Many people believe that some degree of luck is essential to be successful in life. But there are others who share the view that rather than solely depend on luck, success can be achieved when ideas are pursued on the wings ofpassion, hard work and timely preparation. This exemplifies the life experiences of Josephine Ajuonuma, Chief Executive Officer of Finafrik Designers.
Adejuwon OSUNNUYI writes
For Josephine Ajuonuma, Chief Executive Officer of Finafrik Designers, her story can be said to clearly fit into the belief held by many that in life, to be successful, it is not all about having degree of luck, but success would be achieved when ideas are pursued on the wings of passion, hard work and timely preparation.
Though Josephine was not actually born with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth, to a large extent, she learnt a lot of family values from her parents. An indigene of Bayelsa state, Josephine is the first child from a family of seven.
Largely described as a woman with distinct ideas, passion, courage, determination and hardwork, Josephine’s journey into the business world did not really start on a smooth note. As a student, then at the university, while struggling to make ends meet, Josephine decided to tap into what she had as a hobby, that is, making dress for herself to launch herself into business. Though she had wanted to go into the business after finishing her university education, but her strong passion for fashion led her into going into the business early.
Speaking with Business Courage at her office in her new expansive outlet in Lekki, Lagos, the soft-spoken wife of late Dr. Levi Ajuonuma , former Group Public Affairs Manager of NNPC, revealed that then, when she was making dresses for herself, she was getting attentions from her friends who kept on admiring the special designs she was wearing. When she told them she was the one making those dresses, expectedly, they were astonished and started asking her to help them make theirs as well. That was how the journey started as she began making clothes for her friends, lecturers, as well as relations.
By the time she graduated, she did her compulsory one-year youth service in Owerri. Interestingly, because she found out that Owerri was closed to Aba, she started going there to get some unique fabrics to make clothes. “Then, just like in school, people started coming to me to say, oh I like your outfits, can you make one for us. That was how I started getting customers.”
After her service, she came down to Lagos where she worked briefly with one of the companies of business guru, Chief Emmanuel Iwuayanwu. When she got to Lagos, the Champion newspaper was about to go into operation, and she was supposed to be one of the pioneering staff from Owerri, but something happened. She couldn’t get the chance to work with them because the Managing Director, who she was supposed to work with didn’t give her the job. “I went through the interview and I did very well, but the man simply told me, he didn’t want a flamboyant secretary. I want a male secretary.” She said.
But then, like a go-getter, she never that experience to discourage as she went elsewhere to work. However, having worked for about three months, she discovered that she wasn’t getting the satisfaction she had expected from the job as her mind was still on going into fashion.
She pulled out and got enrolled in a fashion school where she could learn the basics. “I decided to go into learning the basic of fashion because I realised you cannot supervise what you don’t know. So, I met a friend then who did something about fashion. We were classmates at Yabatech. I informed him about getting a private teacher to teach me about the basics in fashion and he introduced me to his friend called Ronke Ayodele. Interestingly, that my friend, who introduced me to Ronke, is now a big musician today. He is sunny Nneji” she told Business Courage.
After equipping herself with the basics in fashion designing, Josephine decided to formally launch herself into world of fashion designing with the brand name Sefinal Studio. She got a flat at Ojuelegba, in Lagos where she started making corporate outfits for bankers, corporate women. The hardworking spirit in her made her to start shifting focus to making special outfits for those who wanted to go for red carpet events.
According to her, it was while she was at Sefinal studios that she met her late husband, Dr. Levi Ajuonuma , former Group Public Affairs Manager of NNPC. Then she was making the entire outfit he was using on the set of the Sunday night show.
For Josephine, few years after her success story with Sefinal studious, with her strong passion for fashion couple with her being very artistic, creative and innovative, she decided to rebrand her outfit with a new name called Finafrik Designers. According to her, the name Finafrik was coined from her name, Josephine and Africa with her desire to translate the local fabrics into modern trend as well as to reflect her passion for African collections.
“My dream with Finafrik in the last 10 years that we started has been to run a life style brand. That is, an internationally accepted brand.” She stated.
With the birth of Finafrik, she opened a new outlet at City mall where she was one of the pioneer members. In a short while, Finafrik added two other outlets at Surulere and Abuja.
According to her, she designs for celebrities, the everyday woman, the high class, middle class, corporate woman, for women that want to look elegant, classic, posh, those who want to look loud as well as those who want to look reserved. “I cut across classes, age and styles.”
Speaking on her quality of work, she noted, “We don’t just work with Ankara, we work with Chiffons, we dye them into nice and beautiful African colours. We design our Ankara with styles and embellish them with a lot of sequence and rhyme stones and beads to bring out the African culture.
“Apart from the Ankara and Chiffon, we do organiser, we add linen with Ankara, and we also do a lot of embellishment of denim jeans linen with Ankara.
“We follow trends, but we do outfits that are wearable, durable, affordable and with our outfit, you are sure of standing out of the crowd because you will get noticed and it speaks a lot of volume about your personality. We don’t just follow trend, but we try to bring out the best in you. We look at your shape and try to give you cut that would suit you or enhance your body shape.”
“Talking about myself, I try to satisfy my customers by giving them the best I can with African fabrics because you know our Ankara is very rich in African colours. We try to showcase our talent with our locally made fabrics and show the world that Nigeria has got talents and we can compete with the high brands fashion outfits out there like Karen Millen, Roberto Cavalli, Entro Cavalli.
What makes Finafrik stand out? Josephine has this to say: “Our designs are original, comfortable, wearable, stylish and versatile. We use quality fabrics; dye them into unique pieces and do the Ankara twist to give it that afro centric touch.”
Talking about the accessories which she said make her oufits artistic, “We use Rhine stones, sequence, sea beads, Swarovski stones, (to mention just a few of them) to embellish our designs to give it that simple but sophisticated, elegant and stylish look that stands it out. (Effortlessly elegant)
Though Josephine is the hardworking and strong mind-sets woman, she admitted that combining motherhood and her job was quite challenging. As a result of trying to take care of the family front, she had to close down her Abuja office as well as the one at City Mall, while she had to concentrate on the one at Mega Plaza.
But while it remained only the Mega Plaza outlet, she had another challenge. She later discovered that the shop at Mega plaza wasn’t presenting her outfit the way she would have loved it because the office wasn’t spacious enough. Hence, her determination to move to a bigger place at Lekki.
Speaking about her new outlet in Lekki, she noted, “I decided to take a bigger place where people can reach out to me, because I was just stucked in iniside the plaza at the fourth floor. Basically, not many people like to come to the fourth floor. So now, I can really express myself and display my talents, that’s how we arrive at a bigger place here at Fola Osibo in Lekki.
For Josephine, who has been in the fashion business for about 17 years, Finafrik now takes care of both male and female. “We don’t just do dresses for female, we do for male as well. So, now we can say we are now unisex. Basically, before, we do exclusively for female, but we discover that when men come around with their wife, girlfriends or sisters, they do ask if we don’t do dress for men. So we decided to make it a one-stop shop. Now, we do caftan with African adire. We do linen embellished with embroidery, babariga, African safari, brocade for men as well as what people now call resource control, made popular by President Goodluck Jonathan.
She said, “What gives me joy in the business is seeing my finished outfits on my clients and they stand out in the crowd. Fashion is what I like doing. For instance making my sketch, producing the final works with all the accessories, and it’s amazing- That gives me joy. Our products can compete with any product internationally because they are well finished. We pay attention to details.
Speaking about other challenges she has had to cope with Josephine decried high cost of production, which she said, is a major challenge. “This is due to the Nigeria bad power shortage. I will say this is a major obstacle for us in this industry. Also, we have challenges getting competent skilled workers. (Good tailors, cutter, beaders) etc. you have to train them to get the best. To her, also sourcing for original and unique accessories locally has been another challenges as she most times had to import them.
With her originality and creativity, Finafrik has over the years been involved in a lot of fashion shows among which is a show called Fashion with fame held at Terra Culture as well as Finafrik Ember Collection.
Josephine is a mother of four beautiful and intelligent kids who are all currently based abroad. Out of the four, she has a set of twins, a boy and a girl.
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