For fashion entrepreneurs and other creative professionals, these are promising times. From capacity development and ideation, to production, market access and growth, 360 Creative Innovation Hub, one of Nigeria’s fashion hubs, is living up to its billing as a co-working space dedicated to nurturing and expanding emerging creative and fashion entrepreneurs. Through mentorship, management, investment and equipment support, its Managing Director/Chief Executive, Blessing Ebere Achu, has created a robust ecosystem that aids the success of creative ventures that plug into it. DANIEL ESSIET reports.
It was an intervention borne out of research and engagement with various operators in the creative community. And when that research and extensive engagement birthed 360 Creative Innovation Hub, one of Nigeria’s fashion hubs, it sure met the yearnings of fashion entrepreneurs and other creative professionals for the creation of a robust ecosystem to aid the success of their creative ventures.
360 Creative Innovation Hub is a vertically-integrated fashion accelerator, with a co-working space dedicated to nurturing, expanding and accelerating emerging fashion creatives.The hub’s co-sewing space helps designers find inspiration and create their own designs with access to sewing machines and workshop tools with ease.
It is also a platform for creative brands and fashion-focused entrepreneurs to come together to create, collaborate and successfully achieve their dreams. Through mentorship, management, investment and equipment support, the hub supports the growth of creative and fashion entrepreneurs and positions them for global exploits.
The Managing Director/Chief Executive of 360 Creative Innovation Hub, Blessing Ebere Achu, has projected that by 2025, “We see 360 Creative Hub producing, at least, 50 global fashion and creative brands from local communities throughout Africa, who can compete in the global market.
The promise of drawing sufficient strength from the hub to become globally competitive is as exciting as the realities that necessitated the creation of the hub. For instance, Blessing said a research found that while there were many co-working spaces that catered to the needs of start-ups in the Information Technology (IT) space, for instance, not many were centered around the creative industry.
Also, responses by some fashion designers engaged by Blessing to know what their major challenges were indicated that poor power supply, lack of access to equipment, unskilled tailors, lack of access to funding, and a general lack of conducive environment for creativity, among other forms of support, were pain in the neck.
She said that was when she started asking the respondents if they would be willing to use a facility that solves these problems for them. And as it turned out, their responses, which were in the affirmative, birthed 360 Innovation Creative Hub. She also learnt about co-working spaces in depth, while touring with the ‘StartupBus Europe’ in 2016.
Founded by Silicon Valley-based entrepreneur Elias Bizannes, StartupBus is an annual technological start-up competition and entrepreneurship boot camp, described as an Hackathon. The competition is held across a three-day bus ride where contestants or “buspreneurs” compete to conceive the best technology start-up. The ‘buspreneurs’ break into teams and create prototype products to pitch at an event at the end, where a winner is decided.
Blessing participated in the ‘StartupBus Europe’ in 2016. While on the competition, she began to understand that beyond space sharing, its economy was a huge paradigm shift. She also began to realise that many local designers did not understand what it meant to build a brand or run a scalable business.
She attributed this partly to the low-level of skills imparted at the various fashion training schools, which are 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,” she told The Nation.
Pointing out, she said: “This is a big part of what we have set-out to correct for as many designers across Africa as possible.” Blessing indicated that her mandate was very simple: “Make fashion business easy for Africans.” She said she has pursued this objective over the last four years.
With the goal of educating 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, the Hub has been offering a range of services that support fashion creatives to start their businesses.
From capacity development and ideation, to production, market access and growth, the good times are indeed here for fashion and other creative entrepreneurs. “We have the most beautiful purpose-built creative spaces for fashion designers, jewelers, shoe makers, models, photographers, and other creative professionals to call their own,” Blessing said.
She added that there is also the Fashion Acceleration Programme, an intensive program aimed at accelerating emerging fashion designers; setting them on the right path to becoming the next big brands in fashion. According to her, there is a huge opportunity for savvy entrepreneurs with innovative products and services across the fashion value chain.
However, even before establishing 360 Creative Innovation Hub, Blessing had always been involved in the burgeoning fashion and creative industry. As she said: “I have been involved in the fashion value chain working with local textile artisans and traders. From those earlier years, I had developed a desire to play bigger in the fashion space whenever I had the opportunity.”
But it wasn’t until she toured parts of Europe in 2016 on a start-up series that the much-anticipated opportunity eventually came. “Not until then did my eyes begin to open to the huge gap in the Nigerian fashion industry, and the need for more work to be done towards enabling creative enterprise, suitable for the international market,” she said.
With the quantum of work she has done in the past four years, Blessing, who started out in business development and enterprise sales in the telecommunications sector, is in a position to declare with so much confidence that “I am a fashion ecosystem builder.”
It wasn’t an empty claim. As part of building a robust ecosystem for fashion, she said: “Recently, we launched Idozi Collective, our market access brand focused on discovering and showcasing new and established designers across Africa that are sustainable and ethical, who possess high quality in design, and are easily accessible.”
That’s not all. “In addition, we have created other specialised services which we call ‘add-ons’, designed to help brands who require various forms of support and expertise in building towards their goals; brand development, concept development, product development, manufacturing support,” she added.
So far, the Hub has been able to support the founding and growth of about 60 fashion brands. It has also been involved in the training of over 1000 creatives to build their capacity in the fashion ecosystem.
Through the years, it has also created jobs across various fashion supply chain through services, partnerships with local and international organisations.
An entrepreneur with business ideas, Blessing is a strong believer in enterprise, originality and sustainability. And the first step to achieving sustainability in enterprise, according to her, is: “Finding out what is really true to you; what is original to you, then executing around that.”
She also said she believes that people should not just do things because they seem to fit. “I believe every action and decision should be done with the long-term gain in view. Ask yourself, in 10 years, will I still be able to put my name on this brand or product confidently?” she said.
To Blessing, success is the ability to positively impact another human being. “This is what I set out to achieve, even on a greater and global scale,” she declared, attributing her success to tenacity, the right team, as well as a support system of excellent business leaders, thinkers and doers who have been strategic to her growth.
Participation in some international or regional incubator or accelerator programmes also helped. “I was part of the CC Hub’s Next Economy Accelerator here in Lagos. I was also in the Enpact Entrepreneurship Mentoring Programme, Germany; Texinova Accelerator, Spain; and African Women Entrepreneurship Cooperative (AWEC) – a pan African women entrepreneurship and management training program. I have also been part of the Cherie Blair Mentoring Programme, UK,” she said.
A self-motivated entrepreneur, much of the funding for Blessing’s venture, according to her, came from family and friends. She said what motivates her is the privilege of observing various entrepreneurs in Nigeria and abroad, and the inspiration she draws from their stories; the hard work that goes into building and laying the foundations for the success that people admire on the outside.
“Since we started 360 Creative Hub, I am excited every time a member is able to grow from ‘idea’ to ‘market’, building a viable business around their craft, through our services,” Blessing stated.