The Journey to The Switch

In the words of Heinrich Rohrer, ‘Science means constantly walking a tightrope between blind faith and curiosity; between expertise and creativity; between bias and openness; between experience and epiphany; between ambition and passion; and between arrogance and conviction – in short, between an old today and a new tomorrow’.

The fashion industry is a global powerhouse, with billions of dollars going in and out of the industry every year. Fashion United, an international fashion company estimates that the global fashion industry is worth approximately 3 trillion dollars. The growth of the industry can be attributed largely to innovations stemming from the advent of science and technology, especially in terms of Artificial Intelligence (AI). In fact, according to the McKinsey Global Fashion Index, the fashion industry will spurt a triple growth in 2018 as compared to previous years.

In Africa, the situation is pretty similar. The recent years have seen the development of the African fashion industry, from the increase in fashion-related entrepreneurs to investments from the corporate sector, and even the government. Fashion in Africa has really come a long way, and I must say; this is truly the era of growth! However, we must also acknowledge that fashion in Africa is still developing, with traces of under-development in certain areas. The African fashion industry is not unlike its counter-parts in the rest of the world. It is comparable to a distinction without a difference. For instance, some of the same industry features exist such as channels of distribution, growth parameters and even, market size. However, some are not the same. For example, business structure, market trends, growth rate, consumer behavior and innovation. These features make the distinction and are pertinent to the business of fashion, the ultimate goal of every ‘fashionpreneur’.

A lot goes into the business of fashion and the truth is, many entrepreneurs in Africa are not adequately trained and equipped for the business of fashion. A lot of people don’t even realize that fashion is way more than sewing until they are hooked. I know, I used to be one of them! There is little or no structure in our businesses because there are not enough resources, education being one of them. A lot of fashion businesses are not scalable and sustainable. And, at the end of the day, it all contributes to the overall growth of the industry.

The Sustainable Development Goals are standards the world is working towards together as a global village. The message of the SDGs is that we all have a part to play in global development. Goal 8 of the Sustainable Development Goals promotes inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work. Goal 9 is all about industry, innovation and infrastructure while Goal 17 is about partnerships to achieve these goals. This is why if Mohammed cannot go to the mountain, I am determined to bring the mountain to him.

I am Adedokun Olateju Oluwatobi, the second child of my family. I recently concluded my undergraduate education at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos. I am a fashion designer; the creative director of 7th Avenue, my five year old baby which I started during my second year in university. In 2016, I founded A Thousand Smile (ATS), a charity outreach that has held consecutively for two years. This year, ATS was directed at empowering over 200 young women in Yemetu, Ibadan with a motivational session, distribution of items and a skills acquisition program. In addition, I founded Style Avenue Initiatives, a platform for young fashion entrepreneurs. Each year, Style Avenue Initiatives organizes an event called The Style Avenue Shopping Party, where entrepreneurs are given a platform to showcase their work for free and learn. At last year’s edition, we held classes on several topics relevant to the business of fashion including photography, technology and digital media where fashion entrepreneurs had the opportunity of learning and asking questions from experts in these fields.

After university, I discovered that I wanted more. I wanted to do more and give more, while doing what I loved to do. So, I began to ask myself questions; what, how, why? In all of the answers I got, I noticed that technology was a constant. From time, I have always seen technology as some sort of light. The way technology creates and transforms is truly game-changing, in almost every area of life. Scratch that, its every area of life.

Perhaps, I should re-introduce myself. My name is Adedokun Olateju Oluwatobi, radiographer, fashion designer and technology aficionado. I really hope that means enthusiast. Currently, I am taking German classes at Foursquare Language School, Lagos in preparation for a second undergraduate degree in Computer Science abroad in the 2019/2020 session to position myself in an environment where I can study the art of technology and network with like minds. Also, I recently got invited for an interview at Girl Code Academy after my application to join the 2018 Cohort was accepted. Girl Code is an academy in Lagos that teaches coding and programming. Besides this, I am a self-taught HTML amateur.

It is no news that the pace of life has increased because of technology. Communication and travel is so much faster, movement is easier, action is quicker, interaction has sped up and so has life, all thanks to technology. Literally, in all fields of life, technology drives transformation that makes people healthier, wealthier and better educated, on any subject at a pace that is almost unimaginable. For me, this is why I must become a technology expert, because technology creates solutions to problems that exist and even problems that will exist in the future. I want to use technology to bridge the gaps between the fashion entrepreneur and the business of fashion.

My goal is to get an education so that I can create and innovate but more specifically, develop a software application called Switch, every fashion entrepreneur’s office on the go. My other goal is to have a great mentor in software development and business management that will assess my current experience and identify areas that require improvement and also point me to the right resources for complementary study. A mentor who would guide me through this technology journey I have already begun. My aim for Switch is to be more than a mere application, but the fashion entrepreneur’s online office, guiding him/her through the business of fashion. A guide to creating the needed structure; a guide that will teach the upcoming and even the well-established, the business of fashion through the desired training that will position them to meet the expectations of the global market.

Each time I teach a class filled with young, enthusiastic fashion designers, I include a list of software applications that enable them to structure their businesses, with little or no money such as applications for accounts, sketching, and distribution channels. None of them, tailored to meet the needs of fashion entrepreneurs but useful nonetheless. I believe that Switch is just what the fashion industry needs, a software application tailored to answering the questions of every fashion entrepreneur and solving the many problems encountered on their journey to becoming well-structured, scalable and sustainable fashion businesses.

My plan is to partner with firms, schools, fashion entrepreneurs and other professionals in Africa and beyond, to create full-proof courses and resources that would be available on Switch. In addition, I intend to gather a team of soft-ware developers in creating the soft-ware application. This is tied to my seeking an education in Computer Science, to network with like-minds. My favorite thing about Switch has to be its practicability and basic resources needed to make it work. However, I do recognize that financial resources are very pertinent to its achievement.

Below is an outline of Switch.

Switch’s target users include all aspiring fashion entrepreneurs (to harness the free trainings and courses) and fashion entrepreneurs (to harness the work-space). But truly, Switch would be accessible to all, regardless of interest in fashion. The target users would be reached through social media, intense marketing campaigns, events, influencers, forums and other partnerships. Though the application would be free to all users, I intend to monetize the software application through advert placements in the application. From these proceeds, donations of a certain percentage would go towards enabling African girls like me to learn coding and software development.

The importance of structure in fashion cannot be over-emphasized. Earlier, I stated that the fashion industry is a multi-trillion dollar industry globally. In fact, it would be the world’s seventh largest economy, if ranked alongside individual countries’ GDPs. It is an industry that creates, provides and is radically changing due to innovation. I believe that it is time for Africa to harness the change that technology brings, especially in the fashion industry.

An application like Switch would create employment opportunities due to the access to free training and tutorials which would eventually help to alleviate poverty, one of Africa’s nagging problems (Goal 1 of the Sustainable Development Goals – No Poverty). As they say, a skill is one step to solving the poverty problem. It would help to create sustainable businesses that would stand the test of times and contribute to the overall growth of the African economy (Goal 8 of the Sustainable Development Goals – Decent Work and Economic Growth). Finally, it would open the door for innovation and partnerships in the African fashion industry (Goal 9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure & Goal 17 – Partnerships for the Goals).

Winning and benefiting from the Toptal STEM Scholarship would be everything for me, really. It would be an accelerator, a ‘push’ tool, a beacon of hope, everything literally. Resources are a big part of achieving my dreams to develop Switch. The financial resources from the Scholarship would assist tremendously in my pursuit of an education in technology, Computer Science to be precise. Good education is not cheap, unfortunately. And even though Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals states quality education for all, access to quality education isn’t cheap either. Also, developing a software application requires financial resources. The cost of developing soft-ware applications start from about $5000. In view of financial resources, this Scholarship would be a big step for me, in a right direction to realizing all that I stated earlier. Human resources are a key part of my journey, as well. For me, mentorship is an integral part most especially, mentorship from someone who is well-versed in technology, knowledgeable and can guide me on this journey. The benefits of the mentorship opportunity offered by the Toptal Scholarship are really limitless. From the supportive relationship, to assistance with problem solving, professional advice, encouragement and guidance mentors provide.

As Colin Powell said, ‘a dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work’. To achieve all I have laid out above, I am determined to work very hard and use all the opportunities I am given wisely and efficiently, in order to come into the ‘new tomorrow’ through technology.

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