Nigerian cap and hat manufacturer Crown Natures has moved its manufacturing facility to the Lekki Free Zone (LFZ) with one overriding ambition. It wants to introduce world markets to 'Made in Nigeria'.

Crown Natures' CEO, Omolara Aromolaran, got the idea to start the business when she needed caps for a promotion. She discovered, to her surprise, that there was not a single cap manufacturer in Nigeria. She enquired in Europe and the US, but all roads led to China. So in 2006 she enlisted the aid of a Chinese manufacturer to help set up a cap factory in Lagos and to train local staff. That was the start of Crown Natures.

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The company makes a variety of baseball and polo caps, sun visors and bucket hats in a range of colours, including vivid African prints, and in corporate livery to order. It has added T-shirts to its range, and relocated production to a unit in the LFZ standard factories two years ago.

We want to produce for Nike and Adidas. We want Premier League football clubs to buy their jerseys from us

"In our domestic market, we have several regulatory bodies and a lot of bureaucracy," says Ms Aromolaran. "LFZ provides non-stop facilitation of business, with all the government agents under one roof. The regulators are co-operative and friendly, recognising that it is important to get on and do business. And that gives us [an] edge."

She adds that operations have improved greatly because importing raw materials into the zone is so much easier. "Before, with customs checking in the ports, it could take six weeks before the contents were released, and there was no guarantee you wouldn't lose items," she says. "Now, as soon as the container is landed it is sent on to the zone and, because it is not opened in the port, it arrives intact."

Target: Africa

Given that Nigeria has been importing up to 50 million caps and hats a year, in spite of a ban on imports, there is a clearly a domestic market. "But all of Africa goes to Asia to import these products, so we have the African market available to us too," says Ms Aromolaran.

That is not the only business Crown Natures would like to take away from Asia, as the company now plans to expand into sportswear. "We want to produce for Nike and Adidas," says Ms Aromolaran. "We want the English Premier League football clubs to buy their jerseys from us. Asia is quite far from these markets. Africa is nearer, and we are able to match Asian prices." Large retailers such as UK retailer Marks & Spencer order from Bangladesh and India, she says, adding: "Africa could be another area for such companies to look at."

Crown Natures also has its sights on the US market, where Nigeria enjoys trade benefits. African-Americans are identifying with their African roots, and African fabrics are now popular in the New York clothing market. That has not yet extended to headgear, but Ms Aromolaran would like to change that.

The plan is to build a plant in the LFZ to accommodate all these product lines. To help fund it, the company is about to be listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, with an expected market capitalisation of $2m.