“ Every design comes with a story. And one thing I know for sure is that I never want to disappoint my clients. „
We sat with Maiyegun Oluwatobi, the founder of Maye Tobs, an androgynous fashion brand that’s bringing audacious styles to the fashion space in Nigeria. Maiyegun shares his drive, how it all started, and the key challenges he’s faced as a business owner, all in a delightful conversation with Etashe, our content lead.
What’s your first ever experience with entrepreneurship?
My mum’s shop. She’s also an entrepreneur, and I spent a lot of time at her shop as a child. I’d always go after school, even when she wasn’t around sometimes. I was always there. So, I picked up a couple of lessons.
Did that get you interested in entrepreneurship?
To be honest, I never even thought I was going to be an entrepreneur. The goal was to do fashion part-time while working in an organization that’s flexible.
After my national diploma, I got a job at Dealdey for my industrial training. The pay was good and I could wear whatever I wanted to work. I thought I’d go back, complete my HND, then come back to work full time. But then, while handling my HND, I got an internship with Sisiano and that’s when I started the brand. That’s when I dropped out of accounting to go study entrepreneurship at National open university.
What drove you to start?
I always loved fashion from the beginning. I remember describing how I wanted my outfits to look (to my tailor), and they weren’t basic or random. As time went by, my outfits began drawing lots of attention, both negative and positive. On the positive end, many people started asking about my outfits—who made them and all. Some people wanted what I wore. So, I figured, why not turn this into a business. That’s when the dream of owning a brand started. Maye Tobs has been in operations since 2017. But it became official in 2020. I wanted to take my time, so I decided to test different things, and it took me like three years to figure it out. But the whole journey started in 2017.
A brand born from love. Love it!
Maye Tobs is an interesting name, and I’m curious: Why did you choose it?
When I was choosing my business name, the only thing I had at the back of my mind was that I wanted a business name that’s an extension of who I am. I wanted my personality to reflect in the brand. Mayetobs is like the combination of my surname and my first name because at the end of the day, I am the brand and the brand is me.
That makes sense, especially for a clothing label. What drives your designs?
First, Maye Tobs is an androgynous brand. That automatically makes it different. Then, personally, when creating, I’m the type that’s obsessed with fantasy, superheroes, Greek mythology, and all weird stuff like that. Every design comes with a story. So, when I’m designing, I always think: how do you reimagine all these into fashion pieces for the 21st-century? Those things guide my design process.
That’s thoughtful. I like that each piece comes with a story (and a purpose). Could you talk about your favorite piece from your collections?
Well, it’s sort of hard to choose because I love every piece I design. But if I had to choose, I’d choose the Yellow Belle set, which was inspired by Beauty and the Beast. I love how it all came together. If you check the collection well, you’d realize that every piece is named after a Disney princess or prince. That’s how much I love my fairytale.
Impressive! What’s your process for creating each piece?
Well, there’s a mood board where I have the designs, colors, and fabrics. Then there’s the inspiration (this guides me throughout the process). Then the sketches, then fabric sourcing, and, finally, production.
Do you have a team?
I would say yes and no. Yes because I do have a team, and no because it isn’t really a team I hired. I work with people who’ve been in the field for a while. It’s what they’ve always done for a living. So, it’s more like working with them and paying them. I’m talking about my tailor and my shoe cobbler here.
Makes sense. Outsourcing is a real lifesaver! What are your values around managing clients?
One thing I know for sure is that I never want to disappoint my clients. Before I take any order, I always consult with the people I’m working with, especially my tailor. I like when I tell my clients that they are going to get their outfit at a particular time and they get it at that particular time. And so far, I’m grateful for the people I work with because they always come through.
And have you ever turned down a client?
In this industry and with what I do, it’s not possible to not turn down certain clients. And it can be for different reasons, some because of the amount they are willing to pay for services. Others because of the time. It honestly varies but yes, I do turn down some clients.
Let’s talk about money for a bit. Where did you get the initial capital?
My initial capital came from a family friend. He was like a brother to me. I told him about my idea, showed him my sketches, and he dropped the funds.
And how do you manage your finances as a business owner?
To be honest, I’m not sure how to explain managing finances, especially for a brand that’s both upcoming and not very relatable to everyone. So, it can be quite hard to make sales. Here’s the thing though: consistency keeps me going. Sometimes, I take loans or borrow money for my body of work because I know that the brand has to keep moving. I have a vision for my brand and I’m a believer that it’ll grow.
What’s your vision?
In the next five years, or before the next five years, I see my brand on big fashion platforms in Nigeria. Lagos fashion week, GTB fashion week, Arise fashion week, etc. I know that breaking into these platforms will open my brand to another level of fashion lovers. As a serious designer, you need these platforms. That’s how you become known.
What are some major challenges you’ve faced in business?
Well, the first is on finances. It’s been inconsistent. The second is the way fabric runs out in the market; you might use a piece of fabric for a collection and if you are not quick enough to buy it, they might run out of it and that’s the end. This, again, comes down to finances. The third challenge is pushing an androgynous brand in a country like Nigeria. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not a style that many people gravitate towards.
Thanks for sharing these, and if you could get a gift that would change your business for the better, what would it be?
A Grant for sure. Lol. Give me the grant to push the brand, and I will forever be grateful because it will help the brand grow.
What’s one tool that has helped you a great deal in business?
To be honest, I think the support I get especially from my mum is what has helped me move on. There are times I get tired but she’s always there to pull me up and even help with cash if she can. My mum and my sister are the most supportive people ever and that has helped me a lot on this journey.
Love that you have a supportive family. It’s especially important with what you’re building; pieces that are both bold and still finding ground in a country like Nigeria. Which would you say makes a successful business: Luck, money, or hard work?
From where I’m standing, I would pick all. Every option is essential if you’re going to build a successful business, but the most important is definitely money. Without money, your hard work probably won’t be seen.