Olakunmi Oni Is Promoting Self-Care For Women Through Fashion
Mar 08, 2022·
6 min read
The sounds of swishing fabric and snipping scissors permeate the air in a small, unassuming shop in New Alade Market. It is in this shop, in the heart of Ikeja’s business district, that the garments of the 1964 brand are tailored.
CEO of 1964, Olakunmi Oni, looks the embodiment of comfort in a terracotta two-piece ensemble, a feeling she says she wants every woman who patronizes the brand to experience.
“Fashion was a personal thing before it became a business”, she says. "I’ve always loved to create clothing that people can feel comfortable and confident in. I prioritize rest and that’s a message I’m trying to preach with 1964. I think this is what makes our brand stand out. We’re not just making clothes or doing business. We’re building a community of women that prioritize their self-care and comfort with their clothes”
Before she founded the brand, Kunmi sewed for herself and friends as a hobby. Then, in 2017, with support from her mother, she made the decision to turn her passion into profit.
“After my NYSC I applied for several jobs, but the ones I wanted weren’t forthcoming. I’d been sewing at home as a hobby then my mother said ‘why not turn this into a business?’ and I began to seriously consider it. Unfortunately, she passed away in 2017 and that was the year I started the brand. The name, 1964 is a tribute to her. That was the year she was born and honoring her that way just felt right. She was so supportive through the process of starting out and I love that I get to talk about her every time someone asks about the brand’s name”.
In the five years since she started the business - and she laughs because she can’t believe it’s been that long - Kunmi attributes the success she’s gained to the strength of community.
“To be honest, there’ve been days when I’ve felt like quitting. I think every business owner can relate to that. But then someone places an order, leaves a good review or refers us to someone else. These are the things that keep me going; knowing that there are people that love and trust the work we’re doing to tell other people about us… that we can put a smile on people’s faces.
I’d say a lot of the success I’ve experienced so far comes down to building great relationships. My network has definitely contributed a great deal to my success as an entrepreneur and the opportunities I’ve been exposed to. Last year, I got a Google-sponsored interview that resulted in my business growing by over 200%. It was a huge breaking point for us and my network played a huge role in me getting the interview in the first place.”
But doing business as a young woman in Nigeria has not come without its challenges.
“People try to take advantage of you and cheat you because they don’t expect you to know any better. I navigate this by being firm and ‘opening eye’. Most people back down when they see that you can’t be intimidated. There’s also the thing of people raising eyebrows because they don’t expect you to have achieved so much at your age. When I first moved into my store, there were a lot of raised eyebrows and moving lips because of my age and the number of staff I have. I’ve learned to ignore them and just do what I’m doing. I know my business is legit and doing well and that’s all that matters to me.”
Kunmi’s relentless search for opportunities to grow her business and brand brought her across the LIFT program late last year.
*“I came across LIFT and it just made sense for me to apply. I thought it would be a great experience: being around like-minded business owners while learning a thing or two and expanding my network even more. I was also excited about the coaching: learning from people that have been doing this for a long time and getting tips and inspiration from them. *
The program has lived up to my expectations so far. Before LIFT, I’d been trying to understand how to build a financial model for a while. I’d even paid people to get it done for me a couple of times. But the financial management module we had in the third week broke everything down so simply and now I get it. I really loved that.”
Between 1964 and her second business (a waste management company that used to belong to her mother), Kunmi has her hands full. However, she still finds time to pursue other personal interests.
“My businesses have come to a place where I don’t need to be present every day. I’ve been able to do this in two ways. The first is by implementing systems and processes to make things run smoother. Secondly, I invest in my staff. They undergo training periodically to upskill and also keep up with whatever processes I implement. I like to treat them like family and ensure everyone has a sense of ownership of the business. “
With the rising rate of inflation and little corresponding increase in earning power, many young Nigerians are turning to entrepreneurship to improve their quality of life. Kunmi has this to say to them:
“Learn a lot of skills. When I started this business, I still had a lot of side hustles going on. And it was the money I earned from there that I pumped into 1964. Skills will help you have things to leverage when things aren’t going great.
Find your support system - a community of people who will always cheer you on and keep you going. Be intentional about building relationships and a network because this will open you up to opportunities.
Step out of your comfort zone and talk to people about yourself and your business. And be consistent. There will be times when things will be slow and you won’t make a profit but it doesn’t mean you should stop posting on your Instagram and putting yourself out there. Once you’re consistent and you put in the work, things will work out, eventually."