Addie Olutola is the founder of D’IYANU, a ready-to-wear clothing line that offers African inspired fashion for men and women.
She thought of the business idea while working as a buyer and also attending a Masters program in International Marketing. Her professional and academic background, coupled with a love for fashion and a passion for African-centered art set the stage for D’IYANU.
A regular on my Instagram Explore Tab featuring #datenight outfits and a go-to brand for the culturally-conscious fashionista, D’IYANU encourages self-expression through its bold prints and unique pieces.
The meaning behind the brand name draws from French (D’) and Yoruba (IYANU) influence, translating to “of something wonderful”–a reminder to everyone that they’re uniquely made and to dress like it.
What makes D’IYANU even more special is Addie’s commitment to seeking ways her business can empower her community and help address the social issues it faces.
The company has grown to 12 employees, many of whom are Nigerian women, and has donated a portion of its profits to nonprofits that provide clean water and education to African communities.
In this interview, she gives a sneak peek into her world and shares her wisdom on how to build a purpose-filled business.
Tell us about your journey of starting D’IYANU.
Since university, I held a purpose to help build schools and clinics and provide opportunities to people in underdeveloped communities in Nigeria and other African countries.
I later launched D’IYANU with a mission centered on community engagement. Since our start, we’ve donated over $20,000 to causes that support African communities and the D’IYANU brand continues to grow daily.
What were some important lessons you took your work experience to your business?
My first job out of school was for an online pet store. I learned a lot of valuable lessons about inventory and website management that helped me when I launched my own business.
My second job as a buyer helped me hone my vendor and customer relation skills which was much needed as well in my business. All my previous jobs really contributed to my success as an entrepreneur.
I would advise aspiring entrepreneurs to regard their current and previous jobs as stepping stones and commit to gleaning as much knowledge and skill as possible from that roleNot every business is the same. Don't make the assumption that what worked for another company will necessarily work for your own - @AddieIyanu Click To Tweet
What did you learn from your biggest failure?
One failure we experienced was trying to implement an ERP system that was too big for us. It was an archaic system used by larger companies and thought it would work for us.
We made many assumptions, and it ended up costing us a lot. The lesson learned was that not every business is the same and not to make the assumption that what worked for another company will necessarily work for your own.
Also, make sure you do your due diligence and get as much of your questions answered as possible.
Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
I listen to some motivational speakers regular such as Les Brown, Jim Rohn, and Tony Robbins whose words have helped me through tough times with my business.
Words from Les Brown such as “It’s not over until I win” or Tony Robbins “I can, I will, I must” ring in my mind when I’m feeling discouraged.
As your business grows, what are some core values that will remain important?
- Always keep customers first and maintain excellent customer service
- Hire great people and keeping them happy within the team
- Continue to innovate and try new things with operations and fashion
- Make sure that D’IYANU continues to give to great causes
The African fashion market is heavily saturated, how do you cut through the noise to differentiate your brand?
Since starting D’IYANU, my goal has been to make sure that we’re differentiating ourselves by offering quality, ready to wear clothing at reasonable prices, quick delivery, and quality customer service.
Our men’s fashion line, for example, has allowed us to reach a rarely tapped market and to gain a competitive advantage in the African-wear industry.
With the substantial relationship between e-commerce and social media, what are some creative strategies you’ve experimented with or want to explore?
With social media, we recognize that the possibilities to connect with new customers are endless. We’re currently exploring our options in using more video content and collaborating with influencers.
What is your personal brand mantra?
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style.”- Maya Angelou
What’s your advice for a budding entrepreneur?
Write down why you want to start your business. Make sure the reasons are compelling enough to get you going on tough days.
If your reasons are compelling enough, you’ll figure out a way to make your dreams a reality and continue to push in spite of failure.Make sure your reasons for starting your business are compelling enough to get you going on tough days. - @AddieIyanu Click To Tweet
What are you most excited about at the moment, and what are your next steps?
I’m excited about our use of a new type of fabric that’s woven but has a little bit of spandex for stretch. No one else in the African fashion market is using this type of fabric to my knowledge.
We have to get it special made. It looks like cotton, but it’s made with a rayon/nylon/spandex blend. It can stretch to accommodate curves nicely.
We have a few pieces that we will be launching in January 2019 with this material which is exciting!
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