Wunmi Oluwadare runs W-Art/Design Company. She is also the founder of Wunmi O, a fashion design studio. Recently, she clinched the franchise of the Miami Fashion Week (Africa). In this interview, she bares her mind on the fashion business in Nigeria
Q: As a fashion designer, you are referred to as Wunmi O. What brought about the W-Art/Design?
A: I have been in the fashion industry full time for about 22 years now. I have been sewing since when I was about 15. More than 30 years ago. The W-Art/Design is extension of my involvement in a lot of research especially in the arts and fashion industry.

Q: Is there consultancy in fashion?
A: There is! So many years back, precisely about 12 years ago, I was involved in a fashion show outside the country. That happened to be about the first major fashion outing for a group of designers. It was the Nigerian Fashion Show in Paris. I was one of the five designers that took part in it. There was theme for us at the fashion show, which was actually that you pick your ethnic group and you interpret the dressing in your fashion collection. So, I had a research on the Yoruba culture and their dressing. I came out with my collection influenced and inspired by all of that. When we got to France, I discovered that I was the only person that had a lot of crowd during the exhibition and I sold out everything— clothes and jewellery. I used the African fabric and the Nigerian textile. So, I started researching and that was where W-Art came in.

Q: When and how did you gain access to the global fashion market?
A: I found myself reading so much about international designers and I was attending several workshops. Fashion business is a collection strategically for a target market. You can’t have a fashion show and have just the glamour alone. You should get returns for your money. The fashion industry globally is a multi-billion dollar venture and you find out that all the economies in the world— Europe and America— are controlled by fashion industry. I started telling myself, ‘you have to start harnessing areas where you have comparative advantage over the other’. So, each time I went out for any exhibition, I sold out. I found out that we don’t have structure to make the fashion industry a revenue generating sector that it is meant to be. The potential that we have, we will not be able to actualise that potential. Fashion business in Africa is taken as a hobby; very few of us are taking it as a business. That set me out to the American market. This is because a part of the American market is like the African market (some part of the America have tropical climate like we have) That took me to Miami. Four years ago, I tried to get on the Miami Fashion Week but could not raise the funds. I started working towards it. They realised that I have been attending workshops over the years in New York, not just to contribute in terms of glamour but contribute in a way to put the structure in place. Along the line, they appointed me their West African representative. In fact, I found out later that so many designers have unsuccessfully tried to get on the show.

Q: What moves have you taken so far on this?
A: I decided not to keep this to myself. It is a privilege that God has taken me this far. Already, I have been informed about the African segment whenever the Miami Fashion Week holds. This segment is going to be for Africans. We are going to have like a pre-event in Nigeria. It is not possible for me to go all round Africa or take some major designers. As the national secretary of the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria, it is my responsibility to use this to develop the fashion industry in Nigeria. I have gone into partnership with some people. We will be having an event in November, which will be mainly on Nigerian textiles. We don’t have so much time because the Miami fashion show is in March 2013. We need to go all round Africa but we are having a textile exhibition so as to expose the designers. In Africa and Nigeria, our dye is organic and not chemical; the world now is talking about sustainable fashion. The world is going green; we need to take advantage of it. We need to harness it. All that I have learnt make it easy for me to embark on this project and I sold my shop.

Q: Is the fashion show a replica of Miami’s?
A: It within our means to work with professionals in every area. We are not doing it for a fashion show purpose, and we are going to get buyers that will inform the designers. We don’t just want to clap hands and have red carpet glamour. No! There are trends and colours to be identified.

Q: Did you study fashion?
A: I didn’t study fashion in school, I studied Insurance but I studied fashion later. I am taking some online courses in fashion currently too.

Q: At what point did you retire from insurance?
A: I didn’t retire from the Insurance; I still practise. I left insurance firm, where I was working in 1993. At that time, I was making my clothes and people started asking me where I made them. They made orders and I felt I should employ one tailor. I did and I started having more customers. I found out that I was making a lot of money from my fashion hobby compared to my office work, which was taking so much of my time. So, I resigned. Whenever I’m doing anything, I tried to do it to the best of my ability.  When I resigned, my chairman refused my resignation and gave me a sabbatical leave without pay for one year. After a year, I wrote a letter which he didn’t accept. He gave me another one year but I did not change my mind and that was how I left.

Q: What are your plans now?
A: My plan is to set up a fashion school, where we will have a library with a lot of fashion books. Fashion books are very expensive, even right now some of the books that we use at our colleges of textile are old and outdated. I actually tried a designer recently who graduated 15 years ago from a prominent technical school and she failed. When I went to New York Institute of Fashion three years ago, it was an experience for me. The course content was so rich and wide! A lot of people who were in the fashion industry 10 years ago are no more in Nigeria. They are nowhere to be found now; not because they expanded or got something bigger, but because they became irrelevant. They did not improve themselves. They did not update on their skills. Nigerians don’t know fashion is business, so they do it the way they like. That is why we are bringing experts in November.

Culled: punchng.com

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