Nigerian Designer


Nigerian designer Addie Elabor is a woman cut from the self-made cloth. She launched her Philadelphia-based ready-to-wear African fashion brand D’IYANU in 2014 and has grown it into a million-dollar business.

The company, which focuses on creating culturally conscious-pieced with bold prints, features handmade and ethically sourced products from West African and the United States.  Addie shares the strategic moves she made to launch her idea, build a team, and continue to grow an e-commerce business, even in troubling climates.

When did you start your brand and how did you get the idea for it? What inspired you to turn it into a business?

Addie: I was inspired to start D’IYANU at the beginning of 2013 when I realized that there was a void in the fashion world for ready-to-wear African inspired pieces that were easily accessible to people like me. There wasn’t a leading brand that allowed you to celebrate your culture in a modernized way. I asked myself “why not me?”. I immediately had this vision of developing a brand that would become the African print version of Zara or H&M. I didn’t have a fashion background, but the vision was so compelling that I had to make it happen.

At the time I was dissatisfied with my career and relished the opportunity to launch my own business with the goal of building a legacy in mind. D’IYANU was launched in January of 2014 with six women’s styles and has grown exponentially ever since.

Addie Elabor
Addie Elabor

What was the first investment you made into D’IYANU to get it off the ground? Why?

Addie: D’IYANU was launched with a $15,000 investment which came from my savings and a credit card loan. The bulk of the initial investment went into producing 50 units each of my first 6 pieces produced in Philadelphia which included the pattern and sample making, fabric, and production of the collection.

Tell us how you were able to scale D’IYANU to a million-dollar business? How long did it take you from the time you started to hit the million-dollar mark?

Addie: The beginning of 2014 was a struggle since I was still working full-time and running the business on the side. I decided to quit my full-time job in May of 2014 to focus full-time on D’IYANU. I knew I needed to invest all my time and attention in order to get the brand off the ground. With the goal of gaining more customers, I would set up at various festivals and even managed to get some products into two boutiques in Philadelphia, but I wasn’t really getting much traction.

I knew that the best place to find customers was online. At the end of September of 2014, I took a course on creating Facebook ads. That course was quite an investment, but it transformed my business practically overnight. With the help of Facebook ads and email marketing, we were able to hit $1 million in sales by the middle of 2016 which took 2.5 years from the launch date.

diyanu addie elabor founder

What makes D’IYANU unique from your competitors or other “African clothing” shops online?

Addie: D’IYANU is unique from other African clothing brands because we are the most innovative and offer the widest range of products for Men, Women and Kids. With the goal of being a lifestyle brand, we offer products that can be incorporated into our customers’ everyday life. Our product offerings include everything from active wear to formal, and office attire. Our innovative spirit is one of our core values that pushes us to explore other types of fabrics and materials so that our items are more comfortable and functional for our customers.

For instance, we use our unique African print stretch woven fabric to make dresses, skirts, pants, jumpsuits, and tops for women so that they’re extremely comfortable and accommodate curves and movement. The fabric looks like the traditional Ankara, but it has amazing stretch and softness.

No other African inspired brand is using this type of fabric. We also print African print on french terry to make our Men’s polo shirts, jogger and hoodie sets. Recently, we launched an iconic Jean Jacket with Kente inspired print for our pre-fall collection and we will be launching more denim and print products in the near future. We’re also looking forward to our knitwear pieces that will be featured in our Fall and Winter collections.

Were you the only person working on your business when you started? When did you realize you needed to hire or build a team in order to be successful?

Addie: I was the only person working on my business up until April of 2015 when I hired my first full-time assistant. I had been working out of my studio apartment up until March 2015 when I moved my operations into an official office space. I realized that my business was growing quickly and I needed the assistance sooner rather than later.

What has been your biggest challenge with growing your business?

Addie: My biggest challenge has been finding quality employees who are also a good cultural fit to fill various roles at D’IYANU. Two additional challenges have been learning to better manage people to bring out the best in them and finding senior employees they can lean on who are operating at a higher level and can provide guidance into their work.

If you knew now what you knew then, what is one thing you would have done differently to accelerate the growth of your business? 

Addie: I would have hired a marketing team sooner in order to scale faster. I was doing way too much in the beginning and naturally I couldn’t handle all of our marketing needs.

diyanu addie elabor founder

What is your advice for someone who wants to start an e-commerce business? 

Addie: My advice would be to make sure that the product you’re selling has a unique selling point and tells a story that will resonate with a sizable audience. Set aside a marketing budget and make sure to leverage social media marketing early. Lastly, start building your email and SMS list pre-launch so that you already have customers on launch day and continue to grow that list post-launch, since email and SMS marketing offers the biggest return on marketing spend.

Source: Bauce Mag

A popular poet once said: “Fashion is like eating, you shouldn’t stick to the same menu.” The beauty of Fashion is to be unconventional and sometimes break from the norm. That is what Jadesola Rawa is doing with her Melia by Jade clothing line, making evergreen clothings that stand the test of time, using Batik (Adire).In a short period of time, she has been able to not only carve a niche for herself but become a household name. Jade has successfully made fashion that cut across all social status and also give a percentage of her sales to organisations that look after women with breast cancer, and that’s what makes her stand out. She shares her inspiring story with  Esther Ijewere in this interview.

Childhood Influence
I grew up in the Northern part of the country. Not with a lot, so I had to be resourceful to get what I need. I was that child that knew that getting extra uniforms was not going to happen. So if I wanted my uniform or hand-me down clothes to look a certain way, I had to patiently sit with the tailors to alter. I remember spending hours with local tailors in Barnawa, Kaduna where I grew up. I guess looking back at it, that’s where this whole business started from indirectly. I pored over Ovation and City People magazines for years. I loved looking at clothes and people looking glamorous.

Inspiration behind Melia by Jade
Melia By Jade started out of necessity and also love. Necessity because I was in-between jobs and I really felt like I had to do something for some sort of income. I have always loved fashion and clothes. I knew I didn’t want to just sell clothes. So it seemed natural to create the pieces I would wear but using local fabrics to do it. The Melia part of the name came from a hotel I was staying in at the time; the thought came to me to do something about this. Some research into the name and it turns out to mean feminine beauty in German. Flatterer. Industrious. So there you have it…Feminine Beauty by Jade which is the short form of my name…Jadesola.

Why I chose Batik
I have always loved Adire and fabrics that are indigenous to us. Adire is art. I love art. I love beautiful things that are unique and can’t be found on every and anybody. Remember watching all those old Yoruba movies? The ones in the village setting? They wore adire. The royalty wore adire. There is just something special about it. And also because a part of me wants to give back to Nigeria, Promote local industries and our culture; from the tailors we use, the printers, the suppliers. A huge part of what we do is to also give back. Every year, a percentage of sales goes to organisations that look after women with breast cancer; CancerAware. This year, I am looking to do something with kids. On a bigger scale. So, yes we are huge on giving back and making a difference in our own little way.

My brand in five years
To be honest, I want my brand in stores across the world. I already do a tiny amount of export to the UK and US and Canada. But the plan is to stock in some of the stores abroad where anyone from any part of the world could walk into and pick up a Melia By Jade piece. I want to be a household name in Nigeria and beyond, for a brand that makes unique, affordable and contemporary pieces using locally sourced fabrics.

Moments that make me reflect on why I started
The joy I get when I run into people wearing my brand. Or people send me pictures of themselves wearing it, or when my daughter sees any random person on the street wearing adire and she goes “are you wearing Melia?” To her, any adire piece is a Melia piece. All these things give me joy. Makes me remember why I started and gives me the push to continue during the difficult times.

Nigerian designers that inspire me
I admire a lot of Nigerian designers. I love Moofa…like I can see myself wearing like 80 per cent of what she makes, just can’t afford her yet). I look up to Xclamations by Tomi Rotimi. Lanre Da Silva Ajayi also does great work.

Other Projects and Activities
I work a full-time job in renewable energy. I love what I do in my 9 to 5 because it’s social impact work. I love the fact that while I am earning salary, I can still make a difference in lighting up communities that would otherwise maybe not see power if they wait on the national grid. I love TV. That’s where I started my career from. I have all these ideas about stuff I would like to do in content creation. One day soon. These are my passions. One day soon…

Challenges of being an Entrepreneur
I was talking to someone who mentors me recently in this fashion space, and he mentioned the fact that he imports EVERYTHING for his business. That made me so sad. But I can legit understand why he would do that. From tailors, to suppliers, to printer to pretty much everything, it’s almost crazy to even want to run a business in Nigeria. It seems like EVERYTHING is configured to frustrate you.

Designing Nuggets for Beginners
Lol. Shouldn’t I be taking lessons? I am a learner too. But I would say this…no matter how tempted you get, make sure you stay true to yourself. Your stamp should always be on your designs. Everyone has done everything that everyone is trying to do…what makes you different? That’s what everyone should ask themselves when designing.

Being a Woman of Rubies
I think a lot of things. The fact that every single day I wake up, I want to be a better person. The fact that I have faced adversities so many times and I refused to give up. The fact that even though it’s hard, I still try to make sure that integrity is my watchword for the things I do. The fact that for me, helping the next person anyway I can will still put a smile on my face over profit. The fact that I tell my child every single day I can…be a decent human being. That’s more important that being “first in class” or being the prettiest girl out there. Don’t get me wrong…this woman of rubies has feet of clay…but we keep pushing.

Dear aspiring Fashion Designer…
What are you bringing to the table that’s different? That’s the only question. If you can answer that, then you are good to go.

My experience in the Industry
I would say that I am a child of grace. I believe I have been given opportunities others might not have been lucky to access. It is a grace thing. Don’t forget, this isn’t a full-time gig for me yet. If and when it becomes a full time gig, I would then be able to say whether or not the industry has been fair. But on second thoughts, me…I am not waiting for anything to be fair o. We take it!!! When we are ready.