Kehinde Okunoren is a co-founder of the fashion outfit, Okunoren Twins. The outfit makes most of D’banj’s suits. He tells Ademola Olonilua how the business started when he was 19 years and how the twins met D’banj
What is it like running a business with your twin brother?
We had a lot of arguments when we started; that was when we were about 19 years old. You can imagine how immature we would have been at that age. We had a lot of arguments and fights but the interesting thing was that we had the same ideas about most things. We had the same dreams but in terms of designs, we differed a lot in our opinions. We still argue about how things should work but we have the same passion and vision for the brand. What has kept us together all these years is because we have the same passion and the sentiments that we are brothers keep us together. We motivate each other. He is in Italy and he was sending me some suggestions on how we could move the brand forward and I was putting my input too. The way our business is structured, he is in charge of the creative aspect of the brand and I manage the brand. He has his portfolio, I have mine and everyone knows what to do. We motivate each other and in the long run, complement each other.
How was it starting your brand at 19?
It was tough, People laughed at us. We were in the university when we started, so it was not as if we did not have anything to do. I was studying Psychology while Taiwo was studying Business Administration. We had always seen ourselves as people that wanted to make a change. Probably this is the change but I know we would still do something significant in the world very soon. Fashion is where we find ourselves. Taiwo was the one that started it while I joined him six months after. The brand name was initially Taiwo Okunoren; it was after I joined that we changed the name. Our dad got to know that we were into fashion design a year and a half after we started. He was a mechanical engineer, very disciplined, education was very important to him. Surprisingly he was not upset. The way he found out was funny because there was a day he just saw his name on a bag. He was really excited, he called us and asked how much we would need but my mother said we should not collect money from him for our business. She said that he would scrutinise the business but he was really excited. Now we have 12 years of experience that you cannot buy with money. It was very tough. We were not mentored by anyone; we did not have any formal training in fashion or design. We learnt on the job and we made a lot of mistakes doing the business.
What were those mistakes?
In terms of mistakes, I would say it was more about our investment decisions. That was our most significant mistake as businessmen. We did not make any mistake in terms of our business decisions but in terms of our profit and how we invested it, we made mistakes. It was not our fault anyway. We bought a lot of shares. We were about 24 years old at that time and we did not know what to do with the profit.
You hid your business from your dad for a year and a half for fear that he might be upset. How did you feel when he was excited about your business?
We hid it from him for a year and a half but our mother knew about it the moment we started it. We hid all our branded bags, labels and designs from him. We thought he would overreact and ask us to stop but surprisingly, he was excited. We were clocking 21 when he found out and he died not long after. He sat us down, asked us how much we needed and advised us. He suggested that we should have different people doing different aspects of the job. My mother told us not to collect any money from him because he would treat us like business partners. I wish he was around to see what the brand has become. We might have been bigger but he made us work harder. When he was around, he trained us to be independent. We started this business not because we lacked anything; we were extremely comfortable. I do not know what made my brother start but I joined him because I guess I knew that he would be extremely successful. There were very few people that were in the business and women dominated the industry back then. Then people like JC Jabari and Dakova were in the business and you can imagine one 19-year-old boy coming from nowhere.
You make most of D’banj’s suits. How did you meet?
D’banj is a very creative guy and we have sewn over 250 suits for him over the last seven years. He comes up with his own ideas; that is what bespoke is all about. It is about speaking to the designer and expressing yourself through what you wear. You tell your designer exactly what you want and that is what we have been doing for D’banj. He is marking his 10 years on stage very soon. He is a hardworking and successful man who wants to express himself through his looks. We have made suits for Tuface, Naeto C, but we have known Sasha since we were in school. She mentioned D’Banj to us that she thought he would like our clothes. We told her that he did not wear suits but she told us not to worry. She brought him over to our house; we met and he was a very cool and down to earth person. At that point, he wore a lot of sleeveless shirts but when we met him, he started wearing suits. He is not just someone you dictate what to wear to; he is always involved from the beginning till the cloth is finished.
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