Tiffany Amber & The Business of Fashion
Tiffany Amber is becoming one of Africa’s foremost fashion brands. The fashion house is headed by the formidable Folake Folarin-Coker, an award-winning and internationally acclaimed Nigerian designer, renowned for her eclectically contemporary designs. Beyond fashion, Folarin-Coker is an astute business woman, who understands the importance of marrying the art of fashion to the art of business. Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Folarin-Coker studied in Switzerland, the UK and Scotland, and earned herself a Law Degree. But it was in fashion that she found her passion and in 1998, after relocating to Nigeria, she launched the label, Tiffany Amber, and in her own words, “hasn’t looked back”. Tiffany Amber has since become an iconic brand with collections that demonstrate the designer’s love for luxurious fabrics and intricate embellishment from all over the world, whilst at the same time, instilling her African heritage to produce timeless, feminine and effortlessly stylish pieces. The brand’s vibrant and seductive feminine collections exude an air of sophistication with its classical looks that include evening wear and blazers. Tiffany Amber’s magnetic and delicate pieces have graced over 40 runways across Africa, Europeand the U.S, capturing the imagination of fashion lovers and critics. The only African designer to have shown twice at the New York Fashion Week, she won the coveted Designer Of The Year at the 2009/2010 at the Arise Africa Fashion Week, South Africa, and in 2011, made her London Fashion Week with Tiffany Amber’s spring/summer 2012 collection, ‘Siren of the Nile.’ She recently wowed audiences at the 2012 Arise Fashion Week, Lagos. In this interview, Folarin-Coker tells me why the fashion business is a process of seduction that ultimately leads to desire.
Folake Coker: To be honest with you, I didn’t know. It was constant dedication to building the brand. As an entrepreneur, I don’t see obstacles. The constant drive is to make a success of the business side of it. The creative side was less challenging because creativity I think is innate and the boundaries come from within. Where as, the business side, is dictated by your surroundings. So it was the constant dedication to keep it going and not allowing anything come in the way of making the brand a success.
Belinda: How do you navigate/manage the art of fashion and the art of business in an industry that changes and evolves at a fast pace?
Folake Coker: Well, I think the key is to be able to strike a balance between the art of fashion and the art of business. I believe this is where my strength lies. The fashion business is a process of seduction that ultimately leads to desire. In the process of trying to seduce your client, you throw money out the window and if it lands in the right place, it comes right back through your door. The key thing is to know which window to throw at.
Belinda: Has your brand, Tiffany Amber been a financially successful one?
Folake Coker: Yes, it has been financially successful. We have four stand alone stores, a couple of boutiques in Lagos and Abuja, but I believe the potential of the brand is a million times what we have on the ground now. We plan to fully exploit this in the next two years.
Belinda: Are all your boutiques based in Nigeria or do you have any outside Nigeria?
Folake Coker: They are all in Nigeria, three in Lagos, and one in Abuja, and we have Temple Muse, which is like a luxury boutique, almost like a mini Harvey Nichols, with some of our designs in Lagos. We also sell online and we have had a lot of interest from the international market about stocking our pieces but the thing is we need to be able to make a decision that is not going to cost us dearly in the long run – we had rather people buy at wholesale prices from us than commission on sale. Because sale on commission can be problematic because if they order 50 pieces and only 10 are sold, we are burdened with 40 pieces afterwards. Whereas, if they buy the 50 pieces, wholesale prices, they can put their own profit margin on it and sell it.
Belinda: If you were asked to put a price tag on what your company is worth, what would you say?
Folake Coker: I think the most powerful and invaluable thing in my business is the name itself because I spent the past 13 years building this name. This name can now be monetised by branding as many things as possible. We plan to go deeply into accessories, even perfumes, make-up, the whole range because if you look at the international fashion market, no fashion house makes money from clothing alone. That is why you have sun glasses, perfumes; you have belts because that is where the money comes from. Very few people can afford to buy the expensive clothing. When the editor of Vogue Italia, Franca Sozzani and Roberto Cavallli were in Nigeria, one of the things they said was that making clothes, the high-end pieces is really just for show. They are not the pieces that sell. So I got a lot of insight as to how the international market works. So there is no confusion in my mind that we need to explore and diversify into the cheaper range of things that people can pick up. I mean for the past five years, I have been putting together, my diffusion line, why is it taking me so long? Well, I don’t believe that a diffusion line is something I want to rush into. We need to get the pricing right and do a market to see if there is a market for those things and we discovered that there is a huge market. And I don’t want a diffusion line and make 10 pieces of anything. For me, that is not a diffusion line. A diffusion line is financial thing, a money spinner. So, we need available at any given time, at least 300, 400 pieces of a particular thing and be able to restock it almost immediately afterwards.
Belinda: Is the concept of African fashion worth it and is it a concept that’s progressively moving forward?
Folake Coker: Well, I think it is very worth it. The time for Africa is now. The world is looking to us for inspiration. African fashion industry is still very much in infancy. I think it would be easier to come into the global fashion industry as African fashion because we have a certain uniqueness about us that the world has picked up on, they cannot exploit it, the way we can because it is in our DNA, we understand it. We are the only ones that can put it out there properly. It goes deeper than actually usingAnkarato make things. It goes deep into our sense of style because of our culture. And if you notice, Africans, wherever we go, we make sure we carry our culture with us. So these are the things that are going to come out in our dressing or how we want the world to dress in what we can African fashion. It is something that we can offer the world that has not been explored and with focus and dedication, we can do it ourselves. The world will not take us seriously, if we don’t put a proper structure on the ground first before we start looking at establishing globally. Having said that…a global recognition would help put those structures in place.
Belinda: Do you see your brand as one that has arrived within that concept or do you see you take a world view to the way you build your brand?
Folake Coker: It didn’t start as African fashion because I was a pioneer in conceptualising the business of fashion as we have it today. Seven years after running the label with little to no compensation, it allowed lots of other brand to see the model we have in place and realise that they too can have a successful fashion brand. The influx of designers in the African fashion industry, created the word, African fashion. I think African fashion is the way that we are going to enter the global market and once we are established in the global market, the wall is going to be knocked down and then we are in there. We can’t go in without an identity. There is too much competition out there. To say that I am going to go in there and price my stuff the same as Dior – Dior is a heritage brand and it has outlived the creator. We cannot do that. We need to go in with our uniqueness. After being accepted as wow, they have something, then that name comes down because we have already established and created an identity for ourselves.
Belinda: Your brand becoming a heritage brand, is that a dream of yours?
Folake Coker: without a doubt, my brand will outlive me because I don’t work for the present, I work for the future. If I didn’t do that, I would have closed shop a long time ago because there have been many obstacles but I had a dream to have a fashion brand and that dream has come through named this fashion brand has been established. And after this I need it to outlive me. We want it to become the premiereAfricalifestyle brand and I think we are very well on our way to it. It is not about fame for me anymore. It is about the proper structure and having a proper business.
Belinda: What will it take to move African fashion into a financial and successful viable market place within the fashion industry?
Folake Coker: I think African fashion designers need to stop thinking as individuals and we need to think as a group/collective because as a group, our voice is louder. All the mainstream African fashion designers are very strong in their own field. But time has shown that only one person cannot break down this barrier of entering the global market. The global market, Africais very much on path and Africans are all over the world. When the world sees that Africans are actually wearing these designers a lot more and they see how profitable it will be for them to actually carry these products that we Africans designers are producing, it makes it easier to sustain the industry in a proper way. I look all over Africa and travel to many countries in Africa, the fashion retailing is still very weak all overAfrica. So that is exactly what we are working on now and that is what I think if we adopt, if every African adopts the idea of the African brand, but there is only one thing killing that as well – the pricing. The pricing of our products is till very expensive for the average man. The fashion in the west, it trickles down many structures, many levels. Even the high street, mimicking the mainstream designers, actually makes them popular and it helps to create their own identity. We see when the collections come out and most people know that look, this belongs to this particular designer. We are not there inAfricaas yet. I mean 7 years ago, the industry was not as it is right now. There have been huge changes. In the next five years, we would be very close to being there.
Belinda: What do you do and continue to do differently with your brand that makes Tiffany Amber a success?
Folake Coker: I continue to reinvent myself without changing the DNA of the brand. Continuously reinvent yourself but don’t change the DNA of the brand – that’s what I believe, everyone knowing what the Tiffany Amber look is, is what has kept us.
Note: This article was first published in the New African Woman magazine, February-March, 2012 edition.