Growing creative businesses with tech

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Blessing Ebere Achu: Growing creative businesses with tech

The MD/CEO, 360 Creative Hub, Blessing Ebere Ach, is a creative startup ecosystem builder. She is particularly passionate about fashion and growing African creative businesses with cutting edge tech solutions; from cotton farmers to retail stores.

Achu, whose dream is to see Africa stand out in the global fashion market, created the 360 Creative Hub in 2016 as a platform for fashion creatives to access co-working and co-sewing spaces, as well as training, mentoring, and acceleration programs.

Achu, whose goal is to build a generation of globally respected “Made in Africa” brands, in this interview, speaks of her work, numerous projects geared towards enabling fashion enterprises in Nigeria, and much more.

What life events led to the inception of the 360 Creative Hub as the first co-working space for emerging designers and entrepreneurs in the Nigerian fashion industry?

It was while I was touring with Startup Bus Europe in 2016 where I got to learn about co-working spaces in depth. I began to understand that beyond space sharing, the sharing economy is a huge paradigm shift. So I started researching.

I noticed that while we have many co-working spaces catered to the information technology population, not many were centered around the creative industry; which is a sort of problem because when you look at the index of innovation, creativity itself is a major factor. I spoke to a number of designers that I knew at that time and asked what their major challenges were.

Many said power, access to equipment, skilled tailors, conducive environment for creativity, access to funding and other forms of support, and so on. I then started asking if they will be willing to use a facility that solves these problems for them. Those days of research and engagement within the creative community birthed the brand 360 Creative Hub.

You succeeded in establishing a brand that solves problems associated with start-up fashion designers; what and who inspires you as an entrepreneur?

I have been privileged to observe various entrepreneurs in Nigeria and abroad, and their stories inspire me; the hard work that goes into building, and laying the foundations for the success that people admire on the outside.

I was part of a telecommunications company, VDT, that took on the pursuit of ISO Certifications some years ago, and saw first-hand the pain and pressure involved in making great things happen.

Watching the MD of that company, Biodun Omoniyi, lead the company through that period, was a masterclass for me. This is one among many examples of people and events from where I draw inspiration. I meet founders and builders from various backgrounds and economic realities and their unique stories continue to inspire me.

What can emerging fashion designers do to gain global recognition?

Be deliberate about your brand. Carry out research, find a specific need in the market, and sit down to draw a plan of how you intend to meet that need. What will be special about your own fashion brand? You have to answer this question. Google Trends for instance is an app that will give you ideas of what people are looking for.

Then develop a brand around these facts and figures you have gathered. This way, your path towards growth is defined and you are more capable of handling any eventualities.

How is 360 Creative Hub staying afloat in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on businesses?

Yes, the impacts of the pandemic on businesses have been huge; but in our case, we were able to stay afloat by handling various products for the health sector; producing hospital scrubs, face-masks, and other forms of medical protective wears. Our continued operations through the pandemic were not about revenue but more about helping our community of designers stay engaged; producing and servicing their customers.

How is your industry adapting to the new normal and the digitalization it has brought on almost all enterprises?

Our work with our community has always been about helping designers find better ways to drive results for their brands. When it comes to leveraging on technology, we have always seen the potential and have been advocates of tech-enabled fashion since the founding days of 360 Creative Hub.

We have always been concerned about access to online markets through various e-commerce platforms and tools to enable their selling and general business operations, like payment gateways, digital marketing, and so on. There is huge potential for more virtualisation in the fashion business, right from production to marketing; and we are working to keep African designers at the cutting-edge of it.

Your company recently launched the Design Pro Challenge for upcoming designers and fashion entrepreneurs; what is it about and how can any designer benefit from it?

We are trying to make sure that designers have strategic support to fast-track the return to normalcy post-COVID. At the end of this challenge, 10 winners will be chosen to use our fully-equipped production and styling facility in Surulere, free of charge.

For the past two weeks, designers have been posting their top three designs made this year on Instagram for a chance to be selected among the 10. Another benefit to the winners is their integration into a community of creatives; to learn and collaborate with other like minds who may have the skills and exposure they do not.

What issues have proved to be the most consistent or challenging in your attempts to help support fashion designers and entrepreneurs especially in the Nigerian clime?

A lot of our homegrown designers do not understand what it means to build a brand or run a scalable business, partly because the skills imparted at the various fashion training schools are primarily about making clothes. As a result of this, many designers start their businesses knowing little or nothing about marketing, brand building and other elements of the business of fashion.

Take the quality of images people post on their business social media accounts for instance. Many designers do not understand the role the quality of those pictures play in how seriously any potential buyer will take their brand. This is a big part of what we have set-out to correct for as many as possible designers across Africa.

Recently, through the 360 Creative Hub Fashion Acceleration Program, you facilitated a $5,000 Growth Grant for one of the designers in your hub. How did that come about?

The grant came about as a result of our partnership with Emory University in Atlanta, USA, in managing the growth of the designers who took part in the second edition of our Fashion Acceleration Program.

The Fashion Acceleration Program, FAP, is an intensive program that accelerates emerging fashion businesses through a practical-based business of fashion course, taught by seasoned professionals. The grant money was won by one of the participating brands, Jay Traks, which also uses our hub for production.

The third edition of the Fashion Acceleration Program will be coming up later this year, and we are already working with various local and international partners towards brokering more growth opportunities in form of grants, credit funding, investments, and market access for participating designers.

What are the short and long term goals of 360 Creative Hub as an organisation?

The intended impact is to educate young and potential creative entrepreneurs on how to adopt effective branding, cost-effective digital media platforms, as well as financial and business skills in developing and growing their small-scale business.

By the end of this year, our Oniru Co-Sewing and Co-Working Hub will have been completed and opened to the public for use. By the year 2025, we see 360 Creative Hub to have produced at least 50 global fashion and creative brands from local communities throughout Africa, who can conveniently compete in the global market.

What are some of the ground rules and principles you live by and also run your business by?

Integrity, creativity, and collaboration are very important to us; as well as how we run our business. Also, as a business that caters to the growth and development of people, empathy is very key to how we operate because we run a business that ‘feels’ and opens its doors daily to meet genuine human needs.

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