Michael Ugochukwu learnt the skill of tailoring, as a child. However, it still did not deter him from having an education. He bagged for himself a degree in Economics, and was even presented with the best corps member award during his NYSC year. With all these under his belt, he naively thought that it would open doors for numerous attractive job offers from both government and private establishments. However, after one year of futile expectation, he was jolted back to the reality that there was no job utopia. Michael was penniless and was gradually, getting enmeshed in penury. It was at this point that he decided to go back to his first education, which was cloth-making and to Ugochukwu’s amazement, his fortune improved. Today, his fashion brand, Asandrea Collections, has not only become his meal ticket, but a fledgling company that has empowered many others. Ugochukwu’s story typifies the high entrepreneurial sense and creativity that many youths in Nigeria are blessed with. The light-skinned successful clothing line owner spoke to The Nigerian Xpress recently: How do you start your journey into tailoring?
I started making clothes when I was just five years old. I learnt from my aunty, who is a fashion designer in my house back then in the East. She taught me how to sew buttons unto clothes. From there, I started designing dresses with thick brown papers.
I later studied Economics at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, and was in Taraba State for my NYSC. I was awarded the best corps member during my service year. So, I told myself not to settle for any degrading job. But after my service year, I searched for job for one year with no result. So, I told myself that instead of wasting time, it would be better to go back to do what I know how to do best. I was broke to even start up my venture.
With no money to start up, I approached a neighbour in 2011. I told him I know how to make clothes, and that he should allow me make his clothes. He doubted my ability at first but decided to give me a trial. He asked me to come back in three days for my advance payment. That was how I took my first step in entrepreneurship.
After making the man’s clothes, he loved them so much. So, he called me to make more for him and his wife. That’s how I got my first customer.
After the second design, his friends noticed his improved dress sense. They started asking who makes his clothes. He then introduced me to more of his friends, and that swelled my clientele base.
Having decided to go fully into making clothes, I went on Facebook and uploaded pictures of my designs. And before I know it, I started getting calls from America and Europe ordering for my cloth wears. I didn’t believe foreigners could trust me without nursing fears that I could dupe them. The first western union I got blew my mind. And now I have clients in different parts of the world.
My growth amazed me because I started this business with zero capital. Even the sewing machines I used to design back then were borrowed.
Any initial hesitations or hiccups when you wanted to start tailoring business?
Yes, because it seemed weird after studying for four years in the university, and then a year in the NYSC, you come out and say you are going to be a tailor. So, when I started out this business, I must tell you, some of my friends said ‘you say na cloth you wan dey sew, na wa for you’. They mocked me directly and indirectly.
But now, many of them have been forced to eat their words. When they began seeing me in different glossy fashion magazines, they are amazed and in awe of how far that tailor has come.
How did you handle the discouragement then?
People would always talk. But their mockery was not a problem because I knew I was going to get out something from the venture I have started up. I was out to create value with my clothing. And I silenced them with my success because when they saw people and even celebrities wearing my clothes, they all turned round to commend my resilience.
What is that advice you will like to share with start-ups?
Simple! Many people would try to pull you down but don’t be discouraged. Believe in what you are doing and the sky would be your starting point.
You started your business with zero capital, how much are you worth now?
I can’t tell you exactly how much I’m worth but I can tell you that I am very comfortable.
Is it proper to say, you are a millionaire now?
Well, by God’s grace.
As an economist, if you get a job offer now, a well-paying one, would you dump your business for their offer?
No way! Passion cannot be bought. When you’re paid millions but don’t have passion for what you do, trust me, you won’t be a happy man. I didn’t start up my brand because I needed money; I started up because I have passion for what I do.
It seems like there are so many designers now, how do you cope with the competition?
It is only small minds that fear competition would make them go out of business. The Nigerian fashion market is too large. In fact, it’s so big that even if two million tailors start up their businesses, they would not still meet demands of people.
What is biggest aspiration?
One of my biggest aspirations is to one day design clothes for the president of Nigeria. That would make me very happy because it would avail me the opportunity to come close and share ideas with him on how to meet the needs and expectations of Nigeria youths. We need to create some avenues for empowerment through fashion industry. There are so much untapped potentials in Nigeria’s fashion industry.
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What success tips can you share with the young entrepreneurs?
Many of our young ones just want to make it big. Everybody wants to make millions overnight, but it is not that way. So, I always encourage youths, no matter what you are doing, be the best of who you are. That is my advice to the youth. Believe in yourself, define what you want. If you are good in singing, go for singing. If you are creative strive and explore it.
We have a lot of people in the fashion industry, but for you to break in, you need to show creativity in you, you need to show guts and that is what has been working for me.
Then seek out your talent and make it work for you. Define yourself, define what you can do, it’s all about creativity. You will see yourself succeeding.