This is the story of a young man who said no to an uncertain future. Only about four years ago, when he was only 19, Yann Djossinou chose his own dreams, saying no to expectation, wait-and-see policy, unemployment and a utopian paradise.
Like a tiger, Yann Djossinou has printed his marks on the Beninese fashion by creating Roar Clothing, a popular clothing line popular which is very appreciated among his targeted market of prey. With a combination of constantly renewed ingenuity and creativity, he has made a monster effect with his brand. It is henceforth an attitude, a nation. Let’s say almost a religion.
I was transported along this interview with a rage unlike any other, a rage to succeed, moved by the kind of emotion that only pure talents can give. Throughout this story that is his very own, you will only be able to hear one thing, one cry: Roaarrr.
If things had gone the way you wanted, you will be in England right now.
Yes, my ultimate life goal was going to England to study and live. After my high school diploma, I was told it is not yet possible for now, start any college here and take telecommunication as major field, start first. I just finished the first year when i was told that it is possible. Now you can go to Ghana to learn English because your school in England asked a degree in English. I went to Ghana. I launched, in parallel with my English language proficiency classes, some graphic design courses. I got my diploma. Where did the problem occur? There was a financial problem.
Then one day…
I kept this dream of travelling to England for like 3 years. I fed that hope, that famous story of the life in England. I found myself repeatedly denied the visa. I became depressed after my return from Ghana. One day I was in my room, and I said “you’re not going to run after that dream all your life, f****. Do something with your life. «It was time for me to prove that we could stay in Africa and do great things.
The day I decided to take care of myself. I said no to my utopian dream in which to succeed in life, you have to go to Europe. I wanted to prove to my parents and my friends that I could stay here and be successful. That was my fight.I said no to my utopian dream in which to succeed in life, you have to go to Europe. Click To Tweet
Why did you choose fashion as field that day?
I’m attracted to the design since my childhood period. I like when everything I do is well organized, and I like when my outfits and clothes look great. It was obvious for me to embark into fashion. This is where I think I have a star. Things have fitted together like a puzzle in my life. I followed some brands that existed before me and which were correct and good to me, just like JiggaReal. I learned a lot in that environment. I didn’t want to create in an existing fashion style. I wanted to be original. To make the difference.
And how to make the difference in a world as competitive as the one of fashion?
The basic idea was to make streetwear clothing but a more African-like streetwear. So I wanted to make urban outfits, without falling into the Western clichés. I had the simple idea of mixing T-shirt and African loincloth. It is from there that the adventure of my brand started. I created the Afroshirt. The African Printed shirt.
I showed the result to an aunt with whom I lived in Cotonou. We both lived in one room at that time, it was a difficult period when I wanted to show who I could be. She found the idea brilliant and advised me to think about it. I took my time.
Your Label signature is a tiger! Why this emblem?
I had a stuffed tiger, a lucky charm that I carried with me everywhere. My friends used to mock at me all the time. But it was my thing. I was very much in love. I fully identify myself to cat’s family and to tigers more precisely. For me, it is the representation of the power, the rage, and the determination I have in me.
And then Roar resulted? Why “Roar Clothing”?
A friend of mine, Romeo Kokou, invited me to a prayer meeting on the Ascension night. That night was really something for me was very hard for me. It is during that night that I choosed and released the name of my brand. The priest preached and said in his speech that the breath of life that God gave to Adam was called in Hebrew “Ruach”. There was a twitch in my head at that very moment. It sounded like an animal or a feline cry. It was clearly a revelation to me. At this time, my brand has taken a whole new meaning in my life. I was certain I was going to succeed. I am confident that I will succeed. I have no doubt about it since that moment. This is one of my greatest strengths: my determination. Roar is a mix between the breath of life that God put in man and my own determination. Here’s how Roar Clothing was born.
How was your first capital made?
I started my clothing brand with a hundred and thirty thousand francs (130 000 F). I had to sell my phones to finance my first models, the first materials and fabrics. I’ve realized that my products were viable, and worked well. I talked to Ulrich Sossou, which was one of the first to believe in me. When people say that he can makes one rich, I can confirm that he really does. He said it was a great idea. He has invested one million and five hundred thousand CFA (1,500,000 F) in my business. With this money, I was able to organize myself, produce more, to make some professional shootings, arrange my brand image, to organize events, to advertise and get my brand known everywhere.
When asked what you do, what do you say?
I’m in textile trade, I do like Booba. (Laughs) I always say that I’m in fashion. At first my father said to me: “You sell clothes.” I replied that no, I create clothes. It is not the same. But one can be a mason, a carpenter, or even a glazier and still become very rich out of it. We must not see any of these jobs as small. There are no small jobs. Then I co-founded, with my aunt, the green NGO Green “Earth, Air, Sea” which educates children on the obligation to protect our planet, our legacy.
How do we get as a young entrepreneur to establish a product on the market?
It’s a matter of organization and structure. Then you have to have the skills and attitude. The attitude is the determination. It is also the personal price you’re willing to pay as an entrepreneur to establish your product. One thing is to have a product that works and another is to make the product available to the greatest number of people. We now have the advantage of the Internet, which is a tool that allows us to sell all over the world without spending a lot of money.
What is the impact of your brand on the lives of Beninese, the development of Benin?
First of all from a social perspective, it creates jobs. There are workers, responsible for communication and creation, and also we have our vendors, etc. The more the company will grow, the more we will produce, the more we will hire people. It will allow families to be able to make it and have a decent life. Secondly, from a cultural point of view, it gives visibility to Benin. I am Beninese; I sell my country in what I do. When we are asked where Roar Clothing comes from, we reply Benin. People will discover Benin and all the other treasures of Benin.
I think we have our footprint on the Benin fashion. I still don’t see enough people in the street wearing Roar. But I will fight so that in a few years we can’t go out in every major city in Africa and the World without seeing someone in Roar Clothing.
Talking about Roar Clothing in numbers?
I don’t like to talk much about numbers because it is so delicate. Their value varies from one person to another. But we can say that the brand is over one hundred thousand (100,000) units sold. Roar Clothing makes approximately a turnover of more than twenty million (20,000,000) CFA francs and we are on the market since only four (04) years. The next goal of the brand is to be able to sell one million (1,000,000) articles. And we’re on our way to make it happen.
Yann Djossinou, you don’t like when your brand is classified in the streetwear category, yet it was the starting point.
I’ve never been in a view of only producing streetwear clothes. I want to do a clothing brand that is renewed each time. Creativity is not something which can be closed. To tell myself that I’m a streetwear brand is like locking my creativity and to not allow it to lead me again. This is not what I want. I want to be free, that’s why I chose to be an entrepreneur.I want to be free, that's why I chose to be an entrepreneur. Click To Tweet
Don’t you think Batik material is going to end up being obsolete? Is it not just another big buzz?
Who said I will stay only in Batik? In addition, the Batik has a depth for me. When I see the Batik fabric, I see so many things, so many possibilities. Perhaps because I lived in Ghana. I have four collections that are already ready. I am booked until 2020. That is to say how it should be organized. We aim while growing up, to create a subsidiary especially for clothes creation and design, where we will hire stylists who will work for us. We must remain objective. There is popular say that success only lasts a certain time. I can’t stay creative for a hundred years. If I want my brand to remains over the time, we will have to pass the candlestick or at least allow others to express their creativity through Roar Clothing.
Certainly Roar Clothing is not always shining underneath.
Just like in any business, there are tensions, there are egos to manage. I am rather sociable. I can handle men. We just have to be correct, honest and say things like they are. Thank or punish.
Speaking of challenges, over 60% of Roar Clothing’s turnover does not come from Benin. Personally, I find that this is not encouraging. I can’t be Beninese and see people from my country buying less than people from outside. I find it immoral and at some extents, very strange. People from here say, “You have to go out make and make people acknowledge you before we take you at home.” It is terrible. That doesn’t make sense! We should really give more value to home products. I can’t express what I feel when I see that our work is not recognized or appreciated here in Benin. It forces you to emigrate abroad. We must educate Beninese people to buy what comes from Benin. It will take time. But there is no problem, we are there to see, we are not going to move.
You are part of the same generation that brands like Nanawax, Rose Red, iFuck, what do you think of this ecosystem you train in the Beninese fashion?
I live in my bubble, I am concentrated on what I do while watching carefully the competition. Everyone is trying to do what he can to hustle and succeed in a market that is a jungle. I encourage those who are in the fashion environment, because at the end of the day, Benin is the only one winner in that race. Each of us participates in his own way to the cultural and economic development of Benin. In five years, if there are four or five big brands coming out of Benin, I think that Benin would have won something.
Maureen Ayité of Nanawax brand recently said on her Snapchat account: “You know what you do is good when your enemy comes to pay for your product …”
I think she’s right. It means that the person knows the value of your work. You don’t need to love my person before coming to buy Roar Clothing. A clothing brand should not be based on an individual. It is not necessary that all the power, all the aura of the brand weighs on a person. It creates divisions. Those who love that person will feel attracted by the brand; those who don’t like the person will go against that brand. We must remain neutral, as discreet as possible. That’s what I try to do. I will not necessarily be highlighted. What interests me is that Roar Clothing is, it’s all that matters.
Then what is your motivation?
My first motivation is to prove. Proving that in Africa and more specifically in Benin, we can do things. I was the first to think that in Africa here, we can’t do anything because of our politicians, our problems, youth unemployment. I need to prove myself and prove that Africans can stay in Africa and hit hard. Click To Tweet
I am a fan fashion. I love everything that is beautiful. In each piece I do, I try to put a bit of myself. It’s a bit of my soul that I put myself in every piece I create. From the time the work you love is what you do, you don’t get up in the morning to go to work. To wake up with a pleasure to go to work, it is a priceless feeling. I am a fan of fashion. I love everything that is beautiful.
Have you ever had recognitions in your work?
In Benin, fashion is not something that necessarily attracts the crowd. In recent years with the new wave of designers, stylists, agencies and fashion photographers, there was a lot of enthusiasm. Recently, they organized the first edition of the Oscars of the Beninese Fashion; it is an event that should be encouraged. Roar has been rewarded with the prize for best collection in 2015.
Some people think Roar Clothing is a brand exclusively intended at young people.
Those who say this are not wrong. We will fix it. We are in an optic to change by creating clothing for any age and public. With the next collection, we will come out of what people think are our classics. We will be open to everyone.
Can you share with us about a little story that caused a click in your vision as a promoter of Roar Clothing?
Just recently I was on a business trip to Ghana. I met a representative of the Phillips brand in West Africa. He told me :
“Your products are worth gold. The Afroshirt is revolutionizing African fashion. It’s the perfect combination of classic shirt and Africa. If you organize yourself well and manage to reach a third of the world population, you will have changed the world. “.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in entrepreneurship and more specifically in the Beninese fashion?
Patience. Our biggest problem as young entrepreneurs is the desire to go fast. Going with too much speed has a lot of consequences to the consequences. We have to take the time to do everything we want to do. Let things happen over time. Focus on what you do. Four years ago, I was very focused on my image, I used to call my mother every day as well as my little sister. Today I’m doing it less. I have goals and to achieve them, I have to sacrifice some things. This is the price to pay if you want to enhance and strengthen your product.
Do you think your success you have kept you away from the essential things of life?
My success did not bring me away from the essential things in life, it allowed me to get closer of some other necessities of life. It is by growing up that one realizes what is really essential. I’m able to do things my mother that I was not able to do it four years ago. For me it is priceless. It’s not just stay at her side and tells her that I love her. We must be able to do things for our parents, to show them that we have succeeded.
Youth can be determined without being supported by their parents…
I forced myself to my parents. I started in fashion and I brought them the evidence. “Here are the results of what I’m doing. This is something that can work. I just need you to believe in me and to help me. ” It is very hard. But one must be determined, be really ready. If you are, your parents will follow you. They will see in your eyes that you really want to do it and that you would give everything for. We all want to do something but we do not all want it at the same degree.
I would like to see Benin in the Forbes rankings! We have so many talents in Benin. In each area, there are so many talented people. But we are still lacking one thing: the motivation. I don’t know if it’s the fear of failure that causes the fact that many are reluctant to start something. To all the young people, in whatever area and sector, please: don’t you give up!To all the young people, in whatever area and sector, please: don’t you give up! #Irawo Click To Tweet