Kemi Robbin of Addurrah Creations: Turning a hobby into a thriving business

We walked in on one of the training classes at Addurrah creations and decided to sit at the back and listen in on what CEO and Founder,  Kemi Robbin, was teaching that day. While I was lost about the difference between an A-line skirt and a peplum skirt, what struck me about the class was its similarity to a formal tertiary education class.

The students had training manuals and materials to learn along with the instructor, so when we sat to talk about Addurrah creations, it was one of the things I asked about.

But first, we had to start from the beginning, the early days of the business.

VConnect Blog: How did Addurrah Creations start?

Kemi Robbin: Addurrah creations started officially in 2012, although I had begun garment production while I was in university. I was studying English Language at Obafemi Awolowo University at the time, and yes, I was making money when I was in school (laughs).

However, I like to think my business started when I was a child. It started with hand-stitching garments if there was a tear, then went on to placing garments on paper and cutting out the shape. Then I’d use that shape to cut out another fabric. Afterwards, I would then use needle and thread to make a new dress.

What I was doing then is known as pattern making even though I had no idea what that was back then. I just realised that if I needed to reproduce a garment I could simply place it on a piece of paper, cut out the shape and then cut out the fabric and stitch the new garment together.

Then an opportunity came to learn. There was this long ASUU strike while I was in university and my Dad thought I shouldn’t just stay at home. I wanted to learn about computers, but he felt there was something I already did at home which was sewing so, he felt, why not go and learn how to use the machine to sew.

So I went for a short training,  and since then, I started making my own clothes, then for others and that’s how the garment production business started for me.

Because  I started pretty early, I wanted my finishing to be of a high standard. This was not just because I wanted to set a standard, but also because I had a friend then whose mother was a model in New York and so she always had fabulous garments to wear.  She happened to be one of my best friends so we were always together on campus.

So when I had that skill, my target was I need to make garments that would rival her own, and I achieved that because, when we went back to school, people could not believe I made what I was wearing. They started wondering if my Mom was also in New York. They couldn’t believe I could make garments that were almost the same quality as what she was wearing, if not better.

So when I told people I made them myself, they would ask me to make for them also. That was how I started.

What about the sewing school, how did that come about?

A couple of years after I started, people that I made garments for thought, since my attitude to the business was so professional (if you saw me then you’d think I was going to a bank), my workshop then was so cosy, you wouldn’t believe all I was doing was just sewing. People that saw me wanted to be like me, and that’s how the training started. So we started from one student to the to the next, at some point, we couldn’t accommodate all the students in that space and we realised that we needed to set the training aside as a different business.

So we got this place and focused on training. Yes, I still make garments but at some point I realised that the sewing was where my passion lay.  I saw there was a gap in the industry for training, that there were people who wanted to learn but could not find competent trainers. What I mean by that is that, what people used to do was have apprenticeship – you’d go to Mummy Obioma and tell her you want to learn how to sew and what would happen is that you’d buy a form, and you’d stay for three years and after that three years, some still wouldn’t be able to sew.

I thought, how can we make learning easy and make it short, say about three months. So when I told people that they could learn sewing in three months, they thought I wasn’t serious, they said it wasn’t possible, that it would take at least three years, minimum.

So when I started out, I had a curriculum, I put into play what I had learned in school. I looked at how we were taught in school. We’d have classes, tests and break times and the like,, so when we moved here, I wanted to have that kind of structure when we moved here. In school, you are expected to learn such and such in this some period of time, then you’d sit for exams and you were expected to pass. So that is what we started doing and we hit our target, then we picked it from there. If anyone wanted to learn more, they’d take more time, Right now, we have programs anywhere between three months to a year.

After the one-year program, students are expected to have gained enough skill and confidence to start their own business, maybe even within six months. But we always encourage them to complete the one-year program, because the one year will include an internship where you will learn on the job at a properly established fashion workshop. So, whenever they’re ready to start  they’d have a solid foundation to start from.

You have an arrangement with fashion houses to have your students posted there for internship, how did this relationship start?

We went into partnership with established fashion houses because we realised we used patterns to train students. We train them to use their own patterns and not commercial patterns, and most of the fashion workshops we have use freehand so we had to identify fashion houses that used patterns as well, so that what we are teaching students can be well understood and well practiced.

We had a lot of resistance when we started. Some fashion houses wanted us to pay as much as what we charge students for internship at their fashion house, and I wondered if they were going to train them all over again?

However, the fashion industry has evolved over the years. We now have a lot of people who have a better understanding of how things should be done. In the past, you’d go to a fashion workshop and tell them that you have students who want to come and intern at their place and they would tell you they couldn’t take interns as if you were coming to steal from them. But there are fashion houses now that understand that, as a fashion house, you must have space for interns, and that you use interns to achieve a lot. So instead of employing 15 workers, you could employ just 5 and have the rest be interns. This is beneficial for those trying to learn and for the fashion house itself.

Now, they understand that there is a place for interns and that you have to pay them, and there are fashion houses doing this now. At the moment, you still have to pay interns even if it is as little as N10,000 for the three months. Now, as long as they meet requirements, fashion houses are willing to take on interns, so what we do is make sure students have a level of skill the designer requires before sending them off on internships.

I noticed most of the students training here are female, do you only admit female students?

It is not deliberate,  but most of our courses are for female wear. For instance, what you see today is a basic class; on Wednesdays, we have some males taking the advanced classes.

We also have some few males who are specifically learning how to make female clothes, so there’s no restriction. It’s just people’s choice and often females want to learn how to make female wears and males want to learn how to make male wear We see, however, that after they have become very proficient, then want to branch out to learn how to make the other, too.

For example, I know how to make male wears but I’m not that interested in making them.

How long have you been on VConnect?

We’ve had this relationship with VConnect for about three or four years now, one of the marketers, Rebecca came and sold us the idea of listing online.

I had listed elsewhere online and it worked a little, so when She came, it seemed like VConnect had better structure and she explained what I would get with the different packages on Vconnect, I can’t remember how she convinced me, because I don’t like spending money on things I can not see (laughs), but I ended up trying it and it has been very good.

We don’t have advert placements anywhere else but VConnect. The only other places we use are Facebook and Instagram. Vconnect has been a major source of enquiries, at least once a day we get someone who calls from VConnect. It has been really helpful.

Your business started making garments and then moved on to a training school, what is the plan for the next five years?

That’s quite far. Our plan rather for the next two years is to increase our course offerings. What I mean by this is you mentioned something about male garments, we have gotten quite a number of calls from people asking if we train people to make strictly male garments, we say no we don’t, even though it is taught as part of our courses.

We realise that if people are asking for it, that means there is a need for that, so we want to have a course that focuses on male garments alone, so as a female or male  if you want to learn how to make male garments that’s one of the things we are looking to do.

Another thing is expansion, we want to get a bigger space because this place is getting too small for us. So that’s what we are looking to do, get a bigger space and increase our course offerings so students have more options.

We are also looking at adding courses for trainers because that is another huge gap in the industry, people that want to go into training, we found that is another gap in the industry.

What happens is that because some designers have established a name, they start a fashion school and it shouldn’t be like that, we are not a fashion school we are a sewing school.

We started as a fashion school but we became a sewing school because we saw that the need is not for the fashion aspect, but the need is for the sewing- the skill.

So we thought let the big names be fashion schools, we will just be a sewing school and teach people the skill needed because it is a skill, it is not much to do with creativity, it has a lot more to do with skill, your creativity without skill is zero.

Now that there is a lot of awareness about skill and craft over formal education,  we want to open up that aspect of the business to people so they can come in and get trained as an instructor so you can go to secondary schools and maybe go for their club days and be one of the club activities in school. So those are some of the immediate plans, five years from now? Maybe we will set up a technical school.

How did the name Addurrah creations come about?

When I started I went by ‘Sleek Stitches’  a friend’s aunt had picked it out for me, but I never liked it. So after awhile, I started searching for a new name.

So I sat with my friends one day and they said people are using their own names, why not use your own name? So I listed out all my names, Adura is a name that I don’t tell anyone, everyone knows me as Kemi, so I thought why not use that, but I didn’t want to spell it the same way, so it is spelt Addurrah, so when people ask what it means, I tell them ‘definition’ so when I make garments, I make them to suit your structure, physique, style and personality which is what the brand is all about. So  I define who you are by the apparels I make.

 

Also read:  5 proven tips for managing office romance in your Nigerian SME

 

Addurrah Creations is a sewing school located at 11, Oweh Street, Jibowu, Shomolu, Lagos, Nigeria.

 

VConnect SME Stories is a weekly feature highlighting enterprising small businesses, exploring the stories of small business founders and sharing intelligence and actionable tips to start and run thriving small businesses in Nigeria.

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Jimi Osheidu

Jimi is a content developer and screenwriter. Bizarrely, he has never been seen in the same room with Batman, leading many to believe he is indeed the Dark Knight. He refuses to comment on these claims.

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