Florence Lucie Ihemadu, the founder of  Flin Adire recently applied to join  AdireOgun.com,  a website started in 2020 as a marketplace focusing on the promotion of one of Nigeria’s most famous indigenous textiles – adire. In what can best be described as an alignment of passion, business and creativity, she found it the right fit for her ‘For my business, the platform will create more  visibility and open new opportunities for growth’ she said. In many ways, she is like many bootstrapped fashion brands looking for access to markets and greater exposure and of course sales.  It’s no surprise that several savvy brands have applied to join the marketplace. For some, there is hope that this platform will help mitigate some of the pandemic-era challenges that fashion brands are currently facing. 

 

 

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For smaller, independent merchants in fashion from textiles to finished products-  distribution, access to markets, customer acquisition and awareness are difficult hurdles to scale, especially on the African continent. As technology begins to permeate the industry (although fashion is notoriously slow to adapt to technological change) , brands are using  e-commerce infrastructure solutions like Afrikrea and platform technology such as Shopify and local and Pan-African focused solutions like PayStack Commerce and Flutterwave store to digitise the front end of their business. These platforms democratise the playing field in a way that had hitherto appeared impossible. However, as most of these solutions are consumer facing, there is the looming question of what happens to the rest of the value chain.

 

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In response to these issues, Adenrele Sonariwo one of the key promoters of this project  said ‘The Government played its role by initiating the project, creating an enabling environment and continues to act as a critical interface between the partners and the producers. The private sector involvement included technology partners – Sales Cabal, Logistics and Operations Partners – Bytes and Barter, and Marketing Partners – Nuru Lab. All are important to the success of the platform.‘

 

 

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In essence, AdireOgun.com seeks to facilitate the fast and easy procurement of ready-to-ship adire textiles and to connect artisans and manufacturers of adire to the designer brands, CMT factories and end consumers.  Through its partners Salescabal, Nuru Lab & Bytes and Barter they are focussed on enabling B2B commerce efficiently and helping merchants access the critical digital services to ensure seamless operations, providing end to end support; from marketing and branding to logistics and shipping. ‘This platform will provide access to new audiences for the over 2,000 merchants, they no longer have to compete and rely on just walk-in’s, and by having a general branding strategy it means that the sellers can benefit from this awareness.’ Adenrele Sonariwo said. ‘As the platform grows, we can begin to gain data intelligence that allows us to understand the scale of the market. This allows for so many interventions such as access to capital to meet demands, regeneration and renovation plans for the production area, etc.’

 

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This is where the success of the platform is crucial; as most marketplaces by their nature offer limited marketing or branding support and little to no logistical support. It shows that the team behind this is being smart about the real challenges of onboarding an entire segment of the industry that is largely informal . Commenting on the internal pivots they have had to make in building the platform Sonariwo said ‘The major challenge was really expecting that the merchants would automatically come onboard the platform but we realized very quickly that this was not the case. Our operations partner Bytes and Barter had to engage young people to go shop to shop to educate the merchants, onboard them as sellers and upload their products. This is an ongoing challenge we are constantly learning from, it’s allowing us to extend the value chain and empower others in the process. ‘ she said ‘The operation and logistics partner trains and guides them through the onboarding process, they conduct quality control checks, as well as logistics support – delivery to customers. They handle and monitor the process end to end. ‘

 

 

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Consumer education will be key to the growth of the platform , as many Nigerians (and Africans) wrongly ascribe indigenous status to  ‘ankara’ when it is in fact a by product of colonialism; and is in no small part responsible for the slow decay of our textile industries. Reviving demand for local textiles is part of the overall mission for the platform, and is a laudable one especially if they manage to ease the stranglehold ankara has on local and international markets for what is deemed ‘African’.

‘Ogun State, Abeokuta precisely, is known as the premier center for Adire Production. History tells us how vibrant the industry was, with local farmers producing dye and cotton enough to not just meet local demands but for exports as well.

Adire is a symbol of cultural wealth and economic prosperity.’ Sonariwo said . This sentiment was echoed by Kelvin Umechukwu co-founder of  ‘Salescabal (Now Bumpa) is positioned as a tool that empowers merchants in selling, managing and tracking everything around their business – sales,  orders, transactions, inventory, customers and business performance. This attracted Olalekan Olude, the Special Adviser to the Ogun State governor on Job Creation and Youth Empowerment. He reached out through Opeyemi Awoyemi, one of our advisors, for us to help work on the project that can empower their merchants and also create jobs in the state.’ He went on to say ‘ the AdireOgun Merchants that were once limited to the physical shops and stalls in Ogun State are now exposed to both local and international customers through adireogun.com and all they need to do is use a simple app (Salescabal) to manage their day-to-day. We hope that this will usher in prosperity to the state and create thousands of jobs across production, delivery, publicity, operations and technology. We also hope to see increase in trust and level of education for the merchants in the use of technology. ‘

 

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The supply chain in Nigeria is often encumbered with opaque and outdated business processes, from designers to retailers – finding adire is either extremely cost or labour intensive or extremely expensive. This website has the potential to open up the region to interested parties both at home and in the diaspora. As the end consumer continues to become sensitised to adire as a true indigenous textile, we think there is a huge opportunity to see adire in multiple industries including but not limited to home goods, soft furnishings and more. 

The export potential is virtually limitless, turning small sellers into competitive players in the global marketplace. Speaking on the hopes for the marketplace, Sonariwo went on to explain  ‘We want to first and foremost re-iterate the status of Ogun State as it pertains to Adire, we want different sectors – Fashion, Education, Agriculture, Interior Design, etc to embrace and champion it, and lastly we want to bridge the gap – through technology, between the over 2,000 merchants that are still producing in the Itoku area in Abeokuta and consumers locally and internationally.’

This platform, if handled well, can breed substantial new opportunities for adire makers and breathe new life into a dying industry. The time is now for a marketplace that is global, regimented, transparent and affordable so that it can create the accessibility to a global market small brands desire with the supply flexibility that more established brands require. 

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