It’s the OUCH boss, Uche Nnaji, in the house this cool Monday morning, so grab a seat and enjoy a great read; just the amount of inspiration you need to start this day.
The OUCH brand has since become one of Nigeria’s most successful fashion brands, but Uche insists that this is just the beginning. A brand he launched with just #2,500 (Two Thousand, Five Hundred Naira) as a university student, has now grown into something amazing.
In this interview, Uche Nnaji talks about his journey; how he started, where he is headed and so much more…
K.A: OUCH! A very unique name for a fashion outfit; what is the concept behind the name?
Uche: At the initial stage we had a plethora of names to choose from but we considered Style and Global appeal. Style in the sense that OUCH in any other form of expression is individualistic and since we realized that no two expressions are the same, so also style should be an in ideal thing. We also wanted a name that will not place boundaries on itself, a name that any national can easily pronounce without biting their tongue , this is largely informed by our vision of someday of becoming global.
K.A: A bit about the man behind the Ouch brand. Who is Uche Nnaji? Ethnicity, education…
Uche: Uche Nnaji is a Nigerian male from Umugo-Oloko village of Ikwuano L.G.A in Abia State.
My primary and secondary education were all done here in Lagos likewise my tertiary education at the University of Lagos, Lagos State where I graduated with a degree in Political Science.
K.A: What would you say was the most defining moment of your life?
Uche: Well, if it’s in terms of building the OUCH brand , I cannot place a particular event or day because each day comes with its events and challenges that daily redefine my life and outlook in business.
K.A: Ouch has become a brand to be reckoned with in Nigeria, how smooth or thorny was the path that led you here? What challenges did you encounter?
Uche: I must say that I am just hearing this from you, but if that is the perception then I must say that we are flattered because honestly we believe that we haven’t even started. There is just so much work yet undone in our continent and one of them is providing good quality- affordable lifestyle outfits to people, and we are committed to solving at least a part of it.
The challenges we are faced with is nothing unique, because every other start-ups or individual trying to build a brand in Africa feels same way. Staying afloat requires sheer DETERMINATION, FOCUS and a lot of the Grace of God.
K.A: What makes your brand stand out from the myriad design brands?
Uche: Our brand values, which features EXCELLENCE as part of it informs everything we do. From our greetings to our bye-byes, the store layout, the brand Colours,our customer service and most importantly the quality of our OUCHfits,which is yet to be rivaled by any indigenous fashion brand in Nigeria. We have a saying at OUCH “If our name is on it, them our quality must be in it.”
K.A: You are one exceptional and purposeful fashion designer, how did you get into designing? Did you take special classes to learn the craft?
Uche: A point of correction, I am not an exceptional designer in terms of creativity. The reason I say this is simple…“Nothing is new under the face if the earth.” The fact that someone looks at Chinese Vogue or some magazine from HongKong or Morocco, sees a style there and copies it with a local fabric doesn’t make that person exceptional; what my team and myself have tried to do over the years is just to make functional clothing that already exists. We improve on what is on ground. If you look at the last collection of double breasted blazers we made, all I succeeded in doing is utilize modern fabrics and buttons, but that doesn’t make me exceptional. Concerning the name “Designer” I refuse to be addressed by that because it is limiting to what I am about , but you won’t be wrong in saying it’s one of the ways I can be related with.
K.A: The importance of social media has become imperative for any business, how has social media helped to propagate your brand?
Uche: The benefits of social media in propagating the OUCH-gospel has been phenomenal, we now get orders from all over the globe with the United States leading the pack. Our social media handles are daily gaining loyal followers that engage the brand on an hourly basis. And all of these are translating to sale and growth for us.
K.A: On what platforms has OUCH showcased its collections?
Uche: Back home, we just concluded the ECOWAS fashion week amongst others, while globally, we have done the New York fashion week in the winter of 2011 and African Fashion Week London in September 2012.
Let me also say that shows are not an integral part of what the brand represents so that is the reason we are very picky about the shows we have taken part in so far.
K.A: OUCH in 5 years…
Uche: I hope and pray that we would have taken the OUCH experience to other parts of the country and maybe Africa as too.
K.A: How do you keep motivated in the face of challenges?
Uche: It’s very simply for me, I try to remember the previous challenge that posed as if it was going to kill me before this one and remember it has been overcome; that alone makes me smile knowing full well that this present one would not kill me but I will overcome it like I have in the past.
K.A: What are the key things you believe every young and aspiring fashion designer must know/do to be able to make their mark in the fashion world?
Uche: Vision-Focus and Working hard…it doesn’t kill. Don’t be carried away by the Red-carpet lights and camera and forget to do the work.
K.A: What are your influences/sources of inspiration?
Uche: All good inspiration comes only from God, and society influences me a great deal.
K.A: True greatness is………
Uche: Getting bored with the present achievement.
K.A: Nigeria and Africa will truly rise when?
Uche: In my own estimation it might not take up to 2 decades for this change to really take place and become evident as true change, but I surely know that Africa would still have to battle with some of its challenges in the next decade. I can’t wait for this sleeping giant to wake up from slumber.
K.A: Inspire a young African in one sentence.
Uche: I started building the OUCH brand with #2,500(Two Thousand ,Five Hundred Naira) about $17 back at the University, without any form of financial support from ANYONE, but I was a slave to my dream and passion, and today that dream is seeing the light of day.