OMOYEMI AKERELE: WHY FASHION BREAKS MY HEART



 














 
For many years fashionista Omoyemi Akerele had been pondering the dearth of fashion designers in Nigeria. From her musings, she realized that the issue was not the dearth of designers, but limited platforms through which designers could showcase their works. This was the case for decades despite the efforts of pioneers such as Shade Thomas-Fahm who worked tirelessly throughout the 1960s to bring attention to the industry. Her fervor and creativity laid the foundation for the fashion industry, while she also inspired a plethora of designers to pursue their passion.

Akerele is one of those stylists that have taken the baton from the pioneer in her commitment to extend the frontiers of the fashion industry. She started a fashion consultancy in Nigeria at a time when little attention was paid to the industry. Her vision is for the industry to flourish and be acknowledged all over the world.

“There is a lot of promise in the Nigerian Fashion industry… So much untapped potential (and) I see my role as a catalyst,” says Akerele.

It was her vision to see Nigeria and Africa take its rightful place in the global fashion industry that drove her to create Style House, a fashion agency that promotes and supports the industry. But this was not enough.

“There was a need for a unified platform that designers could benefit from by showing their work to the industry at large. I thought that if the designers could come together to show under one platform, we would get the press and the whole community involved during this period. There’s more strength in that as opposed to different individual shows at different times of the year”, says Akerele.

Her vision culminated in the launch of the Lagos Fashion and Design Week (LFDW) in October 2011.

Pulling off such an event was no easy feat. After various attempts at securing sponsorship, MTN, the Telecommunications Company agreed to sponsor the inaugural event.

“What MTN was offering us, was low compared to what we needed to pull off a show of this size, but when you have a vision, you know there’s got to be a way this can work so at least you start,” she says.

In the end, the inaugural Lagos catwalk on the runway set the bar beyond her expectations.

Another challenging issue was scouting for young designers. This was due to certain constraints such as funding, rent textile availability and lack of training and resource centers, which impede the development of the local industry. The average designer has little or no accessibility to funds. Product continuity is stifled by limited supply of certain fabrics. Designers who can afford to produce their own textiles are few and far between and this greatly increases the final cost of the garment.

In other parts of the world, the education sector places emphasis on empowering the fashion entrepreneurs through colleges and resource centers. The industry teams up with upcoming designers who are willing to give their time and energy to teach fashion and its workings. In Nigeria, fashion has no representation in the academic establishment and there are very little collaborative efforts in the fashion industry. The average fashion enthusiast is a graduate of an international fashion school or is self-taught.

“Recently, I got an email from one of our international partners, asking for a list of fashion universities or colleges in Nigeria. I could not reply to the email for two weeks. I was so ashamed. It is amazing to know that about 90% of the industry is self-taught; the other 10% obtained their degrees from international institutions. There are 1% (of Nigerian designers) that probably rely on private people like Ginani or Ituen Basi who run individual fashion courses but in terms of proper institutions that run courses, we have none,” she says.

“I was on the London underground and I saw adverts of British fashion universities. This year, a report was put out for the British fashion industry. As we speak, its contribution to the economy from both retail and the industry brought over £200 million into the economy and they are still focusing on how to make the schools and the industry better to ensure that they produce more. We do not even have fashion universities that function here. That really breaks my heart,” says Akerele.

The visionary founder of LFDW believes that her annual catwalk runway will continue to unearth and support the latent talent in Nigeria. The inaugural event last year brought to the fore names such as Bridget Awosika who received rave reviews from Vogue UK. The fashion magazine described her work as “authentic African design”. This was a proud moment for Akerele. When asked about the even she told Vogue that “the event marks an awakening among some designers here who have been able to gradually evolve from what they come to accept as fashion–let’s call it a more traditional approach–to a place where they now understand that there’s much more we can offer…”

With the amount of effort going into its preparation, LFDW 2012 promises to be even bigger. The event–sponsored by MTN, RIM, Blackberry, Virgin Atlantic Airways, British Council and Porsche–will not just end with the runway. After the event Akerele wants to give designers more exposure in the local and international market.

“The plan is to raise the stakes, not necessarily by doing more things but in strengthening and solidifying the vision. We are just trying to make sure that we do this better and create a better experience for people out there. The pop-up stores come up right after fashion week in London. We believe that it is important for press and buyers to attend. As we speak, Nigeria is not yet a destination for buyers so we decided to take the people to the buyers. We are going for different appointments with buyers to position Nigerian designers to benefit from that. We are also working on the Nigerian market as well so designers can work together. We are working on garment manufacturing companies that can make clothes for Nigerian designers.

We are also putting pressure on all the companies that are setting up malls across Nigeria, lobbying for spaces for designers in some of the malls. The more locations the materials can be bought, the bigger the impact on the industry. We want to make a difference in the businesses of these designers.”

Akerele is also the ambassador of the ‘Buy Nigeria’ campaign, an initiative to promote Nigerian made clothes. Her vision for the near future is for the Nigerian indigenous fashion industry to contribute significantly to the GDP and this can only be achieved through indigenous fashion retail.

“Nigerian designers have to think of how to make their designs accessible to the 150 million Nigerians out there. The more people consume, the more people will be aware and the bigger the industry,” she says.

The future of fashion is promising and surely more progress will be made considering the effort industry faithful are putting into its development. Akerele’s tireless task as an ambassador and catalyst for the Nigerian industry has earned her remarkable acclaim with both local and international fashion communities. She has managed to inspire tangible change within the industry in a relatively short period. When asked about her plans for the future, her face lit up and in an alluring response, her reply was ‘Watch this space’.

–Culled from Forbes (Africa).

OMOYEMI AKERELE: WHY FASHION BREAKS MY HEART  OMOYEMI AKERELE: WHY FASHION BREAKS MY HEART Reviewed by Bashiru Olu Wasiu-Ayinde on 09:52:00 Rating: 5

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