This week, our FATE Alumni Spotlight is on Mr. Adetola Adebowale, the Founder and Creative Director of Wapa Apparel, a garment manufacturing company that produces formal, casual and industrial wears for individual and corporate clients in Nigeria.
Prior to setting up his business, Adetola had already gotten some basic tailoring training. He had also always been very passionate about helping people and organisations project their image, brands and individual style preferences. He observed that there was a very visible gap in the garment making industry at the time to meet large scale demands for formal, casual and industrial wears and this motivated him to launch Wapa Apparels. With this vision in mind, he used his personal savings of 12,500 naira, to buy his first set of equipment which was a straight sowing machine with a manual overlocking machine. The name Wapa was coined from Yoruba colloquial expression “wa pa” which loosely translates in English to “looking good”.
Despite having a Diploma in Accounting and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, his experience during his first year is one he describes as “laborious without much business growth” as he didn’t have necessary business skills to grow his enterprise. Although he knew how to make clothes, he was struggling with his business, operations and marketing strategies. In 2009, he was selected as a participant in the FATE Foundation Samsung Real Dreams programmes which exposed him to basic entrepreneurship fundamentals and subsequently joined the 34th class of the Aspiring Entrepreneurs’ Program (AEP) in 2010. During the AEP, he gained extensive skills and knowledge in real business management and for the first time, he put together a business plan and was able to reposition himself to identify and serve his target audience. Shortly after his AEP class, he got his first major corporate contract which was with GSK, Nigeria. After delivering on the contract, he was able to acquire more equipment; increased staff capacity to 5 full time and 10 contract staff and gained more publicity and recommendation for his business.
In 2012, he won the maiden edition of the MTN business plan competition with a grant of 20million naira which helped him expand his product line and also establish a sewing factory at Ogba, Lagos. He now serves clients in the hospitality, health, education and aviation industries in Nigeria. He currently has two clothing outlets in Lagos and serves over 150 individual and 30 corporate clients, mainly in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. Wapa Apparel’s current staff strength of 10 full time and 15 contract staff. The company also produces about 50,000 units of clothing annually.
Generally, Adetola highlighted some of the challenges faced by the textile and garment making industry in Nigeria such as lack of stable electricity to power equipment; unavailability of skilled and committed human resources; lack of good quality fabrics (as many fashion designers have to rely on off-cut fabrics from Europe); and high cost of the right equipment, especially for mass production. Despite these challenges, he believes that having access to the right training and mentorship will be helpful in building a successful business as thgood thinking and ideas clarification. He is very passionate about building young entrepreneurs and has become a very committed FATE Foundation volunteer teaching, guiding and mentoring startups.
Adetola believes that one of the major reasons for his business success to date was through the mentoring support he received from Engr. John Laditan, Mr Fola Adeola and Mr. Tokunbo Talabi who have provided guidance to him on setting up the right business structures for the peculiar needs of his industry. He has also practically learned how to stay focused and persevere even when faced with significant challenges. He encourages younger entrepreneurs to be committed to their vision, learn to work hard and always look out for value-chain collaborations around their current business that can be explored. In addition, he believes that networking should be strategically done by being with the right people.
Adetola has very bold dreams for Wapa over the next few years. In the next 5 years, he intends to build a standard large scale garment manufacturing plant that can produce clothing materials from fabrics, leather and rubber; have a minimum of 3,500 staff; have a production capacity of 4 million units of garment per year; have outlets across the country; and run an ecommerce platform that sells and ships clothing products to clients across the African region.
He believes that entrepreneurship holds the key to development in Nigeria and government should provide an enabling environment for small business, such as long term funding; grants for start-ups; and tax reviews that exempt start-ups from paying tax for up to 10 years. His business advice for entrepreneurs is “always ensure that your business, that is your products and services are sort after by your clients.”
For more information on Wapa Apparel, you can follow or like their instagram page on wapa_apparel.