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PAUL HARRIS IKANI: THE FRONTLINE FASHIONISTA Featured

March 17, 2020 6402 comments

 

 WHETHER YOU REFER TO HIM AS THE KING OF FASHION, BESPOKE DESIGNER OR A FASHIONISTA. THERE IS NO DOUBT, PAUL HARRIS IKANI IS MAKING HIS MARK ON THE NIGERIAN FASHION INDUSTRY.

 It is hard to determine Harris Ikani’s net worth due to his simplicity and humble approach to life and business. What is clear is that he is surely carving a niche in the Nigeria Fashion Industry.



His is a story with humble beginnings. Born in the Qua Iboe mission area of Idah, East of Kogi State Nigeria, Paul is the seventh of ten children in a family of five boys and five girls. Paul’s father was a Health worker with the General Hospital, Idah and later with the Holley Memorial Hospital Ochadamu. He had his kindergarten, Primary and Secondary education in Idah before venturing out for tertiary education. Paul’s growing up in a large family was a major influence on him especially the way his elderly ones looked and dressed. Paul’s elder brothers and sisters actually influenced his love for fashion by the way they looked and dressed. Paul’s father, Elder Paul, Atulukwu Ikani was always dressed smartly with a neat haircut in well ironed clothes and that shaped his mindset. As early as the age of Ten, Paul already knew what fashion was all about. Through this knowledge he acquired from his elderly ones, he began to understand that ‘Looking good through good clothing is good business’. According to Paul, ‘he would dress up well kitted in good clothes early in the morning especially on non school days and then dress his bed neatly not allowing any squeeze on the bed covers. “I recall vividly that as Christmas approaches, my father would take us to his Personal Tailor in early October to take our measurements in preparation for the Christmas celebration. The tailor had a particular style for every one of us in the family. After measuring us, I would sneak back to the tailor to present my own design eager to be different from my rest siblings, telling him that I don’t like the general design of the family. The tailor would look at me and say “You are too young to dictate what you wear” I would say with utmost humility “I know what to wear sir and this is the design I want to wear”. He would report me to my father that ‘Your son is altering the design that you asked me to make for him’ but my father would always allow me to have my way because it’s what I wanted”. From there Paul began to nurture the fashion sense and began to design his own clothing. Paul developed interest in the names of various fashion designers like GioGio Armani, Givenchy, Polo Ralph Lauren, Gucci etc. he busied himself with information about these designers through acquiring foreign magazines with fashion pages. There was hardly any discussion he would have with friends that he would not mention a designer, and the passion grew.  Soon, Paul’s friends began to call him names, some in praise and others derogatively, names like Pierre Cardin, Paulo Harriso, Harizona Couture etc. flowed freely from the lips of friends. “I can’t tell you exactly why or how but, I found out I had this innate ability to design clothing, I would look at someone and imagine which design will be good and fitting on him”. He said. Soon he began to wear only the clothes he designed and they will be smartly fitted on him so much that he always stands out among his friends. The same friends that were calling him names began to admire the clothes and even wanted to have them. “My friends will look at me and say ‘Can you take us to your tailor, can you make this for us’ Some will demand to buy the clothes he was wearing off his body saying, “go and make another one for yourself”. To young Paul, fashion became a way of life meaning that he wears it and people like it and he began to look at it towards translating his passion to business. “Sometimes, if I wear a particular dress, somebody will like it and bargain to buy it off my body”. Since Paul had that sense, he began selling them off his body. Paul began to sell every Clothing he wore. This gave him the courage, boldness and conviction that this is really a business worth investing in. Paul soon began to invest his time and Energy in it, creating more of his own designs. To Paul, being in the fashion business is not a child play. His driving force and key success factor is his passion for the business. “I sleep and wake up with fashion on my mind”. It is intriguing to note that while some people sit down for hours watching football, Paul does not have that interest, but he can be engaged in watching fashion shows for hours on end and will not be tired of it. “I can discuss fashion for hours, I can wear fashion to occasions and be happy and I feel happy when I see people dressed in the clothes I made.”

Paul Harris started PHD Bespoke Tailors in 1997, “We were looking at “you are wearing clothes, you are designing clothes, why don’t you give it a meaning”. His friends would urge him “guy, you don’t have to be wearing clothes and selling them, you have to create your brand, you have to start”. It’s just like he already had a pool of people willing, waiting readily to wear what he makes. He took the bull by the horn and created the brand ‘PAUL HARRIS DESIGNS’ (PHD).

 Paul had no outlets when he started and so he had to go the hub to Aba, South East Nigeria where they are tailors and enjoys proximity to fabrics. Soon he became conversant with every street in Aba and virtually every tailor. “I started by having my Tailors in Aba and I put all my energy into it”.

 Paul never allowed himself to lose focus. Starting PHD was not easy for him because they were no finances coming from anywhere and he had to fall back to his little savings.

 Beyond the lack of finance, having to tell people and convince them about the brand was another major challenge. The general trend and taste of the average Nigerian for clothing at the period is preference for imported brands. People would come and say “is this clothes not made in Nigeria? Is this clothe not made in Aba?” those kind of comments were dampening to his spirit, despite that his brand could compete largely with foreign brands. This seeming apathy to local brands worried Paul sorely and swayed by that poor local preference, he reduced his local production and started importing finished products by foreign designers into Nigeria.

 Paul Harris did that for a while reluctantly and unhappily although it wasn’t giving him fulfillment. In his words “I like what I create and what I produce above any foreign one”. According to him, “I went back to my own brand and started producing” saying “Well whether people buy what I produce or not, I will be wearing what I produce”. From then on, his friends would ask him where he bought the dresses and he would quip “I didn’t buy it, I made it” and they would ask him to make for them. Some will bring foreign designs and he would reproduce it for them locally and it will still look nice and good. From this point going forward, Paul began to restructure and repackage the PHD brand and people that believed in him started coming, they started wearing the brand, some family, friends, referrals here and there. “We were getting calls, we were getting jobs, and we were getting busy, doing it the Nigerian way”.

 In his opinion, the challenge of financing a business in Nigeria is still largely insurmountable, sticking out like a sore thumb. As long as a business is a going concern with prospects for expansion, finances will always be needed. In Nigeria, the prospects for investing in creative individuals are still low and far between and the banks are not really helping. “When you demand for loans, they will give you conditions to meet and those conditions, if you can meet them, then you don’t need the loans”. “If you want to build your own company and expand it, you will need the banks and if you cannot meet the conditions of the Banks, it becomes a big challenge”. The only solution according to Paul is financial discipline “I started saving money, anything I want I save for it. I deprived myself of so many luxuries. I made sacrifices to save money in order to get something that my business needs to grow and expand”. Paul Harris believes that the Nigeria Banks are not friendly to entrepreneurs. He recalls when sometime he was referred to the Bank of industry and they were asking him for collateral. “The environment is topsy turvy, it’s not straight and at a point you get frustrated”. He thinks that the Nigeria Government has not created an enabling environment for local business to thrive. Power supply is a very big challenge as you have to depend on generating plants to run the business. “Averagely, we run the generating plants seventy percent (70%) compared to the electricity supply of thirty percent (30%). We spend much money in that area and it affects our operating cost drastically”. In Paul Harris summation, finances are the catalyst for speed in growing a serious business. When you make projections and they are no finances to back up, the business crawls.

 When Paul Harris is not doing fashion, he goes Biking and aside from biking, fashion travel takes more of his time. “Sometimes you don’t have to relegate yourself to one environment, you need to explore and meet others who are doing well in your industry in other climes. Turkey in a second home to me, they have some of the best textile materials. Back in the days, Italians do their own things but now, they go to turkey where we can get first hand materials. Turkey has good materials. We do source some materials from china”.

 Paul believes that the Nigerian appetite for foreign brands has reduced drastically now compared to what is used to be “Before now, if you don’t wear anything that is imported you feel out of place but now we are proud of what we have because of the attention we give to our local creations. Now we compete with the foreign designers. There is nothing they do out there that we cannot replicate in Nigeria and do even better especially in the area of ‘tailor to measure’ which we call ‘Bespoke’. Everybody wants to wear smart clothes that fit to their body statistics well tailored, not the ones bought from abroad and need lots of adjustments to fit their body. The ‘tailor to measure’ awareness has put us in the lead in the world fashion industry presently because Nigeria is a very large market”. To him, competition is inevitable in every industry but believes he doesn’t have competitors. “When we talk about competition, I think I don’t have a problem with that because PHD is a niche”. We have our own niche, “any clothe we make, makes a statement. ‘Our clothes speak out’ anybody that wears them will see that it is an attraction because we pay attention to details and that stands us out. We are in a class of our own, in any business setting; you must create your own class”. “You are your own competitor when you always strive to improve on your own productivity”.

 The Nigerian Fashion Industry is growing with the influx of entrepreneurs from other disciplines. Paul emphasizes low energy in Nigeria as one of the major problems bedeviling the industry. “Most businesses run generators most of the time and running generators requires fueling and maintenance”

The industry depends majorly on imported fabrics, the textiles industries in Nigeria in the seventies have gone moribund “so we find ourselves in Nigeria importing fabrics and this has to do with foreign exchange, the Sewing and Design machines being used are also imported alongside their spare parts and accessories”. “Staff apathy to duties, many of them are not ready to learn the ropes, they believe in cutting corners to succeed and that breeds lack of trust”.

Paul believes that he has built a brand that has come to stay having ventured into all and Sundry in terms of fashion.

“What we are looking for now is for people to come and take the PHD franchise to different cities of Nigeria or even beyond Nigeria. We will enforce strict quality assurance to ensure that our standards are not compromised. We are proud to say that our products can compete globally”

  Paul’s worst day in business was when he travelled to China and bought goods back to Nigeria and over the night, robbers came into the premises and carted away everything. The painful aspect was that the stolen goods were bought with 4 months savings. Paul’s Passion for the business became the anesthesia for the pains of the loss and in no time he recovered. The best day in the business for Paul was “when a customer was referred to us by a friend of hers. The woman was from the USA. She bought some of the products and requested for a bespoke design for her son in the USA making available his measurement. The clothes were made and she travelled to her son in the USA who wore the clothes and was excited that everything was perfectly tailored to his measure”. “She and her son called to thank us, that “from Nigeria, we have been able to make clothes of very high international standard. That day was for us our moments of joy for such a commendation from a developed society’’. The son told them that from Nigeria, he has gotten a designer; someone who had been living in the USA, Paul appreciates this and holds it very highly especially in a clime where even the closest people around you don’t want to look at what you make because for them, they are local. This seeming success of Paul in the Fashion design industry is based on his guiding principle of total and absolute trust in God. He believes that when you have God, you have everything. “Believe in the supremacy of God gives one an edge because he is the author and the finisher”. Paul’s secret is that anytime he wants to feel low, he switches to the mode that “God is there”.

Paul is a mentor and he creates time to mentor people who are start ups in the industry. He would always advice his mentees to be passionate about what they do. There is no room for Luke warmness, you can’t cut corners and be successful. To the startups he would always say. “Believe in what you do, be patient, have tenacity of purpose, focus”. The aspect of the business that excites Paul most is creating a design and making people wear those clothes in classical egoistic fulfillment. He believes that his intricate involvement in the design process is the main reason for the success of the business. This involvement has enthused him to the point that work and family have interwoven into one. Paul is married and blessed with five Children and three grand Children.

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