Here on Whoot Africa, we not only showcase brands, but we also talk to the people behind those brands and have them share with us their back stories as well as give tips on how to successfully start and run a business.
Welcome to Whoot Africa’s – 15 Questions with the CEO.
Can you tell us a little about Jane Ole and Elizabeth Waldorf as a brand you represent?
I am CEO and Creative Director of luxury fashion & lifestyle brand Elizabeth Waldorf. My love for fashion began as a four year old who fell in love with a pretty Dior dress my dad had got for me on one of his holidays. I started designing as a teenager; I found my passion early, I love being an entrepreneur but I believe that comes 2nd (smiles).
Elizabeth Waldorf is such a dream! Elizabeth Waldorf is a luxury fashion and lifestyle brand conceptualized over a decade ago. We were fully registered in 2010 & incorporated in 2011. I’d say we really started fully operating in 2012. Elizabeth Waldorf is such an exciting brand dedicated to providing women of all ages with high quality merchandise from pre-teen to adulthood. The brand is divided into 4 sub labels and 3 major brand extensions
4 sub labels are:
-Le petite Elizabeth Waldorf -0-16
-Elizabeth Waldorf 21-young adult
-Elizabeth Waldorf Africa-created with luxe fabrics from all over Africa
-Elizabeth Waldorf Limited edition-the premium label which carries two tags & a gold label to emphasize its superior edge
The three major brand extensions are:
How did you get started in Business and what did it take you to get to where you are today? Why did you decide to start Elizabeth Waldorf?
Oh wow! That’s a pretty good question; I woke up one morning and thought it’s not enough to be passionate about fashion I’d love to turn this into a viable business! For months I thought about the kind of brand I wanted to build, brand name, brand identity, brand promise the whole works really. I needed to build a team 1st that would believe in the brand vision and carry out the mission passionately. It was no easy feat! But it all fell into place. Like most start ups Capital was a big issue! But I always believed if you truly believe in a business idea and you’ve got a properly thought out business plan, the capital will come somehow. For Elizabeth Waldorf, I had saved up through the years and I was Elizabeth Waldorf’s first “investor” (laughs) I believe that the 1st Equity to a start shouldn’t be a loan if avoidable. You don’t want to start your business purely on loans. I had done a brief stint in banking and telecoms where I’d been saving what I could. I moved to a human resource consulting company where I was a human resource manager, my experiences in these organizations prepared me to build Elizabeth Waldorf.
Elizabeth Waldorf was founded out of a need to fill a gap in the Local Luxury fashion market to provide women of all ages with TIMELESS luxury garments and merchandise. I always wondered why we could have “new fashion that never gets old”; when a client purchases an Elizabeth Waldorf ready to wear garment we hope to achieve a few key things *a garment made with individuality and attention to detail *timeless design, meaning that in 20years you shouldn’t look like a clown wearing your garment (hence the need to be innovative *quality fabrics should stand the test of time and wear. I want to create a luxury brand out of Africa with a global appeal.
The fashion industry is saturated, with most foreign platforms such as Asos, River Island et.al tapping into the market out here with perks such as free delivery, direct card acceptance and massive discounts. How do you manage to stay profitable and competitive, especially with your focus on the luxury and high end products?
The fashion industry is certainly saturated, however there’s a need to understand how the consumer thinks and what the consumer really wants. The key is to give the client what a global high street brand won’t, which is an on trend yet timeless luxe garment and personalized service. At Elizabeth Waldorf, service is so individualized with a client being able to purchase a garment at any of our retail partners and have private fittings to tailor it to their specific needs. Yes! What’s more? We cater to our clients like they are our only client that keeps them coming back for more. We are a relatively young brand so I won’t claim we have figured it all out, far from it! However we are constantly testing business models to see which works in the markets we are currently focused on. While the fashion market is saturated, Africa’s population is massive! Our goal is to keep our brand desirable & aspirational.
Your brand has grown in a considerable short time and remarkably too, what are some of those things that you think are critical success factors to pushing the Elizabeth Waldorf brand to where it is right now?
Thank you so much! It’s been a really short time that is correct. I’d say focusing on the work itself, knowing who the Elizabeth Waldorf woman is and never taking a break from ensuring we satisfy her. Elizabeth Waldorf is a growing brand; however the team has always had a clear vision from the word go. We don’t compromise ever. This has forced people to pay attention and see a clear difference between our brand and other young brands.
Nigerian fashion designers offer some of the most expensive outfits in this region, which doesn’t inspire much confidence and patronage for home brands. Why is this so, considering fabrics out here are relatively cheaper?
I cannot speak for other designers, at Elizabeth Waldorf we produce our garments and merchandise from the best quality (premium) fabrics & materials from all over the globe. Quality does not always mean expensive, however when we use couture fabrics in production this will in turn increase cost. A cashmere jacket cannot of course be created at similar price points to batik ones as fabrics differ in costs. That said, for other brands I think a key contributor will be high production costs, especially power and man power.
With your knowledge and practice of entrepreneurship today, what are some of those things you’d do differently if you had the chance to start all over again, also what are those things you need young aspiring entrepreneurs to know about doing business?
I would have drawn up a long list of potential investors (jokes)! Well, in the 1st-3months of commencing operations we had invested so much money into kick starting operations that I forgot one little detail! (“Staff salaries and keeping staff strength to a minimum”). I remember paying my employees out of my own pockets! Dear aspiring entrepreneurs its one thing to draw up a business plan, the reality may be a little different, but be realistic and be ready! Even in year two, I’m still waking up to realities even while being viable.
Doing business in Nigeria is not for the faint hearted, if you had to sell doing business in Nigeria in a few words to an investor, what would they be?
The Nigerian Economy is a growing Economy; there’s an emerging middle class, as more individuals move into that middle class, the demand for desirable products & services will continue to grow. The market is here! The population is right. Invest!
What inspires you? Creative muse?
Everything inspires me; art, music, people, the female body. Everything.. My sister Elizabeth who the brand is partly named after, my mum & Grace Kelly..I wish I could have had the honour of dressing her! Oh well! I have a gazillion Elizabeth Waldorf clients
How would you describe your leadership style, and where do you see Elizabeth Waldorf in 5-10years from now?
I’m a firm leader, I can be choleric but my melancholic bit is a great balance. That said, I think I love my team so much that I become a bit of a mother hen. I may push, but I pet. That’s why they have my back. They understand that I only push for the sake of the organization’s goals. 5-10 years from now I’d like Elizabeth Waldorf to have a strong presence in every major fashion capital in the world.
Looking at the Nigerian fashion industry, what are some of those things you have observed that needs to change for Nigeria to really experience a boom in the fashion industry like it does in Italy, United Kingdom and the US?
Fashion designers need to be appreciated and tremendously respected as true artists and masters. No disrespect to seamstresses & pattern cutters etc who are the technical support or backbones of the fashion designers at the ateliers but a “Designer”, is NOT a seamstress! Fashion design is the art of creating wearable art!” The manufacturing industry needs to be restored! Power needs to be provided for the industry to work! A functional association of fashion designers has to exist and work! The way the CFDA in USA works!
What do you think are the most important personal skills someone must have to be successful in business?
Resilience! Be a team player! Be analytical and also have Strong leadership qualities.
Who was the most influential person or mentor in your life? What was the biggest risk you have ever taken? Would you do it again?
The most influential person in my life would have to be my mum, as much as I argue with her there’s so much wisdom in her words. Biggest risk will have to be leaving it all to build the Elizabeth Waldorf brand. Yes! Yes! Yes!
What do you think about college education? Should kids go to college now or get into business if they feel it’s a better choice? Considering some of the world’s greatest never had college education, your thoughts?
I’ll be honest I don’t think college is a condition for success, however the sea of information available to you in college is unbelievable, the skill set you acquire when in college will remain valuable to you when you eventually get into business. College opens your mind to a world of possibilities. So I’ll say yes to a college education.
What would be the most important piece of advice you could give to young entrepreneurs and why?
Be sure you believe in your business idea and you’re passionate about it. This is because as long as your business operates you’ll constantly need to convince consumers/clients to buy into that business idea. That’s how you sell! Sell! Every client/consumer is a daily investor.
Lastly, in the fashion world, what is the one thing you’d like to remembered for when the name Jane Ole, Creative Director of Elizabeth Waldorf is mentioned around the world?
I would like to be known as a creative genius who showed that luxury fashion out of Africa can compete and win globally through design & quality.
If you missed the previous parts of the 15 Questions with the CEO series, please click here