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24 Feb

“WHAT STARTED OUT AS A SILENT ACT OF REBELLION BECAME A NICHE I NEVER KNEW EXISTED” – TURBAN TEMPEST CEO, FUNSHO OLUYEMI

In 2016, Funsho Oluyemi set out to create a brand that would cater to the rebellious fashionista, uninterested in fitting in and determined to live authentically in every regard. But now, six years on, the CEO got more than she bargained for, having not only disrupted the norm within the headgear industry in Nigeria with her business, Turban Tempest, but also helping to reshape “how we see and treat fashion in Africa.” 

The innovator sits with SCHICK to discuss the fashion landscape in Nigeria, fashion’s contribution to economic development and the rewards of entrepreneurship.

Turban Tempest CEO, Funsho Oluyemi

What’s the story behind Turban Tempest?

The short answer is my dislike for the traditional gele. The long answer is, growing up in the UK, I didn’t attend many Nigerian events, so I never had to wear our traditional attire. This all changed when I moved to Nigeria and had to attend various parties. This meant I had to tie the gele, which I never looked forward to because it’s so uncomfortable for me. I also didn’t like the idea of blending in with everyone else; I felt like a member of the crowd and not an individual. So after a while, I started tying different things on my head in various styles mixing different textures. What started out as a personal, silent act of rebellion eventually became a niche that I never knew existed.

Describe the consumer you had in mind when creating the brand?

Interestingly, I didn’t even think this far and on these terms; coming from a legal background, all I knew was the Law. So I had to teach myself, experiment and understand the industry that I’m in as I went. But what I knew for sure is that I was designing for people like me — discreet women who wanted to be comfortable, women who are rebellious, women who didn’t want to look like or come across like everyone else.

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“What started out as a personal, silent act of rebellion eventually became a niche that I never knew existed.”

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In what ways have you seen the Nigerian fashion industry evolve since you became a designer?

Like the music industry, the Nigerian fashion industry is beginning to compete successfully on the world stage. We’ve evolved from the days of strong western influence aesthetics, and are now incorporating our clothing more. Previously, the industry was dominated by a few big names, but now young designers are penetrating the market and attracting attention. It’s clear Nigerian designers now uphold world-class standards; everything has improved from the quality and variety, to even presentation. There are many indications to show that like Paris, Milan and London, Lagos will soon become one of the world’s major fashion capitals.

How has the brand adapted to those changes?

Turban Tempest was established in 2016, to provide women with an alternative to the traditional West African gele. Now, 6 years later, this objective has changed and this fast-growing brand has begun to communicate to a more global audience by fusing traditional headgear techniques and fabrics with a modern flair, to create exceptional pieces that fit into the constantly evolving world of fashion, all the while remembering our roots.

One of the biggest obstacles to starting a new business venture is funding. Was that a challenge for you and if so, how did you overcome it?

Absolutely, funding is one of the major reasons why many fashion brands are unable to scale and grow to their full potential. I experienced major challenges with expanding and each time I had to raise funds from my parents to take my business to the next level. The unfortunate thing is not everyone has this opportunity; the fashion industry is a major contributor to economic development and it’s alarming that funding opportunities don’t really exist.

What fuels your creativity?

My inspiration comes from the most random things. Sometimes, the prints and patterns on the fabric determined the flow; other times, the uniqueness and differences you see in everyday women. From careless, spiral twists of a pastry that a trader sells, a turban is formed. These diverse sources of inspiration are one of the reasons why Turban Tempest offers a wider range of styles.

What’s most unique about your business?

Turban Tempest’s uniqueness comes from its ability to create a fusion of evolving styles and trends that bridges the gap between two diverse generations. Turbans of the past were simple headgear that could be worn at home by the older generation. With the existence of the brand, this is no longer the case because our turbans stay in tune with fashion trends in the fashion industry today, while still maintaining our brand identity.

Turban Tempest CEO, Funsho Oluyemi

Would you describe your niche within the market as competitive? If so, how do you ensure the brand continues to stand out?

Definitely, the headwear accessory space has become more saturated than when we first started, but it’s beautiful to see that we were one of the pioneers of the revolution which changed the normal narrative, and gave women a chance to represent their individual style and personality.

Did you seek any formal business training before launching Turban Tempest?

Not formally, but I grew up seeing my mother (who was the first Black woman to own the largest cosmetics retailer for women of colour in the UK) start from a small cubicle space in a mall and go on to become one of the largest names in the industry. It gave me a lot of insight into what it takes first hand to scale a business. For the most part, she’s one of my biggest mentors.

What have you enjoyed most about starting your own company?

That would be growth in all aspects, from fashion to personal life. It’s been extremely rewarding seeing the company go from a team of 2 on the ground floor of my parent’s house, to a team of 30, working in our very own factory. Also, I love that we’ve had the opportunity to grow not just in numbers, but also in being able to build a company culture of mentorship. Mentoring my team and having them leave equipped and ready to start their own companies is wonderful to witness; it’s almost like being pregnant and giving birth.

I’ve also enjoyed the building of processes to ensure the company is sustainable because a lot of fashion brands in Nigeria never outlive the founder, and working towards ensuring that isn’t the case with Turban Tempest has been challenging but very rewarding.

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“The goal is to revolutionise how we see and treat fashion in Africa.”

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What are you working on now?

Since I started the business, I was fortunate enough to introduce a sister brand called TEMPLA8TE, and it’s been fascinating being able to design for both brands and maintain two very unique brand identities. Also, this year, I’m following my passions, so I started a community called IYIKA, which is for fashion enthusiasts like me, who are passionate about reducing the amount of textile waste in landfills by focusing on circular fashion. The goal is to revolutionise how we see and treat fashion in Africa.

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Titi Adesanya
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