In the Real Estate sector in Nigeria, Princess Adebowale Odutola has calve a niche for herself playing in the big league successfully. So when she decided to veer into the business of fashion, specialising in designing bags,it wasn’t too long before she made her presence felt through her signature luxury bag collection with her brand name,The Porter’s Signature.
Today, her TPS leather wares is highly favoured by prominent Nigerian women, some of whom have had the privilege of having a TPS bag exclusively made and named after them.
As the brand marks five years in the business of designing and producing handcrafted, customised luxury bags, Princess Debbie as the creative mind behind the brand is fondly called shares her journey so far with TPS in this interview with G&E’s Publisher, Susan Eyo-lkpe.
Why the need to specialise in luxury bags in Nigeria?
When l was young, I’ve always loved to be different. So when l was trying to diversify my business from Real Estate, l said to myself,’ what do l have a passion for that would not only give me fame but also give me fortune?.l decided to pray about it. ln the course of praying, someone gave me a bag on my birthday in April, it was an Ankara bag, but it wasn’t well made.lt sent a message and to me, it was an answer to my prayers.
And because l love fashion, l love bags, that became an insight, that l can actually make something with ankara. That’s how it all started.
How has it transformed in five years to what it’s now with creating luxury bags?
lnitially when we started, it wasn’t luxurious, it was just ankara. Later, we started working with leather.lt’s been a geometric process for me. l’ve gone from a very humble beginning to where l am now in five years. Looking back now, our hardware is no longer locally sourced, we source from Hong Kong, though we still source our leather locally. The hardware is however the core of our business, because it also enhances and brings out the beauty of the product.
How do you feel you have done so far?
l think we have done quite well in five years. We have now set a standard and have calve a niche for our bags. The TPS standard are, of course, international standards. They will stand on the shelves of any international store as we speak. The thing about it is that, we haven’t gone beyond where we were, manpower, but we have stepped up our machinery, where the finishing is A-class; same finish that you will see on a Chanel or Russel & Bromley bag. This is because we chose to buy our hardware from the same manufacturers who make for all the top international brands. At every point, we are stepping up our game, every collection of the new season is different from the last one.
So do you design for each season?
Yes .We are on the A/W 19 collection, which Nigerian designers don’t do here. But because l see our product as more international than local, we are now on our Autumn /Winter 2019 collection.
What is the catch behind customising the TPS bags by naming them after prominent Nigerian women as you do?
l do this because the executive order 003 of 2015,which,amongst other things support local content and that’s the fabrics we are using here. How else can we be local, so l decided to name the bags after Nigerian women who have excelled in their various fields of endeavour. Some are women who have empowered women, some are women who also support women in business. So that’s why our bags are different.
You have a bag named after the late Dr Stella Adedevoh, why did you single her out?
l never knew her personally, but looking back, she worked and died for humanity. This was a woman who treated a man with the Ebola virus and died in the process. How else can you honour and immortalise such a woman. So much good things was said about her, which was quite impressive. So l decided to design a bag to honour her and it sold out.
As is the tradition for you to mark each anniversary with a customised bag named after a prominent woman, who would you be honouring as you celebrate five years of TPS in business?
Hajia lreti Kingibe. She walked into my life like Angel on the 28 of December, 2018.Her sister carried my bag in Abuja, and she saw it and called me. She said to me,’you make bags? ‘And l said, ‘yes ma’. She told me she loved them and would be in Lagos, and she was soon after. And because she is a fashionista, she is a very pretty woman, whatever she carries, you must notice it. She is 65, but looks ageless. She bought off me and everyone loved her bags. She called me up and said, ‘do you mind if l help you sell your bags in Abuja, everyone likes them. Since January 2019, when she started stocking my bags(she doesn’t sell bags by the way, she is a prominent politician) she has never charged me a dime, or put a naira on the price l sell the bags. All payments of bag sold are paid into my account by buyers.
Looking at the favour she has done, she turned 65 in June and l said to myself, l don’t have money to throw her a party in appreciation, but l can write her name in gold where, all over the world, her name will be mentioned on account of a bag designed exclusively bearing her name, hence, the HIK collection. let’s coincidental that we are 5 in July and she turned 65 in June. So why not name a bag after her l thought.
So what went into designing and producing the HIK bag?
l decided to create a bag that will scream Class, Elegance, yet be very understated and simple like she is. That is how the HIK came about. lt’s designed with two locks with rose gold hardware, which is the Classic and we are also doing the Limited, which is all yellow gold collection. We already have a wait list for the HIK yellow gold collection, which we will produce after the formal launch of the collection.
Beyond being a double lock bag, what stands the HIK bag out?
If you know Hajia lreti well, she wears a lot of adire in either chiffon or silk. So l decided that this collection will be in ankara chiffon or silk. The print in the silk are all African prints, some are ankara, some are adire. It’s going to have a scarf tied to the hardware on the bag like a bow, matching the fabric used to design the bag with leather. So the HIK is quite different from every other bag we have done. We hope that as we present it to the world, it would be accepted.
So have you totally veered away from your Real Estate business?
l still do Real Estate, l still manage properties for people, but l don’t do inspections anymore or facility management, that takes my time.
If you were to choose between Real Estate and what you do now designing bags, which will you settle for?
l will pick the bag business, because when l go for international events, I’m at par with the top brands in the business. lf they buy a stand, l do the same to showcase our brand, from Pure London to Pure Origin, we are there. It’s Nigerians who look at our work and just see it as made in Nigeria, that’s not how the international market see and look at our product. They are excited by the uniqueness of the bags made with ethnic fabrics and leather, which stands the bags out. They are thrilled by our attention to details and finishing.
ln view of this, are you looking at exporting?
Oh yes. We have gotten our export license from the Nigeria Export Promotion Council and we also have our trademark properly done. Before now, people buy from us to export and resell abroad. We are now looking into opening a store in Germany and Holland soon.
What’s your expectation for the TPS brand?
That eventually, made in Nigeria will become a household name and TPS will become a household name too.
What should be expected at the 5th anniversary/launch of the HIK bag collection on Sunday?
lt will be grand and we are also giving out 5 TPS bags through a lucky dip to 5 lucky women. That is part of our CSR. We are generally going to appreciate the women on our honorary roll who we have named our bags after, as well as our esteemed customers.