Chief Executive Officer of Kenny Jones Designs, Lagos, Mr. Kehinde Johnson Olayiwola has said that the Company is always all out to be different hence the uniqueness in their designs.
Speaking with Brand Visibility at the unveiling of their new ultra-modern showroom in Lagos, Mr Olayiwola said that the reason people demand for Kenny Jones is because they cannot get the touch in other places.
“It’s because of the details and uniqueness that stand us out that make customers always desiring our design.
“Anybody that wants to pay the kind of money we charge is not stupid, they are wise. Before I was born, they have those sewing for them. So, they must see the difference before they pay you”, he said.
He added that his creative vision, passionate pursuit for quality fabrics and classic innovations remain a distinct trade mark of Kenny Jones Designs Outfit today.
“Before I buy materials in Italy I must ensure that it is not in Nigeria, if the cloth is here in Nigeria and I buy it in Italy I am only wasting money. So, if the cloth you want to buy from me is cheaper in Agege, there is no reason to come to me. So, the reason why people come is because they cannot get that touch in other places,” he explained further.
With the motto: ‘where men are made kings’, Kenny Jones Designs are male only fashion outfits that have been known in the industry since 1992. Others come in different varieties such as men suits, blazers and African native attires. Kenny Jones designs are not limited to the domestic markets only as they also export their wears beyond the shores of Nigeria.
Kenny Jones is a popular Lagos fashion label, which caters for many celebrities. He designs for many great men of God like Evangelist Ebenezer Obey, Bishop David Oyedepo, KICC Pastor, Mathew Ashimolowo, Pastor Kalejaiye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Wale Adefarasin and many more. He also has among his clients Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo for who he designs all his major traditional outfits.
He ascribed his success story and the height he has attained so far in the industry to God Almighty and the people God has surrounded him with.
While responding to questions from Brand Visibility, Mr Olayiwola explained that at a stage he had thought of leaving the business due to frustrations, lack of funds and other issues, however he decided to hold on based on the advice from one of his uncles; Rev. (Dr) Kunle Oyegbola after which he went back to his work in pursuit of his vision till he attained all he has today.
In this interview with BV, Kenny Jones Designs CEO speaks more about his past, COVID-19 experiences and the future of this leading indigenous fashion Brand. Excerpts:
How would you describe your background?
My background is Jesus Christ. When you hear Kenny Jones the first thing they know with Kenny Jones is “Praise God.” This is because any time I remember my background, where I came from, it marvels me. I remember that on my graduation, my parents could not afford to buy a sewing machine of Two thousand, five hundred naira, (N2, 500) at that time. Then, it was important they place your hands on the machine and pray for you but when my boss asked for my sewing machine, I said they were bringing it and he just prayed for me. Remembering this scenario gives me strength to move forward. I am into fashion and also the ministry which was handed down by my father.
Where and how did you start your business?
I started this journey at 13/14, Oyewole Road, Araromi Area of Iyana Ipaja, Lagos in 1988 where I learnt from a local tailor. After I finished, I went to work at a place called Jendor’s place at 58, Opebi Road, in Ikeja. They called him Jide of Jendor. Mr. Jendor, who has relocated to United States now, was reigning then. I went there for my industrial attachment known as IT with him and that was in 1991, later I also worked at 21, Ola Ayeni Street, Ikeja, close to Fela Anikulapo’s former shrine at Computer Village for some months. I later set up my own business in 1992. So, I will say I learnt locally but by the time I started my own I got the opportunity to learn abroad. It has not been a smooth journey and was challenging. Some of those who started with us have left because they could not cope. That we are still in it is because of the grace of God and Mercy of God. Our beginning was rough. The hardship that we experienced, made it difficult for us to even eat three square meals but I thank God today for taking me this far.
How will you appraise the previous year for your organization amidst the pandemic and lockdown?
I will say that anybody that does not have Christ could not have enjoyed 2020 but let’s forget about that and focus on 2021 because when you make a mistake you readjust so that you don’t make the mistake again. Whatever happened in 2020 has happened, we are looking at 2021 now, we saw 2019 we said it was tough we did not know that 2020 would be tougher so we can’t say what will happen in 2021 so we can’t label 2020 as the worst year ever. So, only those who have Christ can have the confidence. A Yoruba proverb says ‘’oju ti owo’’ meaning money lost its value. That best describes 2020 because of COVID-19, money was rendered useless because all the people that had money couldn’t do anything with it, the old, the young were dying so were the rich and the poor. It was not a matter of money again it’s not a matter of big people nor a matter of where you stay. No place was safe all over the world except in Jesus Christ. People were running away from each other because of lack of confidence and when you don’t have confidence you don’t have peace.
Now, how would you assess the fashion and design industry?
We started this lockdown around March in Lagos while the Federal Government began its own later in the month. Tell me who do you want to go and do business with, which party or Club do they go to? So, business was at a standstill. That’s why I said only those who have Christ can have peace. When there was crisis in the time of Elijah and Elisha there’s is a bird called the Raven that took cake to Elijah but what if Elijah did not know God who would have supplied his needs at that period? Even the palliatives they were to give to the people they kept for themselves. What if the Raven kept the food meant for Elijah what would have happened? He would most likely have died at that time. So, I don’t know anyone who can boldly say he is the one providing everything for himself except God blesses you. We started the showroom in March 2020 after which lockdown started and during the lockdown we hired those who will do the job while our designs were not sent out to customers a lot of people’s clothes are still here but God has not stopped blessing us so I count my blessings I see 99% of God’s hands in my life.
What new thing should Nigerians expect from you?
This question still links to previous questions in that man proposes but God disposes. When God does not give you the ideas, the idea of man is in vain.
People say that designer prices are high and therefore they would rather purchase ready-made wears. Does this have an impact on your business?
You will always have your own clients and we don’t compromise quality. It depends on the class of customers that you have. The kind of people we deal with, they’ve had a sample of our taste so they want to get quality things and I cannot compromise and they cannot compromise the quality too if they were getting 20 before they can’t start getting 10 or from ten to five. For them to now come down from that level of quality to China or to nylon. They can’t do that.
How would you assess our leaders in terms of portraying our culture through what they wear?
When you travel outside the country and you want the white man to respect you don’t wear suit. If you want to surprise them go and get the Aso-oke and beads. As you are dropping they will not harass you but if you wear what is theirs, the touch of the white men will still be there while with ours after the fabric their hands are not there. But if you want to freak them, wear that three-piece Agbada, they have three-piece suits and we have our own too. We need to cherish what we have. While I wear my suit and my brother wears his own native, they will respect him more than me in their suit. They will treat him well and respect him first before attending to me over there because they appreciate what we have over there more than us. If you are there and you want to be regarded as an ambassador, you want them to greet you well, please wear our native attire, they will welcome you specially.
Do you prefer locally made materials or do you get your materials from outside for your clients?
They don’t do anything in this country so the only fabric you can get in this country that we can say is our own maybe is Ankara and also when you are going to some occasion how many of our paramount rulers do you see on Ankara, you see them in lace, you see them in guinea, aso-oke and when you talk about our politicians, they wear wool caftan, not only politicians though, some of our pastors too and anybody that wants to dress corporately. They say people will address you the way you are dressed. When you are neat, people will want to associate with you.
Talking about growing a business, would you say the fashion industry is lucrative for upcoming entrepreneurs?
When we were still learning, there were many apprentices then. The welders, shoe makers, furniture makers, barbers, fashion designers, carpenters and so on. In those days they all had apprentices but, today, how many apprentices do we have? Today people are not submissive any more. I started my own business in 1992, 10 years after I started the business, it did not have any shape. How many people want to wait for that long period, not 10 months, not 10 weeks or 10 days but 10 years? This is what I want people to ask themselves, my business did not have any shape then. I was not getting anything rather than more complaints about funds to buy generator due to power failure, the power failure in Nigeria did not just start today. When we needed it then, it was not available but it’s more noticeable now. Lots of businesses then died because of poor electricity supply such that some people had to change career path because of this. I remembered that out of all of us who were apprentice at the same time, I can hardly find five people still standing today. For me, what helped me most was that earlier in my life I was close to a lot of men of God who prayed for me and encouraged me in my journey. Then, you will find me going from one mountain to the other while some of my colleagues will go to club with whatever little they had and by the time clients give them money to sew they would have squandered it and it becomes a problem to deliver the clothes, that was how the business died in the hands of some of them.
How impactful is social media on your business?
Social media is good. You know I started since 1992 and there was no social media then, but today if you start anything now just do anything funny and post it online it will go viral in a matter of days. So, what you have been building for 10 years for people to know you, the social media will make it possible in shorter time. Do you know how many years it took for people to know Ebenezer Obey, Bishop Oyedepo even Pastor Adeboye. With social media now, under few days you will see one million viewers, they know what you are doing even when they don’t have ability and capacity to patronize you. But then, a lot of small scale businesses died because nobody knew them, nobody heard about them. Social media is good if you know how to use it, just take your business there. However, if you don’t have anything doing, it will waste your time, your life and may corrupt you. Why are children on social media when they ought to be with their books and school work? That is one of its disadvantages but the advantages of social media far outweigh disadvantages.
Aside from fashion you are also known as a gospel singer, how do you love to be described?
I would describe it as a situation where I respond to whatever I am called. Some people call me pastor, some call me musician some call me designer so if you call me pastor and ask me to come and preach, I will preach because our father was a prophet. We grew under him and he passed his skill to us and so it is with my children, they are designers. The best business children can inherit is that of their father because they grow up seeing you do it. In Nigeria we don’t do that which is why you see a lot of people on the road searching for jobs. Ask them what of the job of their father, they don’t have interest so because they are high in their thinking, their mind is high and they can’t wait. They want to be like all the big names in the industry and whereas it’s not so. They need to learn how to start little.
How has branding helped Kenny Jones fashion designs?
When Ebenezer Obey was talking, he said he is diligent and a neat person. You may see me like this but when we package our clothes, the quality is there and when our clients wear our clothes, it’s glaring that this is Kenny Jones. The details are there, if not for the details, you won’t see me wearing this uniform. My details are not the details of my apprentice, it is not the details of my workers, their skill and ability are not the same as mine. My thinking is higher than theirs that’s why I am the Boss here, that’s why I am Kenny Jones. Let’s look at big companies around today, they have their secrets which they’ve been using for a long time even when they release that secret to people, they still may not be able to get it. Sometimes I don’t sleep it’s not that I don’t sleep, it’s because of the details. Anybody that wants to pay the kind of money we charge is not stupid, they are wise, before I was born they have who was sewing for them so before they can come to you they must see the difference before they pay you. They must see the difference, before I buy materials in Italy I must ensure its not in Nigeria if the cloth is here in Nigeria and I buy it in Italy I am only wasting money. So, if the cloth you want to buy from me is cheaper in Agege there is no reason to come to me. So, the reason why people come is because they cannot get that touch in other places.
What’s your advice to upcoming designers?
You know I design for top people and I know that they don’t give opportunities to rookies, likewise companies. They hold on to those employees who know the management secret. The government is not willing to do anything for you so you don’t need to wait for the government to provide jobs, you need to create one but the ones you create today may be a little bit slow.
When someone said that after 10 years that he started, his business did not have any shape, the question is, can they wait for 10 months? Can they wait for 10 weeks? Can they wait for five years? Can they wait for two years? That is it, we need to tell ourselves the pure truth and reality. The question is can you wait for the growth? This government does not have any job to create for anybody, let everybody go and know how to create one by herself or himself.
Why do you design for men only?
I started with ladies, I started with pure suit and trousers and shirt and trousers but now I don’t sew for ladies any more. The brand has changed and we have a lot of things we are doing, ministry, music, NGO work and so on. So, you can’t be running your brain and a woman will tell you that my bust has reduced; my hips has increased; my clothes need adjustments and so the cycle continues. We discovered that we could not continue with all that.
Do you take apprentice at Kenny Jones designs?
We do, but we want to bring the current factory down and have a bigger place. This facility we are making use of is a two-plot of land. We plan to develop this bungalow into a three-storey building so that we can have factory, offices and more space for our apprentice. For now, due to COVID -19 protocols and space constraints, we are not taking in more students for now. There is no space to put them. A lot of people want to come and learn or put their children up with us here, but now we are still looking for a bigger place, so, we can help people because as the Bible says those who have received help should rise up for the help of others.
Do you plan to produce your own fabric in Nigeria any time in the future?
Whatever you want to do you must have your mentor who shows you the way and the go about your shared interest. Then you want to be better than your mentor. To have a fabric industry in Nigeria is not bad however, to bring in the whites to Nigeria you pay in dollars, they will also come to check the location where they are coming to and the level of business, then the security. Also the power supply issues in Nigeria must be considered, will you be using generator because anything you are doing in regards to cloth will always need light and as we all know in Nigeria the problem with electricity, they have failed woefully. Since 1992 when I started my business in Nigeria I have not enjoyed uninterrupted electricity for once. So, why would you bring in the expatriates to Nigeria to produce fabrics. Where will I keep them? Abuja? Lagos? What kind of power supply system will I use? Just imagine the cost of fuel every day. We are just trying our best to be good leaders in the industry so that they know that we have skill. Apart from electricity, If you go abroad now to invite investors to Nigeria they will say no because of uncertainties on the return on investment.
Where do you want to see the Kenny Jones brand in the coming years?
That showroom you are seeing that we have completed did not start today, we started that showroom some years back. The current factory which we are using now we want to convert it into a bigger one so that we can have students. I don’t borrow money from the bank. I just manage the little that I have but I have so much faith in God and I believe that whatever I want to get I will always get it. Now on the plan, we all have plans but Yorubas say that if there is no money at hand there is no need suggesting how to spend it. If you have some millions in your pocket you will not take it to the Club House. You know what you want to do but, how can you get that millions? The first three million for an average Nigerian is so hard to get. If you manage to get three million (N3, 000,000) and if you have God and wisdom you will join the Club of Billionaires. But if you don’t have a father that is rich and you were not born with silver spoon, how do you want to get those millions in Nigeria? To get to where we are going, with God, I believe all things are possible. With God we have plans. Nobody just gets to where they are today, they must have worked hard.