His father wanted him to step into his shoes as a lawyer. But Evans Akere, creative director of Vanskere, left his law profession and followed his passion as a fashion designer. Like a mustard seed, he started little but grew in leaps and bounds. Today, he is known for his Urban African outfits. Recently, he spoke about his early stage as a designer, and gives tips on business survival.
How did you come about the name Vanskere?
It’s an abbreviation of my name; my name is Evans Akere. Van is an abbreviation of Evans; Kere is an abbreviation of Akere.
At what point did you embrace fashion?
That was when I was studying law. I found out that something was not right. I found it difficult to fit in as a law student because I was too elaborate in my dressing. Back then as a law student, you have to dress corporate in black and white but I like to express myself in my dressing. I like colours. I remember when I was in law school during my compulsory court attachments. I was actually walked out of court by a senior advocate because of the way I was dressed. I wore a purple shirt and a purple tie to court. The judge wanted to take it up that I will not graduate from Law School. I never practiced law or go to courts. I finally made up my mind to do fashion after my call to the Bar. I did not practice.
Tell us about your growing up?
I grew up in Benin. I had my education there. I had secondary and university education in Benin. I attended Law School in Lagos and after graduation, I just stayed back.in Lagos.
From a lawyer to a designer, were you at some point stubborn or rascally growing up?
My dad says I was because we are always having issues. The issue then was that I was too independent. I needed freedom from an early age, I wanted to be my own person and do my own thing. In terms of being rascally or violent, I was not. Back then, he wanted me to stay behind when my brothers were going out. He wanted me to help out in the law firm. During holidays, he would want me to go to work with him since I was studying law. But I had other plans because I wanted to be in Lagos, to see what was happening.
How was your early stage as a designer like?
My brother was my first client. I was living with him at Yaba. I sketched designs. I was scared; I didn’t know how to start. I didn’t even have a mentor, I didn’t even know what to do (it was even after I had established that I went to a fashion school.) My brother just got tired of this sketching every day, and asked me what I needed to start. How much would it cost? That was how I started.
I made stuff for him and when his friends asked him, he told them ‘Lawyer made it’. And that was how I started through referrals and the rest is history. After a while, I discovered I wasn’t as passionate with the female line. I had to streamline to the men’s wear. I was doing suits, jackets, trousers and shirts.
I discovered that I was getting more patronage from the traditional wears than the English wears. Traditional wear is where the money is coming from. After a while, I focused on the traditional wears and that’s why the brand is called ‘Urban African Wear’.
With the level of the brand, do you mentor people or have a fashion school?
Yes. We have a mentorship program in place. Most of these young designers come around. There are lots of young female designers that settle for men’s wear. I deal one-on-one with them but I don’t really have the time now. I think we have done two mentorship programs now. Last year was twice and now the demand is high
The first mentorship program was one session but the second one we had two sessions.
Can you give us tips for success in business?
Humility is vital for anyone who wants to succeed. As I’m talking to you, I’m trying to pick my words. Even on Instagram, I don’t get carried away. As a business person, people patronize your attitude and character first before they patronize your product. Clients who come to you first of all have contact with you as a person before they eventually patronize you.
There are some fantastic designers who have good stuff but because of their attitude people don’t want to go to them. Attitude is vital but most people don’t really understand it.
People are gifted in their business but the way they handle affairs and their attitude is what is killing them unconsciously.
They feel they are making money but you can make more and you really don’t understand that the level you are, you would have gone higher if you humble yourself. Relate with people nicely.
Also, I’m quick to apologize because in business you usually have some clients who are difficult. I try to satisfy all my clients no matter what. What most business men might not realize is that you don’t make money from all transactions.
In business, there are some unforeseen circumstances that you cannot control. You have to create room for these losses when they come. It is not every time you make profit. I have had clients I had issues with their clothes I had to lose them all over. I didn’t make anything at the end of the day but for that single reason he kept coming back and one told me that the single reason he came back was because of what I did years back and I didn’t even remember. Also, I did a white collar for a client not knowing that he was having issue with white.
I had to make stuff for him and I did not charge him. So in business, attitude and character are keys to success.
What is the vision for your business?
Basically, the vision for the brand now is to have a brand that is strictly dedicated to African wear and creating trending pieces for the western world.
The idea for us now is: African culture, African lifestyle, and African idea through the brand outside Africa. I just discovered at a certain point that the market is huge. Most people did not know this in past. The brand is not a Nigerian brand but an African brand that will accommodate all African cultures. The African market is huge. West Africa alone is a big market; they have similar lifestyle and wear similar clothes.
Who are your clientele?
Right now, politicians and celebrities. People who don’t fall into that category are clients who like to look good, who like to stand out and those who have good taste. It’s an exclusive brand. Most times, we target our clients. Our clients don’t come to us. Most of my clients love serene environment.
A place where they can come in terms of security and this place befits that profile. The target market is not just people that want clothes and just walk in. Majority of them because of their status don’t come to us we meet them in their comfort zones. It’s only about 40 percent of the clients that come around. That was how we eventually settled for a spacious compound.
Do you have a target audience?
Not at all. When I started I was just happy making clothes. It was just satisfaction when I started. It was just passion. I was happy; money was secondary at that time. I started very low. I was making as low as N1000 as profit. My joy was just to create something and it got to a point I had to step up.