This highly successful African designer went from selling her children’s clothing designs from the boot of her car at local markets and bazaars, to becoming one of the continent’s most recognisable children’s clothing brand builders.
Adenike’s gift for making clothes started out when she was young, as an apprentice to her mother who taught her the art of tailoring and how to make her own clothes. Those early years gave her a love of fabrics and the knowledge of how to work with them to produce garments that were both stylish, comfortable to wear, and practical to keep in good condition. Her flair for design also stemmed from those early experiences of working with her mother and getting to practically experience the design process.
"My success has been sheer hard work. Sometimes you laugh, sometimes you cry. And, the prize at the end of it is quite fulfilling."
The inspiration for starting out on her own entrepreneurial design business originally came as a result of necessity, looking for high quality, stylish, yet affordable clothes for her own three children. She was looking for practical, functional clothing that could be mixed and matched to suit the needs of each child, but giving them the opportunity to express their own individual personalities through their clothing choices. She found that children’s clothing in the local Nigerian marketplace was either poorly made or at the other end of the spectrum, imported and extremely expensive. She was also looking for children’s clothing that could wash and wear without falling apart, coping with the daily stresses of children playing in them. So, as she had a clothes making background inspired by her mother, she set about to start making her children’s clothes herself. These unique designs started to get noticed by friends and family, and before long, a business started to grow. In 1996, without formal sales premises, she originally started to market her products from the boot of her car, arriving at local markets and bazaars, setting up her table and suit case, and selling her children’s clothes to local people.
"My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs? Be focused and clear in your mind about what you want to do, and if you set out to do something, complete it. It is also important that you develop yourself, to know your strengths and weaknesses."
The name Ruff n Tumble came as a result of a conversation with a neighbour outside her kitchen door, discussing an invitation Adenike had received to take part in an exhibition for local tailors. As her fledgling business at that time did not have a name, the two of them started exploring names for a new children’s fashion label - the inspiration came from a drawing of a drum with children tumbling out of it, combined with the notion that children love to play rough outdoors and tumble about, hence the name Ruff and Tumble was born for the brand. From that point onwards, she travelled to exhibitions, church bazaars, markets and anywhere that would provide an opportunity to sell her clothes and raise awareness of her new children’s clothing brand.
As the business evolved over time, she realised the need to enhance her business acumen to match her growing design expertise, and enrolled at the Lagos Business School to study business management and customer service. Additional study came in the form of copious reading of brand building books in her spare time.
"It has been a long journey, getting here has been challenging; it has been full of challenges as well as triumphs. That is why we have something to celebrate."
Eighteen years later, the Ruff n Tumble brand is a major African retail success story, with branded stores across the country and an expansion plan that will take the store network into other African countries, starting with Ghana.