Gone are the days, Medicine and Law were the quickest way to make cool cash and gain influence. In today’s world especially in Nigeria, the unconventional has become the new cool, the things we once regarded as uncool are the things bringing in recognition and awards. These 3 Nigerian Fashion entrepreneurs have proven to us that a lot can be birthed from the ordinary if you put in the work and the time required. In no particular order, see 3 Nigerian Fashionpreneurs killing this fashion game and putting Nigeria on the world map.
Ejiro Amos-Tafiri is the Founder and Creative Director of Ejiro Amos-Tafiri (E.A.T) brand which was established to meet the fashion needs of a modern woman. Ejiro in an Interview with Pleasures Magazine, disclosed some of her motivations and why she chose this career path.
On setting out in the fashion world, she said:
As a child growing up my parents thought I would be a medical doctor. But when I was in SS1 I was a science student, but my Agric teacher was pregnant at that time and wasn’t teaching. At that time I just wanted a very easy vocational subject that will be fun to do, so I dropped agric and picked up clothing and textile, and my very first class, we went on an excursion to Yaba Tech that was how I discovered fashion. Though growing up I always loved clothes, as a child, my favorite outfit was iro and buba and I liked to wear matching outfitsIf for one reason my shoe didn’t match my bag I would have a bad day, and any day I wore a completely matching outfit that was a fantastic day.
That is why I considered clothing and textile. When I got to Yaba tech, I discovered that fashion designing has a combination of everything I loved subtracting, addition, I like to draw, it seemed like technical drawing is the same thing as pattern drafting, I just knew I has found my career, but I didn’t tell anyone at that time, because fashion design was not recognised career, because it was left for dropouts , those who did not attend university or those who did not have the mental capacity for formal education. I couldn’t share that passion with my parents, friends, nobody. So I found my way into Yabatech, I made sure I didn’t pass Jamb to get into medicine, I told my dad I wanted to take poly jamb, he thought I would study science lab and tech but I filled fashion and that was how I got to fashion school. My family and teachers could not understand it.
Speaking on how she got her parent’s to support her dreams, she said:
Of course! They paid my fees but they weren’t happy, my mum recently told me she was embarrassed when people asked her how is your daughter, what is she doing now? They expected to hear “she is studying medicine. It was more because I was a very bright child so they expected me to study medicine or engineering, but when they hear fashion at Yaba Tech, the first question they will ask her is polytechnic? Fashion? Tailor? What happened? It made my parents embarrassed and they didn’t like it.
I also got grounded a couple of times. The only way to pay them back was to be successful at it. So immediately I got into Yaba Tech I made sure I was the best student from my first year to final year, it either succeeds or nothing. I don’t know how I saw those things as a sixteen-year-old girl.”
Speaking on her greatest achievement, she said:
”Winning the best fashion designer for fashion and retail in 2016 at the Lagos Fashion Design Week”
For more on Ejiro, see this video with Seyi Banigbe on Binging with Game Changers
Bisola Adeniyi is the founder and CEO of Lady Biba a made in Nigeria multi award winning women’s ready to wear clothing brand that caters to the Modern Corporate woman.
Speaking on how it all started with Bella Naija Style, she says:
The plan was to go for my masters, get a job and do fashion on the side but things sort of took off and I had no time to do anything else. At first, it was just me and a tailor. I did everything from fulfilling orders to customer service to the procurement of materials to tech support for the website. And then, we added a tailor and then another and before I knew it, we were our own little village creating beautiful clothes for beautiful people.
Speaking on challenges, she said:
The very first event I did; a garden party, no one showed up. It was just me, the other vendors staring at each other. I cried so hard and to make matters worse; my generator got stolen during that period. I thought my business was over for sure but somehow things started to fall into place little by little. One major lesson I learnt from that episode was to start small and take calculated risks.
Speaking with the team at Gazmadu Studios- a photography company (that recently launched a photo campaign for Lady bosses in Nigeria), on failures she said:
I’ve had a huge fear of failure for longer than I can remember.Was it when my mates were graduating and I had an extra semester or constantly getting rejected 3 years in a row for a fashion competition that was a really big deal for new designers in Nigeria or was it throwing my first event and no one turning up. I can talk about this easily now but these failure stories are surrounded by moments of uncertainty, self doubt, nights of tears and frustrations especially because I wanted so badly to win (for my dreams to come true).
I’ve had quite a number of “failures” under my belt. However, I have so many lessons I’ve learnt from failure that it’s not that I’m no longer afraid but it’s that in spite of fear, I act. I know that failure can be a teacher in many ways that success can’t. I learnt to wipe my tears, face the facts and get back to work. I learnt that the dream is free but the hustle is sold separately. I’ve learnt that my failure stories are just as important as the success stories.
Bisola has won Award for Fashion designer of the year by Ebony Life TV Sisterhood Awards, Future Awards Africa and ELOY amongst others.
Amaka Osakwe is a Nigerian fashion designer and creator of the African-based fashion label named Maki Oh. She has led her womanswear label since 2010 from Lagos, and it is a Nigerian-based label that is globally recognized.
Sharing with Fast Company on why she decided to be a designer, she said:
I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do from the time I was 16 or 17, in Lagos, where I had spent my entire life. It’s not normal to be a designer in Nigeria: You have to be a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer or a banker, because those are the safe professions. It was hard to convince everyone that I wanted to go to fashion school. I really liked Japanese designers, and I still do—Rei Kawakubo and Issey Miyake. I like how they’ve taken their culture and turned it around, made it relevant. I also like couture designers, like Chanel, because I like working with my hands. I like anything that has to do with craft, or any sort of expertise.
I went to fashion school in Bournemouth, in England, and I encourage all Nigerians interested in becoming designers to go to fashion school. As a painter, you can always pick up a brush and paint. But if you’re told what color relations are or how paint dries, you have a better grasp of the craft. That makes a good starting point for you to flourish.
Speaking on how she convinced her parents to allow her drop Law for Design, she said:
My mom helped me handle telling my dad. We literally came up with a little presentation to show him. From the beginning, he said he was fine with it, but internally, we all knew he was freaking out. Everyone around me, all my aunties and uncles, people at church, would come to me and say, “You’re driving your father crazy. Why are you going to fashion school?”
They were ultimately so encouraging. And it was so wonderful to take them to the White House years later. My publicist and I were invited to the White House for an event. We each got a plus one, so we brought my mom and dad along with us. Now, my father tells everyone that they should send their children to fashion school. I’m the favorite child right now.” Amaka’s pieces was worn by Beyonce in her Lemonade Album.
”He tells every Tom, Dick, and Harry, “Do you know that my daughter took me to the White House? Michelle Obama wears her clothing.” She added.
Amaka’s pieces have been worn by Beyonce, Lupita, Rihanna, Michelle Obama and a host of International celebrities. Amaka was named “Designer of the Year” by African fashion magazine ARISE. Since 2010, her work has been showcased at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the Vitra Design Museum, and the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.