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10 Questions with Hasnain Walji

10 Questions with Hasnain Walji

Issue 86 November 2011

The Walji brothers oversaw the expansion of TFNC London, a clothing company, from one small shop to now having design houses across Europe, and clothes manufactured around the world.


The five Walji brothers set up TFNC (Time For New Clothes) in 1982. They chose the fashion industry as they saw it as a lucrative and prosperous business, and took after their father, who was an industrialist and salt miner in Tanzania.

Starting with a small shop, they expanded to five outlets, and then moved on to manufacturing for department stores. They currently have design houses in London, Paris and Milan, and manufacture their clothes in China, France, India and Italy. TFNC has also launched another brand, WalG, which is sold alongside its other collections.

They are one of the major suppliers to ASOS (branded TFNC), as well as having their clothes sold in Topshop, House of Fraser and Fenwicks. They have recently expanded their online retail division, and were named one of the Top 5 Best Selling Dress Brands by Drapers Record, and also nominated one of the Top 5 Brands of the Year in 2011, also by Drapers Record, as well as being one of the most popular concessions in the Topshop store at London’s Oxford Street.

1. To what extent is your success a product of your upbringing and background?
My father was the one who gave us a good grounding in business acumen and helped shape our abilities. He taught us how to conduct business fairly and in an honest manner. We were able to see him do it himself, day in day out. He worked as a salt miner in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and this was a very seasonal business, heavily dependent on the sun.
My father was fortunate in that he had big warehouses, and was able to stock up any excess produce to maintain a monopoly over the market. However, even when there had been a low yield of salt and a shortage of supply, he still continued to charge the same market price throughout the year and never overcharged any of his customers.

2. How did your parents/family influence you?
Again, my father was very much into fashion and being well dressed. It was one of his passions in life, whilst remaining within the realms of a modest dress code, and this was a great influence on the industry that we went into.
I am also heavily influenced by the various management trainers that we bring in to run the training programmes in our company. Being a cutting-edge brand in London means we have to be able to maintain our professional working approach and undertake such courses to remain at the forefront of the marketplace.

3. What is your educational background and were you good at school?
I enjoyed my school days, but only studied up to my A levels. Some of my brothers went on to university. We all had to start working, as we were living in tricky times. I did try my hand at studying a bit of Law and starting an ACCA qualification, but had to leave both when we decided to start our business.
Education was certainly important to me, but I see a great number of challenges and increased pressure for young people today. It is certainly a lot more competitive with much fewer jobs available.

4. What was your biggest break and was there an element of luck involved?
In any business, there is always an element of luck. Whether it be getting the right product from the right supplier, or being in the right place at the right time. With TFNC, we definitely feel that our success came when we were able to concentrate on building up our name and working on our branding. We were comfortable with the manufacturing processes that we had put in place, and were now able to focus on bringing the customers what they wanted.

5. What has been your biggest failure and how did you recover?
Prior to the UK recession of 1989-94, our business was thriving. But once the poll tax was brought in, the interest rates shot up, buying power fell, and the market crashed. We had extended credit to a number of independent stores, but found ourselves in a position where we could not recover those debts and this was a heavy blow. We had just started growing and expanding our operations, when our core business took a drop.
Our recovery was helped by the unity amongst us brothers who ran the business. We are very close-knitted and difficult to shake; almost like five fingers in a fist. We help each other out psychologically, and this is useful when overcoming problems.
Each brother looks after a particular activity in the business: marketing, retail, logistics, design and manufacturing. Through our fraternal bonds, we have built the company up to 120 employees, and it was this unified approach that helped us recover from the blow during the recession.

6. What can others possibly learn from your success?
The key to success is to just run an honest business. There is no reason to do anything in an unlawful or immoral manner, and if you believe that you have a decent product, there is no reason that you cannot work hard to make it sell and make money.
You should ensure that you work towards compromise, and are never selfish in any of your business decisions.
And lastly, that there is nothing wrong with living well. We only have to look at the example of Khadija, the wife of the blessed Prophet, to see that she was a wealthy businesswoman who did very well for herself. But you should also remember to support charity and your local community, because charitable and community-orientated work needs funding to be able to achieve the great things that they can.

7. Who are your heroes in life?
My mother and father—and this is without any question. I am indebted to them for the sacrifice and hard work that they put into all our upbringing, and they essentially served their whole lives to serve us. My brothers and I have the utmost respect for our father, who was the breadwinner in providing for his wife and ten children. Our mother was the strong hub of our family, and she remains so to this day.

8. What’s the greatest pleasure you have had from your success?
Seeing my family happy—I feel so fortunate to be in a situation where my family and I are able to do the things we enjoy. It also gives me great pleasure to see unity in my family; sometimes doing business with family members can lead to ill feelings during times of hardship, but we have always stuck together and will continue to remain close.
Success in business has also given us the opportunity to get involved in charity and community work. I have also had the chance to get involved in sport too—I regularly play in tennis tournaments and have been known to run the odd marathon now and then!

9. What do you think are the greatest enemies of success?
When people try to pull the wool over other people’s eyes, it is a recipe for disaster. Furthermore, when people cannot stick to one strategy or are indecisive in running their business, then they are essentially setting up to fail.
In business, you have to make sure that people appreciate your character and personality. I believe you know you have succeeded in business when you sell a product, and it is the customer that always comes back and not the product.

10. What would you like to say to people when it is time for you to leave this world?
Everyone must learn to forgive, and be principled and have good morals in life. Education should be given the utmost importance, and you should always try to remember God in everything that you do.
It is equally important to enjoy life and be funny and entertaining in whatever you choose to do. Make sure that people are happy to see you. l

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