BY JOSEPHINE AGBONKHESE
From clothing school mates on campus, Onome Ikhimioya evolved into one of Nigeria’s top designers with a client base comprising A-list personalities, from both the public and private sector.
The phenomenal Mistics Couture boss had practically shelved her Masters degree in Human Resource to follow the path where her love lies- fashion designing, after a brief stint in insurance
In a chat during the recent opening of a new Mistics store at Lekki, Lagos, the mother of four, to whom fashion designing is second-nature, spoke passionately of her love for fashion, plans to venture into fabric stoning and much more.
This is the second store you’re opening. For how long has the first existed?
That has been on for three years now, and it’s in Victoria Garden City. Prior to its opening, I worked from home for four years, building my customer base through referrals. I practically had people come to the house from ‘everywhere’. I design for men as well.
How did the passion start?
Fashion has always been a part of me, in the sense that I care what I wear; I just don’t dress up or go with trends because I know how to sketch and match colours correctly.
It however took a new dimension when I got into the University of Benin in Edo State because I soon started clothing almost everyone on campus. They ran to me each time they needed to attend any function.
The name Mistics actually came from school because people began calling me “Ono Mistics” when they wanted my free services; and they succeeded because I would even go to New Benin Market to voluntarily buy them suitable fabrics.
For me, fashion is effortless; it’s not something I have to crack my head about.
Who influenced your abilities?
Nobody. I only remember that back then when we were on holiday, I would go to attach myself somewhere to learn. I actually started sewing without anybody teaching me. I got a machine, put it on my dining table, bought fabrics and started sewing. I thereafter trained with a Ghanian, and then a few bigger designers. Soon, I got tailors and began designing and sewing in our boys ‘quarters at home and my customer base continued to grow.
I however want to believe I was greatly inspired by my mum. Though she wasn’t a designer, I remember, while growing up, that people nick named her “To Match” because she dressed well. Mummy is my number one fan.
You seem to have on display a wide range of designs in Ankara fabric at this opening. Why Ankara?
Basically, I’m an Ankara person. I love Ankara because it is one fabric you could mix and do all sorts with. It comes in different colours and motifs which give inspiration. I think Ankara creates itself in the sense that it tells you what to do with it once you look at it.
So, on display today are palazzos, kaftans, skirts, shorts, shift dresses, gowns, and all sorts, all made with Ankara.
How would you describe the Nigerian fashion scene at the moment?
It’s wonderful. Years back, people didn’t like Ankara this much. But these days, you see people attend big functions in Ankara. I make clothes for wives of governors and top people and I see how they put the fabric to use, creatively. And it stands them out. I recently also saw a picture of Beyonce wearing an Ankara short and a jacket.
Over time, I intend to go into Ankara shoes, bags, necklaces and wrist watches.
This year 2016, I’m however venturing full-time into fabric-stoning because I’ve realised most women travel to Dubai to stone their fabrics. Recently, I went to Dubai to see why it’s their choice place for stoning fabrics. I also stoned one too. I eventually had to buy an industrial stoning machine, same used in Dubai. So, right now, I have designers come to me to stone their fabrics. I’m getting more stoning machines from the US.
What’s been your major challenge?
Because there is a limit to how much any designer can sew within a space of time, we rely heavily on tailors, and I tell you, these tailors are my major challenge. Every designer in Nigeria will tell you same. Most of them are so, so unreliable.
What we look forward to is having a place where we could have a lot of tailors, like they do abroad, where you just take your designs to a production house and they do a whole lot for you. Even like we had in Aba.
We now source tailors from Abidjan, Cotonou and Ivory Coast, and it’s not easy managing them.
But I believe we can develop our skills and capacity here instead of sourcing tailors abroad. Like I tell my children, they must have a skill; it is not just about going to school anymore. My oldest child is a graduate of Petroleum Engineering but she is already doing fashion with me.
Your most memorable moment?
Being a naturally shy person, I would say that was when I first had to go on the runway at a show I did for Vlisco.
But I felt so good when people walked up to me to commend my designs. It gave me a push.