A perfect gentleman! That’s what Mr. Tolu Omoniyi of Bobo’s Clothing is. Fun to be with and fantastic at what he’s doing – clothing the fashion savvy and also educating others about looking good – YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, visited his well-stocked Allen Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos outlet on Wednesday, May 13, 2015, and for hours, the father of two who trained as an accountant took out time to narrate how he got entangled with the business, his vision, his mission and more. Enjoy…
First, what got you interested in the fashion business?
Well, I stumbled into it. I started fashion basically at the corporate level. After school, I worked as a banker. So, I’ve always been used to corporate dressing. When I resigned from banking, I went into telecoms, which I was doing when I left the bank and at a point in time I was importing mobile phones. So, I just stumbled into the fashion business. I just started doing a few things and from there I found out that that’s where my passion lies.
How long ago was this? What year specifically did you get entangled with the fashion business?
I think that was 10 years ago.
The interest in fashion, what prompted it? How did you develop it?
Like I said, after school; I gained employment with the bank, after youth service and I’ve been used to corporate dressing. So, when I stumbled into fashion, I was just bringing in suits and some other accessories for friends before I now ventured into it fully. Of course, as a banker I had passion for dressing well.
Can you recollect the amount with which you started exactly?
(Laughs) – Sincerely, apart from the fact that averagely most business people will not disclose that, I cannot tell you how much I started with. Not because, I want to keep it to myself, but because like I told you, I stumbled into it. I was not really doing it as business; I was just buying stuff, items for my friends when I travel, because I travel frequently. From there, I found out that I can open a shop for this thing and I told myself I was going to start small. So, I started with a small shop in Opebi (Ikeja, Lagos) and from there I now developed the business.
How many outlets do you have now and how big is Bobo’s Clothing?
We have about four outlets right now.
So, what’s your staff strength?
It fluctuates; it fluctuates because I take interns sometimes. I have graduate staff, I have non-graduate staff, I have undergraduates and I take interns…
On the average, how many people do you have working for you?
We are like 15-22-27.
You’ve been into this now for about 10 years, what would you say has kept you going?
Sincerely, and I don’t want to sound too spiritual, it is God, first. Because there are challenges on a daily basis in any business. But like I said, I was into telecoms for the sake of business; just to do something. I ventured into clothing out of passion. I didn’t start it as business initially. I just started it to assist my friends; okay, let me buy this for you, let me buy that for you and I was just encouraged that you know what, I have a passion for this business. I have a passion for clothing; it goes beyond business. So, when challenges come, the mere fact that you know that you have to make your daily bread from this thing and you also have a passion for it; you hang in there. Then, apart from that, I’m full of passion. If it’s something that’s not out of passion, when challenges come, you are out; you will tell yourself that you know what, there are some other businesses I can do and have opportunity to do. So, why don’t you just try this business out? But when something is like a passion and you know that you have to make it work, and you have love for it, you are looking for every available opportunity, every strategy to make it work.
The name, Bobo’s Clothing, how did you come about it?
Yes, probably, if I was selling our own traditional attires, I could have used an indigenous name. But I was not selling that. I started with western stuff, which I’m still doing or selling right now. I didn’t want to use any western name and I could not use our indigenous name because I’m not selling Babariga or Agbada. So, I was just like in-between: what should I do? And I said you know what? Bobo is like a slang, it’s a Nigerian slang for a guy and I want to sell guys’ stuff. So, let me just use Bobo. Funny enough, some people told me that name sounds local. I had like one or two people that called me and said you know what? That name sounds local. Just mere hearing that name, you will not want to come into the shop. But I was not discouraged. I was just convinced about the name. I have more than one, two, three people that walked into this shop and the first question they will ask me after asking for the owner is how did you get that name? That name attracted us. So, it’s the same way I got people that first told me when we started that that name sounds local that I’ve seen several people walk in here and they are always asking me how did you come about that name?
How can one make money from the fashion business?
You can do oil business and make a loss! You can do gold business and make a loss! You can even do oil and gold business and make profit. What I found out about business is that passion is very important. I’ve been mentioning passion, but you have to put an economic attachment to your passion. Like now, you can’t just say because you like fashion or this item looks good or whatever and the thing is not increasing your balance sheet. At a point in time the business must die, because there’s no economic attachment to that passion. But you see, sincerely, when I was venturing into this business, why I didn’t take it as a business initially was that I used to think that fashion business is for either house wives that their husbands want to keep busy, then open shops for them, travel to so, so place, buy stuff and just sit down there, which we still have people do now. I’m not trying to condemn anybody; or for some guys who use it as fronts. They make their money from other sources, but let people just see that I’m doing this business. He maybe a 419 or something. When I ventured into the fashion business, I found out that it can also be serious business, it can be serious work. The same way you look at it from the outside and think that it’s a child play… I have an older friend of mine that called me one time. He relocated out of the country. He knew me when I was with the bank and he called me to do something for him and he just asked again, ‘Tolu, you have left the bank?’ I said yes. He said what do you do now? I said I’m into clothing. He said really? And I was just laughing. I was talking to somebody else. We were talking over lunch and I was like for some time now work had been hectic and I saw the look on her face; she was like what’s this guy trying to prove? Is he trying to form activities or something? And I took my discussion from the look on her face. I said it’s like you feel we are jokers? (laughter). You think that people who are into fashion business are jokers? So, I tried to analyse what I do to her: you wake up; I deal with countries with different time zones. And you have to talk to these people at different time of the day. That is one. Two, probably you wake up now and America is still sleeping, you have to wait for them to talk to them in the morning and all that. Let us even leave that. You need to order items – in my store, like if you have 20 groom’s men, you need to get the 20 groom’s men same type of suit, different sizes and all that. And for a store to be able to do that, you can imagine how many we order from each place and all that. And you have to order in the range that this is double-breasted; young people don’t really like double-breasted; it’s middle age that likes double-breasted and elderly people. We order based on stature. Look at even items you order, you are waiting for your order, you are clearing some stuff at NAHCO, you are trying to pay your bills, you have outstanding to pay, how do I pay you; I itemized it and all that. You have salaries to pay, you have different things to plan for. You have to plan for the next season – what else can we bring out, what else can we buy? We need to go into some magazines, go through what is going on and all that. I mean, I was just trying to analyse to her that we are not jokers. We may be seen as jokers, but we are not. True! If you are out to make money from this business, you have to take it as business. I mean, the same way every business treats their stuff is the same way we fashion people treat our business. So, you can make money in fashion, but you just have to know what you want to do and you have to attach economic value to it. No matter how much I want to make Mr. Arinze look good, I know that I also have to make money. So, it’s not just for me to clothe Mr. Arinze. If I’m going to buy this and that for Mr. Arinze, what is my percentage? 5percent, 10percent, 15percent. And will that take care of every other thing that I want to do with Mr. Arinze, because I’m out to make money. So, you just have to take business as business. So, any business can be profitable, any business can also make loses.
What is the costliest mistake that anybody in your line of business can make?
I think I’ve discussed the mistake that people can make and analyzed the business. Somebody may make money today and feel that okay, you know what? What is the big deal about fashion? Maybe my big uncle or my brother or somebody or maybe I even won a lottery and I have so, so amount of money. You know what? What the likes of Bobo’s, Texen are doing, I can do it and he changes money into foreign currency and he decides to go to Italy, U.S, U.K, or wherever he wants to go to. Middle East, Far East. He may stock up, he may buy a whole bunch and you will find out that you will get back to Nigeria and you may not be able to sell more than 10 percent or 20 percent of what you had brought in for months and you will suffer losses. One of the costliest mistakes you can make in fashion is for you to think that fashion, like I said, is a joker’s business and for you to underestimate the power of planning, experience… I said I started with a small shop. When I did that, sincerely, I had capacity to raise some funds to start bigger. But with my little experience of telecoms business, I found out, that for you to succeed in it, you start small, learn from the small mistakes. If I had raised money and all that and it didn’t work, I will be in a serious mess, because I have to pay back the money that I raised and all that. But I started by understanding the sizes that move, the items that move, the items that we can make more money from, even though you have to balance up your shop with every item. So, you have to learn from the scratch. No matter how sure the experience is, you still need some form of tutelage and experience in this business.
Which are the items you make more profit from?
(Laughs) – I’m sure if I answer that question, Mr. Arinze will get back to his office and say this is one of the silliest businessmen that he has ever met in his life…
Now, what do you like most about what you are doing? Being a clothier…
Talking to Mr. Arinze! (Laughter). Probably, if I had been a banker, I may just be reading about Mr. Arinze in the magazines. But sincerely, we meet a lot of people and if you are actually a clothier; I mean, clothing goes beyond I sell, I make money. If I’m selling to you now, I’m going a bit more personal, I’m trying to like okay, elevate or maintain the standard that I see you with, I’m trying to introduce you to some other ways of dressing and if I do that and I do that successfully, I know that you will refer people to me and if I do that successfully, it’s something that is almost personal because people will ask you, ah, Mr. Arinze, what’s happening? E be like say things don change, the way wey you dey dress now, you are looking sharper! Ah, na Bobo’s o. So, no matter how secretive you are, one way or the other you will mention my name. So, in our business, we meet people and we actually attend to them properly. We make a lot of relationships out of the business.
What don’t you like about this business?
That’s a big question. What are the things I don’t like about being a clothier? (Thinks) – I don’t know, I don’t know…
What is the greatest thing that being a clothier has done for you?
Sincerely, I don’t want to even mention the word passion, but one of the greatest things that Bobo’s has done for me is that I’ve found out that you can actually discover yourself by going with your passion and I’ve actually told people too that when you follow your passion, you may not make the mega-bucks immediately, but if you actually follow your passion, there are gains from other things. The bucks will come, the money will come and when it comes, it comes continuously because you must have created value, you have created a standard and the money will keep on coming. So, I think one of the greatest things that fashion business has made me to understand is that it is good to follow your passion.
What has it not done for you?
It may not give you immediate funds, especially when you are not greedy. It may not give you immediate funds because…the nature of job that we do and the kind of clientele that we serve, people may just take it that ah, this person has made mega bucks and all that. But it may not really translate to mega-bucks, but in other ways the mega-bucks may come. So, sometimes people just see you and they believe that. Again, our business is very, very open. We are doing retail business, people see you every day, people see people coming to buy and all that. There are some other businesses that may not have more than one or two employees and they are making serious money. People are not even seeing them; only people that know about that line of business; okay, that man is doing that line of business and he’s making serious money. So, sometimes it gives you a lot of responsibilities and you are here, you are there. But all in all, to me, it’s not really a negative. Just that sometimes you don’t make the immediate bucks that people think you are making.
What differentiates Bobo’s Clothing from the other people who also do what you do?
I may not want to compare myself with others, because by my nature, I don’t really like comparing. I just like being challenged by what other people are doing and being encouraged. Because usually, I have a different strategy. I try as much as possible to build relationships with my customers, to allow my employees have contact with customers, build relationships with people they attend to and it pays off. That’s one of the major differences. I’ve seen people tell me that you know what, they’ve gone to some clothing outfits and the owner will just stand at one corner, just watching. He selects the kind of people that he attends to and all that. I attended to some people last week and the man was thanking me, saying despite the fact that my employees were around and all that… I was just laughing, and said if I don’t attend to you how do I want to pay my bills (laughing). But you see, we try to build personal relationships, we try to give service first before money. I tell you; you may come in to buy a suit here…Like I tell people, I had a customer that came in to buy about five suits or six suits. He told me when he walked in: I want to buy five suits, six suits. He actually picked about five or six suits, but I gave him about two or three that actually fit him the way I want; take those other two away. When I get back from my next trip, I will call you. And the guy was shocked. The guy said who would leave money to go like that? I said no; it’s better for me to allow you buy what will fit you best and people will see it on you and ask you where you got them and you will refer them to us than for you to wear something that will not really make a major statement on you. So, to us, it’s about service first and the money will come later. Definitely, they will keep on coming. Probably, if I had just sold the five suits to him like that, he may come back again, but that particular action of mine got him stuck to us.
What are the things in vogue now, especially for the man who is fashion savvy?
You know, sincerely, for men, it’s not like women. For women, fashion revolves. What you may be wearing now is what, maybe, reigned in 70s, 80s, 60s. Another time, 1920s will come. Sincerely, there’s nothing new for men. Unlike ladies that new stuffs come out daily. Yeah, double-breasted is coming back. It is almost going away again. It’s not really come back fully like that, but it came back, but not totally embraced like that. Maybe just the middle age and older people are embracing it. The single bottom has almost come to stay. But I see it going out anytime from now. Single split came in, in 2000s, over double splits for suits. Now double split is coming back. People have stopped asking for single split. But I also believe that for men, really, it’s when people that men take as fashion icons, when they wear something, everybody wants to wear it. They believe that’s what’s in vogue. And that’s how fashion is being followed. But like I said, double split is coming back, the big bow ties are coming back…
When can a man be said to be well dressed?
To me, a man is well dressed when what he’s wearing, first, fits the occasion that he’s going for. Two – when what he’s wearing fits him, sits well on him. But the first thing is that it has to fit into the occasion that he’s going for. He may be going for a party that is casual in nature and he’s well dressed as if he’s going for a ball party. I mean, he’s well dressed, but he’s not well dressed for that occasion. So, fitting the occasion that he’s going for – what he’s wearing, then if it fits him. I am not after names really. There are so many people that are fashion-conscious and after names. I’m more after what fits you. Label may come later.
What must a man not wear?
Again, it’s just the same question – a man must not wear what is inappropriate for an occasion and a man must not wear what will not bring out the best in him. No matter how expensive the item is.
Who is your best dressed Nigerian man? And why?
That’s difficult. That’s difficult. That’s difficult, because some people are well dressed when it comes to native, some people are well dressed when it comes to casuals. Em…em…sorry to be diplomatic about it – Naija men, they dress well. In Africa, we are like the best dressed…
Just mention one person?
Let me mention someone like Tony Elumelu for instance. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Tony Elumelu in native before. That’s why I said some for English, some for native and all that. But for me, Tony dresses well! And Tony is unique. This SAN, Eyimofe Atake, also dresses well. But I’ve not been seeing him much lately. Eyimofe Atake dresses very, very well.
Let’s look at the man, Tolu Omoniyi. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Tolulope Omoniyi! I run Bobo’s Clothing. I am married with children – a girl and a boy…
What’s your wife’s name, what are your kids’ names?
My wife’s name is Damilola. The kids are Sikemi and Akinde. My wife is a medical doctor. So, maybe that complements me because I do buying and selling.
Can you tell us about your childhood, where you grew up, schools attended and so on?
I grew up in Lagos. I was born either in Apapa or Island, I don’t know which of the hospitals. I can’t remember. But I grew up in Ikeja actually – from Ilupeju to Opebi. We’ve been in Opebi since 1978. I attended Maryland Convent Primary School, Nigerian Navy Secondary School, Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro. Then, I later did a Masters, MBA at Abuja Business School.
What did you study in Ilaro?
Away from work, what keeps you busy and engaged?
Like I said, this work is my passion. So, this is what keeps me busy. I’m here from like 9am and I close around 9/10pm. I’m here for like 12 hours every day, if I’m around. I attend family functions. I have a lot of friends, but I don’t really hang out that much.
What are your likes and dislikes?
My likes? Good life! Good life! Dislikes? What are my dislikes? Of course, I dislike anything that is not good. Just be yourself.
What’s your dream for Bobo’s Clothing?
God willing, we hope, we pray we would not just become a household name in the country, but to become an internationally accepted name. Nigerian industries have broken the jinx in certain areas, we want to be among. Our entertainment world, Nollywood, our artistes are also breaking the jinx. We are now household names in Africa, and then collaborating with international artistes and bodies, too. I think it’s high time the fashion industry broke the jinx too. It sounds difficult, because for me, I sell basically western items, but I know that we will break the jinx. All we need to do is sit down and re-strategize. I’ve always had this dream that I will have some of my outlets committed to indigenous labels and having one or two designers working with us. Maybe that is one of the areas we actually need to look at – promoting not just our own indigenous wears, but even western wears that we do indigenously. So, our vision is to become an internationally accepted brand.
Lastly, your wife, where did you meet her and what got you interested in her?
(Laughs) – You been say you no go go dis area o! (more laughter). But sincerely, no problem, I go answer am – I actually met my wife at a family function. Remember I told you that I go for family functions. My uncle was being inducted as a District Governor of Rotary. That is Somo Omoniyi. So, I was there and my cousin, that’s my uncle’s daughter and her friends were seated there. They had a table to themselves and all that. My cousin is also a doctor. Towards the end of the programme, I was still there because it was my uncle’s thing and family members were there and all that. I saw this young lady just walk pass. Later, I got to find out that she went to the ladies and as she walked back to go and sit down, I looked at where she sat down and found out it was where my cousin was sitting down. So, I kept quiet. But after some days, I called my cousin, I called the senior one to the doctor who was closer to me and asked after so, so person. I described the lady, sitting on so, so table. Tell me about her. She said she’s a good lady. I said you know what, I think I’m interested in her. Obviously, I’m not the kind of cousin that calls for girls, I’ve never called her for such before. So, she said okay, and that she didn’t think she was engaged or something. So, I went to LUTH one day to look for her. I told my cousin to invite her, that we should go for lunch together. Of course, by that time she knew where this young man was going. But she was playing tough initially. But I just told myself that I want to marry this girl…
What year was this?
We got married in 2000. Maybe I saw her like three years or four years before then.
What will you say has kept the marriage going?
Well, this is somebody I wanted to get married to, that I really liked and all that and what I summarized about her from even just mere observation before I enquired about her was what I found. So, I found all I wanted in her (laughing).