With 4 locations across Nigeria and 7 years in the business, Grey Velvet is undoubtedly one of the most successful and long-lasting premium fashion retail chains in Nigeria.
Constantly innovating and evolving, Grey Velvet have managed to stay relevant and as they enter a new phase, we sat down with the Tamara Aihie; one half of the mother/daughter duo behind the popular brand to talk about their secret to longevity and their grand vision.
Running a successful business in Nigeria is no small feat, especially when that business spans a significant number of years. Tamara laughs when asked what the secret to their success is, eventually admitting that it’s all about keeping it simple.’’We’re not trying anything too extreme, we’re just trying to put women in nice clothes. I also think we’re one of the first to try and stock as many different African brands as we can, as opposed to just pushing our own thing, so that’s pretty unique. But it’s mainly the fact that we’re not trying to do too much.’’
Surprisingly, neither Tamara nor her mother Mrs. Isioma Aihie, have a background in fashion. So, how do two women with no discernible fashion experience grow such a powerful brand? ‘’Honestly, we’ve just been adapting as we’ve been going, and as things happen, as the market changes, as social media has become this whole big thing, we’ve been adapting.’’
Undoubtedly, the rise of social media has had a huge impact on the way people do business in Nigeria. Many online shops have sprung up and made it easier for clients and vendors to meet. Despite having 4 brick and mortar stores, we wonder how social media has impacted the Grey Velvet chain. ‘’Well, for one thing now everybody and their Grandfather is selling clothes. You can just take a picture of yourself in an outfit and then sell it so that has watered the industry down a little bit. Then there are brands who have a really strong social marketing plan who seem to be taking over the retail space and at first, we were like ‘what’s happening here?!’ but eventually, we went with the flow and decided to keep up.
We changed our marketing and PR plan completely and I feel like we’ve really hit our stride there. We’re spent time trying to figure out what works for us. My Mum and I, I’ll be honest, we’re not big on social media but we are getting into the space and figuring it out.’’
Finding one’s groove is not without its complications and Tamara is refreshingly candid about the challenges the brand has faced over the years. Though she jokes she has found ‘all of it’ difficult, she admits that human resources has definitely been one of the most tasking. ‘’I would say human resource has been the biggest issue here. Finding the right tailors, finding the right people in the stores, just everything staff wise, is probably the most continuously challenging, but in general, all of it!’’
Not content with just selling clothes from other retailers, the women of Grey Velvet decided to take it one step further, creating lines of their own which spoke to two very distinct types of women. The lines Frankie & Co and Isi Brown are stocked in all their stores and have gained cult status as go-to dresses for almost any occasion. Not many people know that Grey Velvet have their own factory on the island where they produce all of their pieces and have set up quite the production line to ensure that from ideation to conception, your piece is proudly Nigerian. ‘’We just felt like we wanted our own in house brands, which again, is part of the adapting thing We noticed that we had people who wanted co-ords and certain sets and things that you would only see in like, Topshop or ASOS for instance and that’s how Frankie & Co was born.
We had this young in-house designer who was 22/23 and the line was based off of her. She was fresh out of university, just moving back to Lagos and we based our clothes of what those type of girls would want to wear. Now, those girls have grown up, they’re in the working world and now trying to find a balance between corporate dressing and keeping it cut over the weekend. We’re continuously trying to strike the right balance for that type of woman with Frankie & Co.
Isi Brown was born because my Mum, who’s not the traditional Nigerian woman in the sense that she doesn’t like extreme dressing, wanted a line that was more wearable for women like her, the mature woman with a stylish and simple dress sense.’’
Having their own factory and stocking Nigerian designers, Grey Velvet are huge supporters of the local production chain and slow but ethical fashion initiative. Tamara says the whole idea behind Grey Velvet was to create clothes for Nigerians and by Nigerians.
‘’Everything being locally made that is the whole point of Grey Velvet; that was why my Mum started in the first place because everything she saw was imported or Western and she was like ‘No!’ because there are so many nice things here. So, we import fabrics because nobody makes fabric here but we ensure that we buy it from our own people. We try and just keep it as Nigerian and African as possible because Western people have their own thing going on. We’re trying not to enter that crazy retail space where you have like little kids in your basement and yes, it does slow us down, but our values and integrity are in check so we don’t mind.’’
Speaking about the social media age and moving with the times, Grey Velvet recently launched the GreyVolution, their latest fashion campaign featuring 4 women of note that they believed represented the Grey Velvet brand in their own unique way.
In a statement released by the brand, they wrote:
The GreyVolution campaign aims to present us with different personalities while still celebrating the authenticity of each individual as a Grey Velvet woman. The campaign embodies the essence of womanhood and the importance of sisterhood. Grey Velvet, a cornerstone of fashion and retail in Nigeria, has thus selected these four outstanding women to lead The GreyVolution.
Each of the personalities involved in the campaign are as diverse as they come and as we’ve all been taught, the power of evolution comes from diversity. These four represent a new generation of fearless, confident and empowered women. And who better than to dress these women? Grey Velvet, of course.
Tamara says the GreyVolution came about because they recognised that the brand was stuck in a rut. ‘’Creatively, we were just making clothes, our social media wasn’t really, we were just posting pictures and we were like ‘’Okay, we need to fix this, we need to get back out there we need to do something!’ And that essentially was the GreyVolution, it was just us getting off our asses and getting back in the space.’
Even women we have chosen for the campaign, I feel like we’re just starting because we wanted to include as many women as we can but for now we have that like late 20s kind of vibe. We chose them because they’re all just boss women, they’re all doing great things in different spaces. Afua is this ‘She Leads Africa’ mogul doing all kinds of things and she does a whole bunch of like charity things as well. Then on the other end we have Sam in the whole media space, taking over MTV doing her thing we really like that. Valerie! Valerie just looks great, she’s so pretty we just had to have her there. Don’t even get me started on Soliat; she’s a chef, she’s a dancer, TV presenter, she’s just doing it all and that’s what we feel like the Grey Velvet woman should be; just doing it all and looking good whilst doing it.’’
For the most part, Grey Velvet are brick and mortar stores but with the rise of digital and the way people shop changing by the day, we wonder if the brand see themselves changing their business model dramatically to move with the times or if they’re going with ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Tamara ponders the question briefly and replies, ‘’In our heads, we kind of want to be like Zara, making clothes all over the world and bring Nigerian brands and the Nigerian aesthetic to the rest of the world. The way you walk into Zara and you just know you’re going to find something you want, we want Grey Velvet to be the African version of that.’’
If Grey Velvet keeps up this pace, we’re certain this is one dream that will come to pass. The silent but deadly brand have accelerated at a faster rate than most with the least amount of noise; choosing instead to let their progress speak for themselves, it’s about time that Grey Velvet had it’s time in the sun.
Viva la GreyVolution!