Segun Abiona: Banking On Socks

From Retail Banking in London to retailing socks to the stars in Nigeria, Destination: Africa speaks to Segun Abiona, Founder of premium socks brand, Nicole & Giovanni.

 

Profile
Country of Origin: Nigeria
Current Location: Lagos, Nigeria
Year of Relocation to West Africa: November 2013

Tell us about your background?
Born and grew up in Lagos. I’m from a fantastic family of 3 boys, It was absolutely a challenge growing up but wouldn’t exchange it for anything else as it has shaped my life. Attended C.M.S Grammar School Lagos, University of Lagos, and then Middlesex University in London. Worked with two amazing Investment firms in Lagos before leaving for England to study and work with Barclays Bank.

After completing your Masters, and with a stable job at Barclays Bank, were you ever tempted to stay on in London?
Oh Yes! I was indeed tempted, several times as a matter of fact, who wouldn’t be? *laughs*. I had my dream job, progression was imminent, I was happy and my family was growing steadily. My transition to Nigeria was gradual because I initially relocated on a career break for 6 months in 2012 to test the waters. It wasn’t pleasurable so I moved back to London mid-2012 before my final relocation to Nigeria in November, 2013

Let’s talk about your business. What is the story behind the brand name? Who are Nicole & Giovanni?
Nicole is my daughter’s middle name and Giovanni my son’s middle name. I considered quite a number of names but the names Nicole and Giovanni resonated strongly with the reason why I was venturing into the business. I was driven most by the fact that I intend leaving a legacy.

We really do love your designs, but we have to ask…what made you choose socks?!
N&G socks is a brand built on divine inspiration. I had a divine instruction from God to focus on socks and I launched out. After much research, I was convinced because it’s one area of fashion that was yet to be harnessed in Nigeria.

Truth be told, I wanted to create an indigenous brand, from our designs and concepts and come September this year the N&G DS 16 Sock Collection will tell the African story. It’s going to be amazing and we are currently running a pre-launch at a discounted price on our website www.nicoleandgiovanni.com to give our loyal customers a taste of what’s to come

A few samples from Nicole & Giovanni's New DS16 Collections.
A few samples from Nicole & Giovanni’s New DS16 Collections.

The idea for Nicole & Giovanni, was born here in London (Uxbridge to be precise), what made you choose to establish the company in Nigeria?
I saw an opportunity to carve a niche for myself in an untapped market. I had an instruction to go back home so I didn’t need a golden ball to identify the location to set up. The obvious location for N&G socks was to establish in Nigeria due to the market demand for quality fashion accessories. Now we ship to different destinations from the UK and the US.

How did you establish it in Nigeria? Did you first begin designing and supplying the socks to the Nigerian market, from the UK, or did you make the move back and start the operation from there?
The N&G brand was established after my return to Nigeria. I gained employment in a bank (FCMB) a few weeks after I moved back and that got me really busy, so busy I pushed the coloured socks idea to the back burner.

Six months later, my wife reignited the fire in me through a Youtube clip about a successful woman who had launched a unique and highly profitable hosiery company in the United States.

That same night, I contacted my first and eventual manufacturer

Are the socks manufactured in Nigeria?
N&G socks are not manufactured but designed in Nigeria. Our dream is to set up a factory in Nigeria. It’s definitely in the pipeline.

Do you plan to expand your offering into other clothing items or accessories in future?
We have received considerable demand for other clothing needs from our customers and we are currently in the process of meeting those needs. We have a blueprint which is being adhered to and very soon, we will reveal what we have in stock.

If everything goes to plan, where do you see Nicole & Giovanni in five years?
We are currently running campaign #NGTakesAfrica and it is our plan that in the next five years, N&G will be a world acclaimed brand and the “go-to” brand for high quality, unique, coloured socks for fashion forward men, women and children the world over.

You are now able to count television stars amongst fans of your brand. What were the initial challenges that you faced as a business?
At the onset, it was slightly difficult getting Nigerians to break off the regular boring plain black socks but to a large extent, we have been able to re-align the mindset of the public to the possibilities that come with stepping up their sock game.

Even professionals, celebrities and important dignitaries can’t help themselves after they come in contact with our products

What is your most notable success to date?
I will say the feedback from our customers. Nothing beats customer satisfaction for me, not the brand exposure, the financial records, the number of sales…nothing but the fact that the brand is acceptable by all and the customer experience has been exceptional.

What, if anything do you miss most about the UK?

  • Marks and Spencer donuts, The Banc Burgers (Both have a peculiar and awesome taste)
  • My serene neighbourhood in West London
  • My Barclays team mates

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about making the move, to start a fashion oriented business?

  • Test your level of passion and commitment to your desire before you take that step
  • Test your idea for demand, profitability and sustainability
  • Do your financial math effectively

Follow Nicole & Giovanni on Instagram – @NicoleAndGiovanniSocks, and on Facebook – @NicoleAndGiovanniSocks.

 

Destination: Africa!  aims to inspire our readers to make the move back home, through a series of interviews with others that have recently made the move successfully.

We are always on the lookout for inspiring stories of individuals that have successfully made the move to West Africa, so do get in touch with us, if you know of any such people.