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Monday, 15 October 2018

VANITY: I HAD OVER 400 SHOES - ZIZI CARDOW


Top Nigerian Fashion Designer Zizi Cardow believes she has evolved with the years. From the funky girl who was struck by the fashion and style of the 80s, to the acclaimed Fashion Icon and Ambassador of modern day.
She has virtually conquered all known and hitherto unknown terrain of the fashion industry, local and international with numerous awards to show for it, adorning the walls of her showroom at Ikoyi, Lagos.

In this interview with Paul Ukpabio, Zizi Cardow, takes us into her journey to the top, her present lifestyle and values that has enabled her to stand out in a competitive industry.


You have received quite a number of awards that adorn the walls of your office, which of these is the closest to your heart?

I always feel it’s the very first one which I received in the year 2001 because that seemed to have heralded the other awards. And the first one was the ‘Designer of the Year Award.’

Where did you get that from?
It was from the Nigerian Fashion Show. It was a competition for designers and I won. It came with an all expense paid trip to Dubai. For me that was inspiring. It was the push I needed to
inspire me to know that I have what it takes to be there.

How long did it take before you could achieve that success feat?
It took just a year. And that I think is why that award meant so much to me then and now. The brand Zizi Cardow was created in the year 2000 and in 2001 I won the award.

Before then what were you doing?
Oh, before then I was doing a lot of other things mostly contracts and supplies to companies and clothes related business, I was servicing the oil companies and the shipping lines. I was supplying uniforms, electrical and so on.

At what point did you decide to go fully into the fashion industry to stay?
That was when I decided to set up the brand. The thought came to me when I realized that I needed work that would be an everyday thing. You know with contracts, it wasn't something that was everyday. Sometimes for two months there could be no request for supplies. But again
it wasn't like it was bad either because it was continuous and rewarding. But at a point for me, it became somewhat monotonous. It wasn't challenging. And at that point, I had in mind an idea of what I wanted to do. I wanted to do designs with ethnic fabrics; it became an irresistible passion as I started working with aso oke, ankara, tie n dye and so on.

Where did the talent come from or did you always had it with you?
(Laughs) Well I guess its one of those things that people refer to these days as 'follow come.'

But at what point did you notice the creative designing talent in you?

I think it was embedded in me because I didn't have any formal training in it, and still do not have any formal training in it. I just knew what I wanted to do, the kind of things I wanted to design. I had a flair for art and designs, so I started to cut things, learning and correcting myself, invariably using myself as a mannequin. The thing about art and designs is, you can never say that you are perfect in it: there is always a learning process somewhere in
it. So I am still learning, I'm still trying to get better and better,
urging myself on to a state of perfection.

So how about cutting, how did you handle that?

Ofcourse that is the most important part of it, and that is where passion for what you do comes into play. I taught myself how to cut. That's because if you don't have a passion for it, that becomes a problem. For instance we see it every now and then because a lot of people have come into the fashion industry now because it is the in-thing not necessary because they have a passion for it. That's why you see a lot of works that lack originality. A lot of people are copying and pasting! That's why you also see a lot of people open shop and after a while or
a period of six months or a little more, they close shop!

Is it really expensive starting a fashion business?
Oh dear, it’s actually a capital intensive business. However, it wasn't for me a money-driven desire. It was a thing I wanted to do because I was passionate about it. I wanted to be good at it and I also wanted to make a name out of it. I wanted to do something different. When we started, ankara wasn't really what people wanted to wear like they wear now! I wanted to make clothes with ankara and stand out. Glory be to God here we are today about 20 years later everybody as a matter of fact, the whole world is thinking of ankara in the context of fashion designs. Ankara is now popular and accepted in high society circles.

You have here an award for your role in the leadership and mentoring conference for emerging entrepreneurs from the US Consulate, handed over to you by the Consul General in 2017…



I even have a more recent one from them. The one I got this year 2018. The one for this year was at the University of Port harcourt where I did a lot of speaking, mentoring for young people. It is a way of giving back to the society.

What have been the challenges for you so far?

It is the same thing we have in other aspects of business life which is, lack of infrastructure. And even more lately is the issue of lack of copyright laws strong enough for designs. It makes it a little bit difficult in protecting your intellectual property. There is also the problem of staffing.

And what do you mean by that?

Staffing as in having the right people to work with me, people who know and practice the right ethics. Presently our approach to ethics is a bit appalling I must say. There's little regard for integrity in labour. Everyone wants the easy way out to the top. The staff sees work as a transitional phase.

Are you saying it wasn't like that when you started out?

To an extent it wasn't like that, one still had an extent of loyalty to the workforce as it were. Then after internship you stayed to learn more and gather your strength. But now after internship they are gone to be on their own even when most of them have not gathered enough to move closer to perfection. They move out to run their own business. Everyone wants to be someone else! So it’s difficult now to get staffs that are there to think out of the box, have their own initiatives to apply to work, and generally be around to support the business.

Over the years, would you say that there has been good growth in the
number of fashion designers?

Yes, I think good designers have been coming up almost everyday. Nigeria at the moment should have the highest number of 'designers.'

And these designers are good?

Well that's not for me to say.

In recent times fashion designers in Nigeria have been talking about going into the business of mass production. What's your take on that?

Frankly I don't see Nigerians being ready for mass production in that sense of it, especially mass production of local fabrics. But if you say mass production for other kinds of fabrics okay. And that will mean assembling all the necessary skills involved to get you mass production. That's because, it is not just about cut and sew when you are talking about mass production, there is a whole lot of dynamics that come along with it. I don't also thing that we have the
facilities here to enable mass production. It will involve going outside the country to do so and that will involve the issue of forex.
Also, I think I have been in the industry long enough to know that Nigerians to an extent will buy mass produce clothing when it is brought in from abroad, but will not buy when designed by Nigerians. The fact that it is designed by Nigerians and it is mass produced means to them that Mr Lagbaja has it, Mr Babatunde has it and Mr Faari has it! So that means I am not going to have it! Which to Nigerians mean that a lot of people have it. But then they forget that when they travel out, they go to a High street store and see more than a thousand of a particular product and they still buy it because it is assumed that's what is in vogue. But when they see such over here, something shifts in the head and they don't want it. Mass production over here will bring up the issue of quality control and I can tell you that not many of the 'designers' we have here, are up to that level.

You spot-on the looks of a model. Is it required theses days?
(Laughs) Fashion is what it is. You have to do what you preach. For instance if I am a barber and you come to me and see my hair looking crap I don't think you will want to trust my judgment for your hair. As a fashion designer, one has to look good coming to work just
like every other person. If someone comes to your office and see you looking shabby, the person starts thinking that you are probably not competent enough to handle the kind of job he or she wants to give you or just think that you would not be able to interpret it.

Does that mean that you model your clothes?
Yes, I do. I always have my clothes on.

Looking back now, can you link your background with what you are doing presently?

My mom was a seamstress but I didn't have an opportunity to sit down to learn it because I was in a boarding school. I then returned to Lagos and started working at the age of 17 at a boutique owned by a Polish lady in Apapa. I guess yes that background may have also influenced me because I grew up being surrounded by clothes and fashion. I loved wearing clothes. I remember then minis was in vogue, it was the punk age, the 80s, I loved that era, it was the age of bright colours, you find yourself wearing two other different clothes at the same time, earrings here and there, it was just a very funky age and interesting. I think I got caught in it.

Are you saying that particular age is not here any longer?

Well not really, fashion evolves and revolves. At present, I think we have done a whole 360 degree, and now it is like nothing is in vogue and at the same time, everything is in vogue. Mix and match, we have the 80s, 90s, every era is in vogue now. I think before the end of the year and early next year, we will have more for the 80s back in vogue.

That means you can look ahead?

(Laughs) Exactly. As a designer, you influence fashion and you have to be able to predict fashion life cycle, what is on, where it’s going and what should be expected.

What part of your work do you like most?

I think it is the creation process because it’s the most challenging, the most organic and at the same time vulnerable because at any time while you are on it, it could go all wrong. For me the conception process is personal. That is the reason why I have not considered going on mass production because it would leave me without that personal aspect of production and creativity. There is something fulfilling about that creative aspect, that involvement in hand cutting your materials and then someone comes in and say, 'Oh it looks so good, I just have to have that, I can't do without it.' That way, the end kind of justifies the means, from the berthing to the
completion of the process which brings with it joy that is personal.

What was childhood like?

I grew up at Apapa. My parent’s home is there.

That means you come from a comfortable background?


Thank God for that. My mom like I said was a seamstress but at a point she retired to become a full time house wife. My dad was a contractor; he was into crude oil business. I remember growing up to see that around the house. He was a civil engineer.

Did you aspire to be a civil engineer too?


No, I started understanding myself after school. If I wanted to be anything, it was to be a criminal profiler. That is because I believe that it is quite interesting. (Laughs) And then I would have been able to profile the average Nigerian.

That is very way off from what you are doing now?

Yes, I agree with you, its very way off. But in a way, I am in tune to that side of me because I analyze things a lot. I don't accept things on the face value. I look beyond. There is always a reason, a motive. So when someone tells you something, most often they are not telling you the whole story, so you have to ask your own questions to get to the truth. There is always a grey line in between the black and white.
.
As a designer, what’s your favourite colour?

I sometimes think I don't have a particular colour but somehow I know that my favourite colour is closer to black. Though I do not use black in its entirety. I use it to match other work.

You are likely to be working a lot. So how do you play?
I do make out time to play. But at the same time, I do not take myself seriously. I also do not take life seriously. I go clubbing with my friends, have a little drink with friends, relaxing or hanging out in a lounge with friends. I do a lot of entertainment. I entertain at home. I have friends come over, sit and chat over a bottle of wine. We talk about so many things around our environment. Sometimes I find time to write sermons and I do a bit of evangelism as well.

When did that start?

Oh, that is another part of me that people don't know about of which I also do not put out there in people's faces. You know as you grow older you tend to realise what is more important in life. Every other think is fickle. And you start to understand that there is a greater being that you will be answerable to, then you begin to see things in perspective and then you begin to have an inner peace in you which no material thing in life can replace. It had always been there in me but I did not yield to it. About four years ago, I made a decision to yield to it.

So that means that you 'church' now?

(Laughs) I don't know if I 'church' I actually don't do 'church,' I do Christ. And I have had opportunities in recent times to be called upon in Abuja, UK and other places to speak about Christ and about my conviction.

Any memorable family holiday you cannot forget?

That is amazing, I never have holidays, when I travel I go for work. At a point even my daughter said she will not travel with me again because I am always at work. Thank God she is done with school now; she completed her Master Degree last year. Absolutely I am more relaxed now. She schooled in the United Kingdom.

How do you describe yourself?

I would say I am a happy go lucky person. When you meet me, what you see is what you get, no pretence.

You keep a coloured hair style, any special reason?

Yes, the simple reason is because I don't have the time for it so I got myself a cut. That is another aspect of me; I am not a high maintenance person that is, I am not a girlie-girlie person. Most people think they know me until they meet me and see a different personality.  I believe we are here to enjoy the life that we have been given, enjoy it responsibly and in enjoying it we should be thankful that we have been given such opportunity. We should not worry over a lot of things because it is really not worth it.

What does success mean to you?

Success means life, a good life for that matter. It means having friends around you and getting a good laugh.

Do you still do shows?

I mostly take part in shows abroad. If I take part in a show here, then it has to be my show. I have taken part in shows with other people here in time past, but I didn't end to my liking. I'm looking forward to having one before the end of the year, another in South Africa, London, Houston and France. That is why I said that when I travel, I travel for work.

What is your imagination of what a woman's wardrobe should look like,
and then how many shoes do you have?


I think a woman should have essentials. It should not be over the top. You shouldn't go to somebody's wedding and dress more than the bride. I think its ridiculous and ethically it’s wrong. There should be more of talks of how people should dress. I don't know of what to say about a woman's wardrobe in Nigeria but for me an average wardrobe should have a few pairs of trouser, dresses that you can wear to anywhere. There was a time that I had about 350 - 400 pair of personal shoes! That is one of the things that growing up makes you to realise does
not make sense. So I started giving them out to charity periodically. Now I should have about 50 left but still cutting down. Half of the time I do not even wear them. I have clothes that I have never worn before which I’ve had since a long time ago! Now I know its vanity and I am doing something about it.

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