Nigerian-British fashion designer and creative director, Ade Bakare Couture, has been in the industry for two decades. He speaks to WO on why government should get involved in fashion, and other matters.
By Chris Onuoha
THE fashion industry in the country has picked up in more recent times, or has it not?
Yes, there has been a lot of attention on fashion, especially with the advent of numerous fashion shows. This has helped to highlight a lot of emerging talent; also the current trend of Nigerians looking in to see what can be created in Nigeria has been of great benefit. The national consciousness has shifted to made-in-Nigeria products.
Does that have any significance to the social scene?
Once again yes it has, lots of people now attend functions in designs made by their fellow Nigerians. Ankara has now become very fashionable and these companies that produce them are coming up with new designs every quarter and it is also used for accessories i.e. bags and shoes.
It does appear that some elements of Nigerian fashion are finding their way into global fashion. To what do you attribute this?
Fashion is a global concern and the rate of development is very fast now. With social media people are able to access fashion from different parts of the world with a click of a button. Africa seems one of the last continents that have not been explored so there is a great interest in what Africa has to offer the global fashion market. We can see the use of Africa textiles used by international designers, though it is seen as a trend and mostly for summer seasons, it’s still a positive step. The challenge is now for the African designers to create styles that can be worn for all seasons but at home and abroad.
Do we really have any business organizing fashion weeks when it is summer all year round?
Fashion weeks are primarily set up to cater to buyers who wish to see the fashion designers collections with a view to placing orders on them for boutiques or department stores. It’s a proper business with billions of dollars involved. However, in Africa we don’t have the culture of buying from department stores and as such there is an absence of buyers attending these shows. What you have are mostly fashionistas, people in the fashion industry, friends and family. They are not placing orders but have come to support the designer. However, the press are usually in attendance so from an awareness point of view there is some positiveness there, but that is not the essence of a fashion week.
Abah Folawiyo recently claimed fashion can take over from oil with regards to being our number one foreign exchange earner. Is this feasible?
Fashion is a global business and not all countries produce oil so from that perspective fashion has an opportunity of touching more lives. It might not be as lucrative as oil but its effectiveness in developing more people is tremendous.
What has your own experience been as a contemporary designer who is also a veteran?
I am not sure I would call myself a veteran but yes, I have been in the fashion business for over two decades and operating in both London and Lagos. It’s been an interesting journey and each year we try to develop more. This year sees us opening a branch in Abuja. Distribution is key to success in the fashion industry; we sell to outlets in Owerri and Port-Harcourt alongside our boutique in Victoria Island which we have operated for 10 years.We have started a fashion school and shall be introducing our new fragrance next month.
Do you have trouble persuading your foreign clients to embrace African nuances in your designs?
That’s an interesting question. Operating in two capitals has its own challenges. In England clients prefer darker colours and thicker fabrics for winter, the opposite is the case in Nigeria, we find our summer collections sell well across the divide. We also sell a lot through our website. Our silk adire styles have been a huge success and our signature. Generally our clients adore our styles so we have been fortunate.
Do you think government should be getting involved in fashion promotion? Is it not a private sector concern?
Most certainly, government should play a huge role in the fashion industry. In Great Britain since my business was set up there I was selected as one of the British designers to represent the UK at a fashion exhibition in Vienna. It was supported by the British government through its trade missions Most of their embassies have trade representatives to promote British businesses including fashion. Buy British …was also part of a government campaign to encourage their citizens to buy theirs.
I feel it’s due to a lack of knowledge and a blue print that the Nigerian government is faltering. When you visit the fabric shops in Tinubu Square in Lagos Island, they still sell in yardage when the whole world went metric ages ago. Fabrics that are imported have lots of faults. When questioned, the buyers say they buy by the weight and are oblivious to the contents when they buy these fabrics. As such we have become a dumping ground for the countries that produce textiles so the government has a duty to intervene. Hopefully this will all change soon. One has a responsibility to use one’s knowledge to the benefit of one’s country.