Getting to know Blessing Achu, founder of 360 Creative Hub
Have you heard about the latest trend in entrepreneurship, the so called “co-working spaces”? One of the top spaces that has everyone excited is called “360 Creative Hub” created by a woman named Blessing Achu. She created it with the intention of building acreative community and is pioneer to the idea in Lagos. Today, we have all the details of an interview with the co-founder: Blessing Achu.
I studied education in university but since my graduation, I’ve been working with IT companies for a long time. I started my career as a Business Development Executive for a licensed ERP provider in Port Harcourt. Then I worked with a firm that provided security applications (Soft Solutions). Then afterwards I went to work for VDT Communications which is a broadband internet service provider.
- Would you mind telling us a bit about your background and why did you decide to be involved in the fashion industry?
- I got inspired during one of my travels. It was actually while I was touring Europe with Startup Bus Europe in 2016 that I got to learn about coworking spaces in depth. I got to understand that beyond space sharing, the sharing economy is a huge paradigm shift. It’s this whole movement where people share many things, not just spaces.
So I started researching. I noticed that while we have many coworking spaces catering to the IT crowd, not many are centered around the creative arts. Which is a sort of problem because when you look at the index of innovation, creativity itself is a major factor. Aside that, our fashion industry in Nigeria is gaining international recognition. All these considerations led me to one question? Why can’t we have a coworking space for the fashion designers? How do we build a sharing community for fashion designers as well as other creative people? And that’s what led to 360Creative Innovation Hub.
With 360 Creative Innovation Hub, my aim is to build a community around the fashion industry. Let’s find creative people and all adjacent professions that can contribute to a new cohesive movement, lower the barrier to entry for them, encourage experimentation and boost the industry.
- Do you have previous entrepreneurship experience?
- Well, I’m an Igbo person. So you know one way or another, I’d have gotten around to doing one or two businesses.
During my school days, I lived in Kano and schooled in Nsukka. So, I’d buy large quantities of clothing materials like brocades and bring them to school to sell. I did that all through school. Then after my graduation, I started my career in Business Development. Then in 2016, I went on the Ampion Venture Bus (it’s an African road trip for entrepreneurs). Afterwards I was on the Startup Bus Europe which offers a similar but more in-depth experience.
The way people think in those places (developed economies) is a lot different from the way people think here. When I was on one of my travels, I was fortunate to ride with the founder of Eventbrite. During the brief ride on Uber with him he shared a few tips which has also guided me on my journey. On that road trip, we visited 7 European countries, I met different people, visited huge art labs. Those labs really made an impression on me and the seeds of 360Creative Hub were sown.
I pitched the idea of a sharing community for fashion people at a startup pitch competition but it didn't win. So I decided to startup on my own.
360Creative Hub is a niche coworking space. When you started, how did it feel? How hard was it? Were there days you felt, this is too hard, how am I ever going to continue?
Even till now, it’s still so hard. You know, we’re bootstrapped from day one. But I have a very loving husband who understands me. So, first thing first, I cleared my account. Right now, I don’t have a dime to my name; everything is in this business. But I know it’s going to work. Maybe not immediately, it may take time but it’s going to work.
So I used all my money to start.
One of the major challenges was the facility itself - rent and renovation. Renovation took the bulk of the funds. It would have been nice to start in a bigger facility but a bigger facility is way beyond my budget. So, I had to get a smaller facility and renovate it for my needs.
If an entrepreneur is going to succeed, he or she needs to have persistence. As long as you’ve validated your product, you need to persist despite the odds, despite the hardships. Just persist. Have a support system, family and friends, and keep going at it.
- What was the hardest thing starting out?
- A time came when I ran out of cash. I woke up one day and started crying. Because so much needed to be done but there was no more money. It was this impossible situation yet I couldn’t close shop, I couldn’t go back because I’d already told people this is what I’m doing. They’d seen progress and had started talking about it.
Till now I don’t know how we successfully launched. I can't say this is exactly what I did. All I know is, it all came together in the end.
My advice for anyone who wants to start on a journey like this, if you have a fulltime job keep your job. At least until your new venture gains some traction. Because my day job was the only thing keeping my mind and body busy. Work became like my escape.
A week to launch day, there was so much pressure on me. So much needed to be done. The workmen who needed funds to complete their jobs kept calling for their money and here I was without money. It’s enough to make one almost lose my mind. But I pulled through.
I thank God for His grace.
- If you were not running 360Creative Hub, what would you be doing?
- Probably digital marketing. Helping businesses grow using digital marketing. I’m a business developer so I like the idea of helping to grow businesses. I did a lot of hard selling back in Port Harcourt, cold calling leads and so on. So I’m really comfortable with the idea of growing businesses.
Then I’d probably also be teaching and running trainings. In fact, even now, I run trainings without getting paid because I sometimes help my friends when they have a sales team that needs training. I do that for free.
I like teaching and selling.
- That ties into the next question. When 360 Creative Innovation Hub no longer needs you, what will you be doing? What next? Do you see this training and digital marketing in your future?
- Yes definitely. Digital marketing. And trainings.
Right now I’m trying to build structure into 360Creative Hub and also seal some partnership deals. Those two things will help 360 Creative Hub grow as much as I’d like.
One of the things I appreciate about my time on the Startup Bus is the quest by founders to create stuff that will make life easier for people. The profits would come in long term but the benefits to the society will be immediate.
If 360 Creative Innovation Hub can give aspiring fashion designers the opportunity to start small and grow big, possibly grow into international brands, and if that brand’s story can start here, then I’ll be fulfilled.
- What is your achievement until today that you are most proud of and why?
- We currently have 7 fashion designers using the hub. We also have 6 dedicated offices, used by creative entrepreneurs who also provide services for the designers. We have successfully trained 50 fashion designers on portfolio development and management (September 2017), generating nearly as much revenue as our co-working space generates each month.
We have secured partnerships with fashion PR agency, Fashion Event Management Company and a business consulting service companies: Fashion Finest Africa, Nigeria Student Fashion and Design Week, Yd Agency, Queturah, and the Business Outliers.
We were selected in the NextEconomy Acceleration 2017 program by CChub. We are also currently undergoing the Enpact Startup Mentoring programme and the hub has been selected by the British Council Creative Hub Programme.
- What do you think of the current state of the African Fashion Industry?
- The world is fascinated by African culture and design. So why isn’t the fashion industry on the continent blowing Paris out of the water? The issue is as complex as the patterns of African prints.
The industry has great potential. Africa’s global ranking may be low but cultural colors and clothing are increasingly being embraced globally
The potential market in Africa is huge both in terms of size and value. South Africa and Nigeria are currently the continent’s top fashion markets, but other countries, such as Ethiopia and Mauritius, are on the rise.
While there is growing interest in African fashion and African fashion designers based in Europe and North America, designers within Africa are still trying to find a sustainable market locally. Some are thriving, however the growth is slow
There are few designers operating directly out of Africa. At least 50 to 75 percent of our designers who showcase in New York’s Africa Fashion Week come from Africa. Equally important are the many designers based in the UK and U.S. who outsource to Africa, working with African designers, tailors, and seamstresses back home.
With all this potential comes with several challenges, one of the challenges being Chinese domination of the textile industry. The equipment used in the industry is imported from Asia and Eastern Europe. “Governments are trying to assist African designers but I think they can do more by putting up trade barriers against the Chinese so our locals can thrive.
Another major one is the unavailability of fabrics. “Even though cotton is the second largest export product in Tanzania, yet, textiles are not produced in Tanzania. Raw cotton is exported to different countries like China, where it is processed into finished goods and then brought back to Tanzania where we have to buy our own cotton at thrice the price. Hence it becomes expensive to work under those circumstances.”
Lack of an international presence is also a big headache. “Instances have occurred where we see our fabric, our textiles and our prints being showcased in the international market by Western designers and we can’t challenge it, because we lack the proper media. Africa’s fashion industry needs to have various promotional efforts — traditional as well as digital, strategic initiatives of mutual benefit to stakeholders, and supply chains and distribution networks that connect and inspire creativity and innovation to develop.
- How can 360 Creative Hub help entrepreneurs in the fashion industry?
- 360 creative Innovation hub makes the birth and growth of fashion businesses easier through the provision of affordable equipment and support services geared towards removing the barriers of entry in the fashion industry.
Influenced by the concept of co-working, 360 Creative Innovation Hub was born to create that one-stop niche facility dedicated to supporting the dreams of young fashion designers. It was created to gives fashion entrepreneurs access to their own private space, to equipment, and to the support and training necessary to create a sustainable business that will create even more jobs and ultimately boost the Nigerian economy.
The Business of Fashion Series is hosting a series of Creativity and Business of Fashion Workshops at 360 Creative Hub, aimed at providing local fashion designers and entrepreneurs with the knowledge and tools to turn their creativity into business opportunities using technology.
Our Fashion Incubation program is geared towards equipping emerging fashion designers in Nigeria with design and business skills to run a successful fashion business in Nigeria and globally.
360 Creative Hub contributes to the UN's SDG 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. We aim to combat youth unemployment in Nigeria, a problem that has reached catastrophic levels. Our aim is to reduce the rate of unemployment in Nigeria by empowering youth and women with opportunities to create sustainable income.
The creative industries in Nigeria offer massive potential for Nation-wide job and GDP growth. In textiles and clothing, the largest percentage of the workforce is made up of women and youth. What’s more, there is great scope to hire more youth. With the provision of an affordable co-sewing space, we will be creating jobs for women and youth. These jobs are labor-intensive and generate opportunities for both skilled and unskilled workers. Our initiative generates local content, builds SMEs, develops skills, and accelerates economic growth and industrialization in Nigeria.
- From your point of view, how do you see the “Fashionomics Africa” involvement?
- The Fashionomics initiative can to contribute to the African fashion sector by:
- Increasing transparency in the sector and providing market information: The provision of market information;
- Ensuring financing for entrepreneurs and SMEs
- Increasing productivity
- Developing skills and providing training tools: Education and training on business and financial matters adapted to the sector.
- The provision of access to markets and suppliers by Putting suppliers and buyers in touch. Creating an ecosystem that promotes synergy and collaboration amongst African designers and it buyers.
- Generating more intra-African business.