By Ebunoluwa Sessou
Araoluwa Olamilekan Popoola is the brain behind Aramanda International brand, a bespoke fashion brand founded in 2013 with a style that can be described as an infusion of the ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Nigeria; the nomadic style is one which is unique to the brand.
From the city of Ibadan in his Dad’s garage, the brand was taken to places including Lagos, Abuja, London, Dubai, United States of America, Guadeloupe among others.
The garments have been worn on various Red Carpets by African superstars and celebrities all around the world.
You have been designing for the male folks, are there plans to design for women too?
I’m excited to share this here first. The women’s line will berth before summer 2022. We are in talks with a women’s clothing line that shares our vision. Styling in Nigeria is very dynamic.
It is very diverse: from daring to minimalist and much more. Nigerians can be very traditional; they will embrace western styles but not without infusing our local designs.
We consider a lot of factors before styling. For example, when it comes to formal wear, the president’s dress sense seems to dictate what men wear most times. With President Jonathan, the Etibo style was in. Today with President Buhari, the kaftan and the hausa cap reign.
Your latest feat and collaboration is a big deal. Would you want to share your experience?
The manufacturing deal with HD Designs New York is a big deal. We had always wanted America’s market and for a while, it looked like the American market did not want us.
About three years ago, I sought to attend a fashion show in the US and was denied a visa. Thereafter, I opted to penetrate the US market remotely from outside her shores by getting our outfits in peoples’ faces.
We targeted influential people to experience our product and tell others about our good job and delivery. I am extremely proud to say that entertainers:NAS, Jeezy, Jidenna, Don Jazzy, Ludacris, Timi Dakolo; Comedian Ali Baba Akpobome, Actor Boris Kodjoe, Jay Morrison, George Weah (President of Liberia), Kagwe Mungai (former àràmàndà East African ambassador), John Mahama (former President of Ghana), Spotify’s Chaka Zulu, the Ooni of Ife Kabiyesi Enitan Ogunwusi, the Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, the Governor of Oyo State H.E. Seyi Makinde, and a host of others; all wear our designs.
Early this year, my business partner Stan Mukoro told me about HD Designs, a group he had worked with in the past. He made the connection and conversations commenced. We worked assiduously to make this happen.
Today, the USA knowsus and now it’s time for the whole world to meet us.
What are your expansion plans?
The pandemic delayed us, but we are almost where we want to be. We’ve now signed a manufacturing deal with HD Designs New York for our ready-to-wear line, including sportswear. For us to compete with global brands, we need to ensure that our quality is on the same level or better. With this new partnership, we can achieve that!
If you were to describe the fashion industry in Nigeria, how would you describe it?
The Nigerian fashion industry is as diverse as styling a Nigerian. We have several ethnic groups with their traditional outfits that stem from their unique culture. Designers continuously strive to strike a balance between western and our native fashion to create a very rich and diverse industry.
Tell us how you started compared to what is obtainable today….
Starting up was really difficult. No one was willing to be a guinea pig for a designer with no shop or clients.
Nigeria’s market embraces only popular designers; it’s very difficult for newbies to break in unless you have enough funds to expend to achieve visibility.
The biggest challenge is how to be accepted as a rookie. We must sell at ridiculously low prices when starting out. Yet, it is an uphill task!
Furthermore, sourcing for tailors was tough.
Also, starting off in Ibadan (Oyo State) did not help. But I had a dream and I stuck with it, and pursued it. Today, the world wants Aramanda.
Your advice to young designers…
It’s okay to be frustrated, but don’t lose hope. Frustration births progress. Do you know how many celebrities I chased after for years, before finally getting them to wear àràmàndà pieces? Take Michael Blackson for instance, it took almost four years to get him in àràmàndà. So when people share their wins, don’t be discouraged. You really don’t know their story.