started three years ago to support young fashion entrepreneurs and small businesses, I sat down with Segun Agbaje, Chief Executive Officer of Guarantee Trust Bank and the man behind GTBank Fashion Weekend, to chat about the once a year consumer-focused fashion exhibition and capacity building event and why he thinks African fashion is worth investing in.
Tell us why you started GTBank Fashion Weekend.
We started with Arise Fashion Week a couple of years ago in Lagos and we even did Arise in Washington. So, we’ve always had a love for fashion. After Arise, we went with another party before starting GTBank Fashion Weekend. What we are trying to do here is beyond the runway, we’re trying to build and promote small businesses. That’s why we have retail shops given out for free to small businesses. We then do the masterclasses, where we bring in experienced and successful people from around the world. It’s almost like capacity building for small businesses, as I believe nothing in life is new and that you can learn a lot from people’s successes as well as their failures. Then the third part is the runway, again in our own little way, we try to spread it as to what we think is best within and outside Africa for people to see how to do things properly. What we are trying to do is build an ecosystem around the fashion and clothing industry in Nigeria.
It’s been three years since GTBank Fashion weekend started. What’s it been like?
It’s been very satisfying and fulfilling. I like the fact that these are all small businesses and all the stands are free, all they have to do is bring their products to the venue. A lot of these people don’t even have stores of their own, so we are giving them the experience to see what it’s like to own a store. The kind of people we bring for the masterclasses also means we are exposing Nigerians to hear stories of not just people within but also people from outside. For me, it’s very fulfilling to see these small businesses grow.
Usually, people like you don't see fashion as a business to invest in, especially here in Africa. Why are you doing this and what’s in it for you?
Maybe we haven’t told you but we have a loan product that we’ve just introduced, which requires no security with an interest rate of 9 percent as opposed to the 30/40 percent that applies to most businesses in this economy. Ultimately, what we would like to do is build a shared service facility so that designers can benefit from that. I am a very strong believer in fashion and its potentials.
"Ultimately, what we would like to do is build a shared service facility for designers to benefit from. I am a very strong believer in fashion and its potentials."
So you do think it’s an industry worth investing in?
Absolutely! I remember going to Brazil, and almost everywhere I went everyone was wearing Havaianas. The truth is, where you have a large population, you must invest in fashion and clothing, if not people will continue to import.
One of the biggest issues faced by designers is production and then there's the issue of quality as well. Isn’t that worth looking into? We have to start from the ground up, not the other way round.
That’s what I referred to when I spoke about the shared service facility. We have worked with the IFC and we’ve done the entire proposal and proof of concept. Lagos state is supposed to provide a land under the present government, hopefully, we’ll still get it. The plan involves some equity and we’ve found a way to come up with that. So yes, we are trying to build a first-class manufacturing facility, which is going to be within the Lekki axis here in Lagos.
I do understand the role GTBank Fashion Weekend is playing and I think it's commendable, but what happens after the show is over?
I’m hoping we can give designers a stage for the world to see what they are capable of, which is why I invited someone like you. Please correct me if I’m wrong but I haven’t really seen a designer come out of this part of the world who has been a big commercial success. My desire and dream would be to create designers who can become commercially succesful using global platforms.
Read More: The Top 10 Collections Of Lagos Fashion Week