Kunmi Oni is the founder of the lifestyle fashion brand, 1964, which “promotes self-care through clothing.” In a recent interview with us, she shared the challenges she’s faced running a business and the dreams she has for 1964’s future.
Let’s begin with the name of your business. Why is it called 1964?
I get that a lot! It is the year my mum was born. When I got out of school and didn’t get the job I wanted, my mum suggested that I turn my love for clothes into a business. She took me to the market and bought me the first few things I needed.
Unfortunately, just when the business was starting to take off, she passed.
I’m so sorry about that.
Thanks. So, the name is a tribute to her. It gives me a chance to talk about her.
That’s a lovely tribute. I thought it was a year of birth, but you certainly don’t look that old.
What did your parents do?
Both my parents were entrepreneurs. It has helped 1964 that I saw my parents run their own business; thanks to them, running a business wasn’t too strange a concept for me.
Where did you go to school?
I studied at Covenant University and did my master’s in Manchester.
Did you think you wouldn’t do an office job when you were an undergrad?
Kind of. I knew people then that would go to work at 4am, sit in traffic and then come back home. They painted a picture of it being a rat race, and I didn’t think I was cut out for that. So it wasn’t like I was certain, but at the back of my mind, I knew I wasn’t cut out for that kind of life.
Did you do anything business related in school?
Well, I was doing social media management and blogging, but it wasn’t really because of the money. But I was able to flex [Laughs]. I even bought myself a camera. So it paid well for the time. I had a job that was a monthly gig and that was after I got out of school.
How much did it pay?
About ₦35k. And there was also my NYSC allowance.
How long did you do that?
More than two years, on and off. I stopped in 2017.
What was your next, well, career move?
While I was doing that job, I was applying to the Big 4 because I studied Economics and my parents wanted me to go the accounting route. I even started ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants), but I didn’t complete it. The Big 4 firms rejected my applications.
It must have been hard.
It was very depressing. This wasn’t even what I wanted to do and yet I was getting rejected. Then in 2017, after my mum passed, I took a break from 1964 to manage her waste management business. Sometime in that same year, I picked up 1964 again.
I began to manage both and have done so since. But mostly I handle 1964. My mum’s business pretty much runs itself. I have two siblings. We have set up processes that make the waste management company work.
At what stage did it become clear that 1964 was becoming successful?
That was recently! [Laughs] Or maybe not so recently. That should be 2020. During the lockdown, I was about to give up because nothing was really happening. You couldn’t really deliver and tailors couldn’t move.
Then as the lockdown began to ease off, we had a chance to be part of the Lagos Fashion Week. They partnered with an e-commerce site and because we took part in the event, we were included and started getting orders from different places around the world.
We were originally shipping only within Lagos and maybe Abuja. Suddenly, we started shipping to Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Congo, US, Canada, France. It was just what we needed, and since then it has been really good.
You guys are popular online.
We are? [Laughs]
I think that’s because of the community. People are always plugging us here and there, and we keep the quality consistent. I also try my best to relate with the community on a personal level; we are not just about selling, selling, selling.
What’s your most famous product?
It’s the Yang set.
Why do you think it’s so popular?
The brand is all about comfort and the Yang set is the most comfortable thing you could wear. The design is basic, but what we do is we look for the next best print to launch it in. We have done four prints and each time, it is sold out.
It is not just comfortable, but it also makes the wearer stand out.
How much is it?
₦32,000. The price changes depending on the fabric we use. The last one was linen and that’s why it was ₦32,000. We source for fabric mostly in Lagos.
You mentioned having clientele in France. How does that work?
We have different logistics partners and our customers handle the cost of shipping.
That’s sweet. What is it like financially for 1964?
I think we have managed to hit our target month on month.
Be nice and tell us the range?
Let’s say we try to reach in the millions monthly.
So do you pay yourself?
Not really. But I take an allowance now and then. Luckily, there’s the other business I mentioned. But I make sure my staff are fine.
What is the most challenging thing about running 1964?
Staffing, logistics and just the Nigerian problems.
What is it about staffing?
Nigeria is very hard. Everyone wants something that pays their bills. Sometimes people can’t really see the big picture, but I think I have hacked that now by putting my staff’s needs first. Before I did, we had tailors that would work for us for maybe a month and then they’d move on to a different brand.
It is the regular third party issue. Once we hand it out, it is out of our hands. But we have found great international partners; locally is still a bit tricky, but we have also found a great partner.
And what are Nigerian problems?
Recently, there was fuel scarcity. And then drivers wanted to go on strike, so there was uncertainty regarding transportation for the tailors. In fact, almost every week, there is one Nigerian problem.
We have to manage.
Someone mentioned to me that you use PiggyVest. Is that true?
Someone was right. I think I have used it since it was released. My favourite feature is “Target Savings”. I used it to save for 1964’s rent for our first and second years.
That’s nice. Tell me, given your experience so far, what would you tell yourself if you were starting out today?
I would tell myself to relax. Anytime we launch collections, I get so anxious. On the first day, I’ll have a fever. [Laughs] I needed to know that once you are consistent, people will respond. If I had quit when business was slow, I wouldn’t have known consistency is the name of the game — consistent in what you do and consistent in talking about what you do.
I am an introvert, but I have had to speak about the brand so many times. It is just what I have had to do.
What’s next for 1964? What is the big dream?
The big dream is to keep going global. I want 1964 to have experience centres in different countries. I want to show people that clothing doesn’t have to be too serious. Choose your comfort and choose your mental health because I think comfort clothing helps with mental health.