“Alere Olurotimi Mobolaji” the class teacher called out, “Present sir” replied the soft-spoken bearer of the names. I looked to my left and saw an ebony skin guy with a playfully naughty grin on his face, and that was to be my first encounter with this friend I have known since forever. Alere and I attended the same primary and secondary schools and I remember him as an excellent pupil of technical drawing and the fine arts. Also, I vividly recall that you didn’t want to compete with him in the 100m or 200m dash because try as you might, it’s his heels you’d be looking at in front of you and the dust left in his wake settling on your face.
How Alere transformed from the classmate I knew so well, or so I thought, to the CEO of one of Ibadan’s foremost garment-making businesses is the focus of this post. This week and the next, we shall be profiling an ingenious couturier who is a master, not of the sewing needle and handwork, but of the sketching pencil and brainwork. His story is one of a man who embarked on a journey to the island of self-discovery; the story of an entrepreneur who turned the first sod with an investment of N4500 (<$30) and is today building a self-sustaining business that employs eleven workers and comfortably supports his family and the story of a brilliant adapter of winning business models.
Inner review, the genesis of outward expression
It began in 1999 when university lecturers were on strike for five months, while most students were busy waiting for the call off, Alere was filling his first order of three custom-made shirts using the tie-dye fabric he loaned from his mum; little did he know that he was taking baby steps that would lead to the establishment of Trado Clothiers, the business outfit he runs today. However, he explained that it was another episode in his life that ensured that the shirt-making was not a one-off event or an idea he just toyed with. In the university, Alere spent a lot of time doing what he called ‘inner-review’, it was a journey to understand who he is and what he is all about. He says no one was born holding a manual in hand, hence the need try and find out more about oneself; and this he did after a lot of reflection and a good dose of what he termed the ‘God-factor’.
It was during this period that he understood that his allergy to monotony is the recipe for creativity. It made him appreciate the artistry he found within himself, that manifested in his drawings. Furthermore, it made him realize that holding down a nine-to-five job is tantamount to holding back on his personal satisfaction; he therefore vowed to immediately start a business after finishing school. That’s why till date, he doesn’t know how to draft a job application, a skill he is willing to disregard but one that some people have so honed they can write one in their sleep. His inner reflection also included answering the question, “What vocation was I born to do?” and he found the answer by further asking, “What do people commend me for?” I needn’t tell you that his never-seen-before clothes designs topped that list.
|A shirt designed by Alere|
Fortune favours the brave
In 2005, after fulfilling a self-imposed pledge to complete his training as a Mechanical Engineer from the University of Ibadan, Alere went for the National Youth Service Scheme. He completed the three- week camping, dared to discontinue his service (burning his bridge to any future appointment in the public sector or multinational firm) and returned to Ibadan to start his business, using one of the brilliant models that has made his business a success.
Knowledge work model
Combining his creativity and aversion for routine, he set out to establish himself as a knowledge worker, or one who thinks for a living, in the garment-making business. He was going to grow his business acumen around his skill of conceiving bespoke clothes designs, training experienced tailors (the manual workers) to interpret his designs and sew them, continually honing his branding and packaging expertise and finally using his people skills and winsome attitude to break into the nondescript fashion market around him.
When I asked him if he wasn’t bothered that his tailors, knowing that he can’t sew as well as them could someday walk out on him? He replied that knowing what his workers want, namely good remuneration and job security, all he had to do was to make them available. He further asserted that there are some people assigned to each one to make his dreams come true and if one finds them and treats them well they will not leave. Not satisfied, I asked again if he ever gets worried that his tailors were smarter than him. Then he explained that true, they were gurus at sewing but he chose to keep his eye on the big picture – the design, packaging, branding and marketing of the fashion industry; of course I couldn’t argue with him because the results speaks for itself.
Next week we shall conclude this profile with three winning models from this brilliant strategist