An encounter with Nigerian Fashion Designers in Lagos - Paul Ukpabio's Blog


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Friday, 17 February 2017

An encounter with Nigerian Fashion Designers in Lagos

FADAN President Mrs Funmi Ajila-Ladipo with Mai Atafo

By Paul Ukpabio

The poster was colourful. And that to me wasn’t surprising. That’s because, it was going to be an event put together, by fashion designers in Nigeria, under the umbrella of Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN). If there is any group of people that should know and understand colours, then that should be fashion designers who work with colours on a daily basis. 

So on Wednesday 16th of February 2017, a cross section of Nigerian Fashion Designers, gathered at the NCAC Arts Gallery at The National Arts Theatre, for a seminar on Branding and Fashion Business.

According to the President of FADAN, Mrs Funmi Ajila-Ladipo, fashion designing has grown in Nigeria over the years to an enviable industry that is now contributing significantly to the nation’s GDP and could do more, if fashion designers in the country are better organised and supported by the government of the day, in terms of funding and infrastructural support.

Ajila ought to know, being a top fashion designer with experience spanning two and a half decades, she has witnessed the growth of the industry from its rudimentary form to the global position it has been able to carve for itself in recent time.

Just few weeks back, FADAN was able to attract a team of officials from the World Bank, who indicated interest in working in partnership with the fashion designer’s association, to improve the work and lot of fashion designers here in Nigeria. And also as a recognition of the contributions of the industry to society, the Bank of Industry too has kicked up interest in the fashion industry, and has also in recent times, reached out to FADAN for partnership to develop fashion designers and also develop the fashion industry.

A designer of note, Funmi Ajila who owns the famous fashion house known as Regalia, has participated in fashion shows across the world, and in Nigeria. She along with other top designers, have not only excelled in their individual businesses, but have also nurtured and groomed other designers who are today making headway in the fashion industry. 

However, Ajila is also worried! That’s because, without a good structure, Ajila believes that not much can be achieved by fashion designers in the country: Therefore the need to re-position fashion designers for present and future challenges. The seminar on this particular day therefore, was one of the many programmes strategically planned by FADAN to mentor fashion designers. 
I arrived at the event as the second session ‘Fashion Accounting’ was on. Yes, the session was about the technicalities that every fashion designer should know. And you won’t believe it; these had to do with mathematics! Rapt in attention, were designers who ranged from 20 to over 50 years in age. And it was a big mix! That’s  because, some of them I found out, are well established with popular fashion houses, while others are just up and coming fashion designers, hoping to properly set up their fashion houses, after gaining strength and knowledge from this Master Class Seminar. 

It was obvious that the fashion designers were enjoying the lecture that they were listening to and participating interactively. With a ratio of 80 to 20%, it was also evident that the women are still pitching a good lead in the numbers of fashion designers in the country. 

Oluwaseun Ayanfeoluwa, the CEO of Thots & Works (S. M. E Brand Experts) took the next session. Like the other, it was an interactive session with practicals and on hand demonstrations involving participants. Oluwaseun taught branding and how to apply it to fashion business. From the simple definition of branding, to the particular area of carving a niche for individual businesses and specialization in individual strength, Oluwaseun successfully exposed the detailed path that each fashion designer should strive to go through, to achieve not just success, but also build a good brand.
I could see that each of these designers were already eager to get back to work and start implementing these new strategies that they had learnt.

But the symposium was not over yet. The big speaker of the day was in the wings. Mai Atafo, a notable success in today’s Nigerian Fashion industry, was in the house! And he didn’t disappoint. Atafo in recent times has also been known for quality mentoring that he has done for youths and up-coming fashion designers. For most in the hall this particular day, he was also a reason that they were there, for this laudable event.

But they all had to wait for the networking break which everyone had to take part in, and also for photo sessions and lunch.

If the other speakers handed over the blueprint of branding success to the fashion designers who filled the hall that particular day, then Mai Atafo, did the icing on the cake!

From his personal experience, Atafo was able to draw an inspiration for branding and the business of fashion to all who sat in deep expectation inside the hall. Atafo said he did not start out as a fashion designer. He actually studied an agriculture related course in the university, went abroad to study brand research, worked with British American Tobacco company, a marketing and research company, worked with Guinness Nigeria Plc, before leaving to go into the fashion industry.

But he couldn’t fully excel in what he didn’t know the rudimentary! So Atafo said he paid over N3m to go to Milan the home of fashion and style, to learn about the fashion business he needed so much to excel in: And another N3m to bring an expert from Milan, to coach his staff here in Lagos. He had to carve a niche for himself. And he even did more than that, he worked HARD! 

In a very simple analogy, Atafo went on to break down the business of fashion, to his listeners. He said, it is beautiful to be a fashion designer, but it is even more beautiful, if the talent creates profit for the fashion designer, and then grows to become a notable brand. He said, ‘you have to build expectation of daily, weekly, monthly and annual earnings. He then gave a blueprint on how that works in real life situation, of which the fashion designers easily identified with.

All in all, the participants went through six topics which were well delivered. These topics were: The Business of Fashion, Fashion Accounting, Psychology of fashion, Relevance of Branding to Fashionpreneurs, Practical Guide to Building a Sustainable Fashion Brand: My Story, and Social Media and Fashion.

For me, it was a day for great learning about branding and building a business as a professional. Oh yes, I met talented Nigerian fashion designers at the event during the networking session, made new friends, and re-united with an old friend Modela, who has also, over the years, made impressions in the Nigerian fashion industry.

But more importantly, I saw the success glint in the eyes of the participants, who moved from one person to another during the networking session, sharing knowledge and building confidence among one another. These were men and women who are determined to build fashion brands that will stand the test of time and operate according to international standards. 

At that point, I had to doff my hat for FADAN’s administrative team led by Mrs Funmi Ajila-Ladipo the President, for the re-branding of the image and profession of the fashion designer in Nigeria. 

It was also a thing of joy, to see participants queuing and demanding to be registered as full members of the fashion body known as FADAN! Some even paying their full dues, there and then! 

With the enviable place that the industry is at present, it was not surprising also, to see that fashion designers came all the way from Calabar in the far eastern part of the country, and from other zones, to attend this particular event. 

I could not help agreeing with FADAN President Mrs Funmi Ajila-Ladipo, that the association and the members, have a brighter future ahead.

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