I love what I do ! Actually that's not right,I really really love what I do! After 10 years in the business of fashion I have learnt a few things about myself and I came to a surprising conclusion recently while taking stock of the years......what I really do love about being the boss lady at xclamations is not really designing clothes(yeah it shocked me too) what I love,truly love at my core...what I would do without getting paid is meeting people.I love people(some of my staff may challenge this lol) I truly love people.
I love that beautiful plus sized lady who walked into my store and left with truck loads of beautiful pieces feeling like a supermodel.
I love the busy husband buying his wife's birthday present online while he is out of the country and he is confident that I will deliver it gift wrapped to her on her special day.
I love seeing my wonderful staff some of who have been with me from the very start slowly evolve into family,sharing my tears,triumphs and milestones
I love my daughter screaming " I know what exclamations is!" in class when learning punctuation marks and refusing to accept its not her "mummy's fashion label" (God bless her)
I love a busy day at the store when I watch as old friends reconnect and new friendship emerge all on the shop floor trying on and admiring their new buys
I love the look of relief on my customers face as she picks up an emergency buy after being dissapointed by her local tailor.
I love praying,crying and rejoicing with a friend who two buys ago was a total stranger and customer.
I love radom text messages,emails and even phone calls from an excited customer gushing about how she had never recieved so many compliments in her life like the one she did while wearing michelle,temilola,Madiba or Oleku
I do love the awards,recognition,prestige and financial independence God has brought my way through my work but its the people, people.Its you reading my blog right now,its the people that make it all wonderful.
Thank you for 10 awesome years!!!!
I wasn't sure what she meant when she asked " are you the one?". I havent quite made the celebrity club yet(Not even sure I want to) so I still get tickled when I'm "recognised" but she didnt recognise me it was the "Afrobeat tshirt " I wore that gave me away. "My name is Tomi rotimi"I replied still not sure what that meant. then she did something that I wasnt expecting....she put her hands around me in a tight embrace " I love your work!" I relaxed a bit...I know sizzle,joygirl,multipanel and Michelle are practically household names now but me? Nobody really knows me and most dont even know my name.So when one or two people make the connection between 'Xclamations" and "tomi rotimi" its a pleasant....very pleasant surprise.
" So I guess you are a customer then" I said chuckling
" Oh yes" she said and proceeded to tell me all about her "xclamations experience"
In her own words:
"I got a copy of a magazine and saw your advert.The design featured was lovely but then there are so many nice designs out there.What struck me was the fact that you had an online store! I said to myself ok this is new and decieded to check it out. The website was amazing and I browsed through for about two hours before attempting to make purchases. Believe me I was scared! I said a little prayer before clicking " buy now" and it was done. I had paid for 7 designs at about 11pm and I could now only hope I had not been naive to think it was that easy. I said to myself I hope someone calls me.
The next day at about 1pm, I saw three missed calls from a strange number followed by a text message from the same number.It was from xclamations.The young lady called to confirm my order as well as the delivery address I has provided. I was so happy and happier still when I recieved my buys.They were all lovely and all fitted perfectly. I was so happy with them and even more proud of xclamations".
Moments like that simply give me the motivation to carry on.I am committed to selling convenience to my customers and it is rewarding when your work is appreciated and surpasses expectations. Many more customers are buying from our online store and so far sooooooooo good. So if you see me on the street someday let me know what we do matters to you.Gracias.
I have always been passionate about my work and always been proud of what I do but when I was sitted among 22 other designers each representing their country as winners of the British council award,I admit for the first time in a loooong time I felt unsure and undeserving.I had just wittnessed presentations from members of the group and wondered " why they were here?" or was I the fish out of water? Some of these guys were doing really amazing things in their countries!!! Aneeeth from india was already selling her designs all over Europe,Dana was selling sucessfully in Japan, Henry had won multiple awards in Tokyo...... and me? well I had nothing but a dream I had been nurturing for 10 years.
It was 10pm at night and I was still wide awake! The hotel room was cosy but yet I could hear my thoughts echo back at me...."why was I selected to pitch to investors?" I was one of the six awardees selected to pitch my business to prospective investors the next day,my business would be scrutinized and assessed for viability. I called a friend of mine and painted the scenario " I dont think I can do it"I said "these guys are way ahead of me" "why on earth was I selected" Then my friend said something that has stuck with me to this very day "AyoT God can do it all by himself...you just relax"......I didnt know how to relax but I was going to try.
The next morning was cold! I had decieded to wear " joy girl" for the pitch and paired it my favourite wegdes and so now I would have to cover it up with my trench if I didnt want to freeze to death.
We all walked in to the meeting room were the projector had been set up and the investors were already seated.AJ from Indonesia went first he made "crazy good" indonesian tees and his flair for graphic arts came through,there were graphs and charts and numbers and slide after slide reflected his expertise! "wow"I thought "Tomi we cant find your presentation" Bekky the british council staff wispered to me....'WHAT!!!!!!" I thought faking a calm exterior " I offered to email it to her again but would have to make my presentation a bit later than I was scheduled to " You'll be fine "Nelly said(my new bff from Ghana). After much a do....I was called.Heart racing I began with the first slide(wondering if they could tell how nervous I was) slide 2,slide 3(5 more slides to go) then something happened to me at the end of slide 3.....I stopped presenting and just started talking about my passion,my achievements,my challenges,my life....xclamations! I realised only Ayotomi could tell them my story and powerpoint was a poor substitute.The investors asked question after question and my answers seemed not only satisfactory but educative........"Can I just say you are amazing Tomi" the Asian investor said, interupting my closing statements.It seemed everybody thought so too judging from the ovation i was given when I was done.It was indeed a testimony of what happens when you let go and let God do it "ALL BY HIMSELF" .
If I had a penny for everytime someone asked me " How can I turn this into a business?'' I would would have made a small fortune. Everywhere I go I see people desperate to make a living out of a hobby or skill they have but very few actually do it.I am fotunate to be one of a few who have managed to turn "what they love" to "" what they do" and I have learnt a few lessons in my ten year journey and even more intriguing are the excuses people give for not stepping out.I will share some of the most common excuses I have heard and some of my responses to them:
1.Everybody is doing it now------ Yeah everybody but you.There is always room even in a ''saturated market" for excellent products or services.
2. I am waiting for the right time-----Timing is everything but then dont expect the right time to be a convenient time,the latter doesnt exist.
3.When God says I should go He will make it happen-----God gives grace and opportunity...you make it happen.
4. I can't afford to do it the way I want---Dont let your big dreams intimidate you.Dream big, start small its cheaper.
5.I am too old now----You'll only get older.There is a lot to be said for the wisdom that comes with age.
6.I am too young---- Young is never a bad thing.Use your early headstart to learn more about your craft.
7.I have too many talents,I can'choose which to do---usually one gift is easier to commersialise faster than the others.Use this as a spring board and it could act as a platform to engage your other gifts.
8.I have too many ideas----- Ideas are cheap...do something!
9.The economy is bad----- For who? As long as money is still changing hands in the market .opportunities still abound.
10. I cant do business------ If I can,you can.
11. My family needs the steady income----- Show me a family that doesnt.God is their source not your job. Plan an exit strategy but don't blame your family for your fears.
12 tried it before and failed------ Great now you know ''what not to do"
13. My spouse is not supportive------ Every spouse supports success and passion is contagious! Pray about it and prove to him/her that this is not just another waste of time.
Above all I have come to find out that no amount of preperation,book reading,maturity or even attempts can eliminate the fear that comes with taking a leap of faith....feel the fear but do it anyway,I DID!
It was the beginning of another season....another collection was due and that meant my staff and customers were waiting to see what was new and I had nothing! Soooo much was happenning,we had outgrown our factory and had begun the uphill task of moving to a bigger one,the kids had just resumed school and so school runs and mummy duties took up my day and the last thing I felt like doing was designing! i put pen to sketch pad a dozen times and nothing,nada,zilch! I asked myself the same question I seemed to ask at this time,is this it,am i all tapped out? was the last collection with all the hot pieces that brought us sooo much recognition just a fluke? would the world finally come to discover I was just another flash in the pan? I got lucky with that collection....surely lightening doesnt strike twice ,how could i possibly top perfection...or so i thought.
Finally after the most stressfull time of my work life,our factory was ready! the machines were serviced and generator fuelled."Ok ma....we need to start working on samples,the new collection is due in two weeks" my factory manager reminded me,so I did what I should have done from the beginning...I went into "madams toilet" and prayed "Lord...you and I know you are the head designer for xclamations.....I dont know what to do if you dont help me...I need new designs now and this time I will let everybody know its all you" I felt a tear and then a peace....I recognised that feelling. Two hours later michelle,snazzy,traffic skirt,joygirl ,pwk,rockstar,boxdress, beautyand dazzle were born.The collection was a hit! With record high sales and mass appeal. So whenever people ask me "how do you do it?" my answer is simple "No be God?"
I had promised myself I would stop making house calls not just because of the extra effort involved but because I truly believe it denies our customer of a complete " Xclamations experience" but there was something about this lady that made me give in. She was a guest at a talk show a client of mine hosted and had asked to meet the designer of the kaftan her host was wearing.My customer called immediately after the interview to pass on her details. I am really not a fan of the celebrity phenomenon that seems to have the whole world jaded! " The PAYING customer is king whatever their status" is what I always tell my sales team....but there I was making a very rare exception and so I found myself at her house and what a house!
I had never met her personally,like most people I only knew her through the fashion and life style magazines and also for her work.I was already slightly intimidated by the marble tiles,leather sofas and uniformed domestic staff so I crossed my heels and squared my shoulders when I heard her room door open.
"Hello Tomi" She said smilling at me like we were old friends
I stood up to share the traditional peck on both cheeks all the while thinking"Oh my God you are beautifull" Her lovely home was only rivaled by her exceptional effortless beauty which paled beside her warm personality...I guess this is what is called the "complete package" .
" You know when I saw your work I said to myself,whoever made this must be mad or spooky but definitly not normal...your attention to detail cant be healthy" she joked, I laughed.. nobody had ever put it that way before
" Well I can assure you I am very healthy but maybe a tad mad..." I replied still laughing
I spent three hours at her house that day and realised we both shared alot more than just our sense of humor.We were both very passionate about work,family and faith and even had a few mutual friends.It didnt hurt that she bought a truck load of clothes too.But more importantly I had gained a friend and in her own words "a fan" too
It had been a long day ,Lagos traffic was at it's peak and my little red car was overheating again but I needed the money and worst still I couldnt afford to dissapoint a "first time customer". " Have you told her I'm here...its been twenty minuites....." I said politely to a "not so polite" receptionist "hmmm" she replied, barely looking at me over her magazine. I didnt mind ...it had been three months since I left my bank job to start "peddling" my designs from office to office...nobody said it would be easy but they didnt say it would be impossibly difficult either. I recalled the moment I dropped my resignation letter and my colleague saying to me " Tomi mark my word you are going to regret this...no one does something like this without regret" I brushed off his pessimism determined now to prove him,my family,my bosses and the rest of the free world wrong.Then I closed my account and printed my first catalogue....I modelled the designs proudly as my husband held the lights for the photographer.....funny times. Finally I drove from office to office in my " A.C less" toyota armed with fabric swatches,taperules,catalogues, truck loads of charm and lorry loads of patience.
"Tola, she will see you now" the receptionist said
Too relieved to correct her...i adjusted my top and walked into my clients office.
" Hello" I said flashing a big smile
" you have my clothes now?"
This wasnt looking good...she was not smilling back and didnt even offer me a seat.Her friend who had introduced us was not with her so I was on my own. Still smilling,I brought out two freshly ironed,neatly folded tunics from a bag and handed them to her....they looked lovely and i was sure she would be pleased.
"What is this?!!!" she said
" You ordered two tunics " I replied bringing out a copy of her invoice
" Yes but they are meant to be beautiful,these are ugly" she said opening up the purple one
I was lost for words and too embarrassed and shocked to respond
" These are what you ordered madam but if you dont like them I'll take them back" I managed to say,the almost one hour wait at the reception flashing through my mind
" I'll pay for them...but they are so ugly" she opened her check book and picked up her pen
" what name should I write"
fighting back the tears ,I wasnt sure what to say or do ...
" That would be XCLAMATIONS....BY TOMI ROTIMI"
My pride had been bruised no need hurting my pocket too.
I left that office that day angry and deeply hurt.I got into my car with tears rolling down my eyes all through my twenty minuites drive to my next office call. I knew I was just another a victim of bad behavior...but someone called my work ugly and I couldnt shake it off.....I promised myself it would be the first and last time that would happen....and it was.That was eight years ago....the rest is history.
"I love Michelle" she said admiring herself in our full length mirror.Her new buy fit like a glove." I know i have it in two colors already but each one is stunning...this is your best design yet!" I smilled in appreciation,i can never get tired of being complimented on my work.We packed up her dress neatly,she paid for it and left the shop smilling. Barely ten minuites later another customer walks in spotting an opra tunic " I have a dinner party to attend today and i need something extra special" I excitedly show her " the Michelle dress" "hmmmm" she sighed " its lovely but not for me " dissappointed i ask what her preference would be "I'm not sure but when i see what like I'll know, long or short it doesnt matter" so i present her with three options dazzle,Temilola and Angelina...she tried them on one by one each one just as stunning as the next.As she slipped on 'Angelina" she was silent looking at herself in the mirror like it was the first time ..she said " Oh my God....this is wonderfull!" relieved i say thank you,but she went on and on twirling and even dancing to Asa's "mr jailer" playing in the background."Tomi this is a Masterpiece....this is it" .She took it off albeit reluctantly,we packed up her dress neatly,she settled the bill and left the shop smilling.Almost immediately,in walks two first time customers."I have my baby dedication this sunday" the taller lady said " I need one dress for the church service and something to wear at home after the service. This time I bring out the two hits for the day michelle and angelina for the church service "wow they are both really nice but not what i have in mind...do you have dazzle available ?i saw it on your website and thats why i came" So she tries on dazzle in size 12 and stood in front of the mirror smilling as she looked at her friend for approval " Tola its perfect infact its sooo you" She picked an opra tunic for " after service" as we packed up her buys she said " you know, that "dazzle "is just so unique it was my best design on your site.I smilled as i thanked her thinking to myself "to each her own"
"Hi girl, its my birthday on monday....cant believe i'm forty already! would love you to come over to Helen's to celebrate.I know you are a busy business woman but all my new friends would love to meet you. See ya!" A simple, harmless message from an old friend but as innocent as it sounds, a message like this can(and will) give a woman heart palputations, cause panic attacks and raise blood pressure....why? you might ask( and if "you" are are asking "you" must be a man) well because it raises the age old question.. "what should i wear?" This has become the focus of many reality shows in the last decade and has even launched careers for many stylists at home and abroad .
As a fashion designer i face this question on behalf of my clients virtually every working day? What i realise in general is that most peolple would rather not stand out in a crowd even if its for the right reasons. Its safer to blend in and focus on enjoying the day out than worry that you are over.... or worst still under dressed. The truth is there are generally no rules instead there are comfort and confidence levels and that is usually my starting point when consulting.Lets take our opening case study. What would you wear? . What do we know about this party
1. Its being hosted by an old friend
2. Will be attended by a lot of people you probably have never met
3. Its a 40th birthday party
4. Its after working hours on Monday
5. Its at a mutual friend house
The party will probably be attended by young professionals and contemporaries of the celebrant.Also possibly other old friends you havent met in a long time. You want to look impressive but not over done. A number of people will be coming from work and may or may not change out of their work clothes for the party. It would be safe to wear an Xclamations! embroidered tunic with a pair of linen pants .Style T014 (shown right) is available in a variety of interesting colors and and can be paired with nice dark jeans and pumps for the ultra feminine look.Another option would be a classic shirt dress.Style SD005 (shown below) is a classic piece but the use of african print woodin gives an interesting twist to this timeless style,paired with nice high sandals or flats you will look appropriately dressed but you will not go unnoticed. Lastly a Kaftan always finds a place no matter the occassion,try K003(shown below).Its palyfull detailing makes you approachable but not familiar,comfortable but not frumpy,a pair matching pants and simple sandals complete this look.
Finally grooming cannot be overemphasised. Nothing absolutely nothing can replace nice hair ,nails ,and teeth. A dab of perfume,make up and truck loads of confidence and you are ready to impress.
She stepped into my showroom wearing a radiant smile with a pep in her step. She looked comfortable in her own skin and fabulouse in that Kaftan. I thought she looked familiar but couldnt tell how exactly, but one thing was sure that kaftan was mine.....i just never forget a design...call me cuckoo but they are like my babies.
" Hello madam, welcome to Xclamations.Would you like to view our latest collection" I managed to say still "eyeing" her outfit.
"Actually I would like what i have on in three other colors if you dont mind....that is if you still stock it" She said. She went on to tell me she had been given the kaftan three years ago as a send forth present by her colleague at work before she relocated to London. Now back home on holiday and hungry for more of her favourite "easy wear" she "googled" Xclamations and voila!!! website details popped up,aaaah.....the joys of the modern age.
Moral of the story? Kaftans may not always be the vogue but they are never out of style.Tunics(the kaftans baby cousin) have made a huge come back on the fashion scene and now made even more popular with the return of the leggings(who knew....).The two are a must have in every lady's wardrobe.. fashionista or not, middle age ,teenybopper and every girl in between.The tunic may be your last hope on that day when you just want to be comfy cosy and cute.Check out our tunic and kaftan collections now.