Okunoren Twins: Present Originality; Future Plans
When talking about the evolution of menswear designers in Nigeria, one cannot possibly forget to mention the Okunoren Twins. Every partnership has its ups and downs, but there are definitely more pros than there are cons when you are in partnership with your brother. This is proven by the fact that the Okunoren Twins have been a force to reckon with in the Nigerian fashion industry, standing strong for 14 years now.
I sat down with the twins to get a sense of how it feels to be Nigeria’s leading menswear designers. Be rest assured there is no timidity here. These men are set in the confidence that their line of menswear clothing is what laid the foundation upon which today’s brands are building their towers. Because the story of how they started and how they got to where there are is widely known, we decided to focus on where they are now, celebrating so many of years of churning out collections they and the fashion industry are proud of.
By May, you’ll be 14 years strong in the business of creating, designing, and selling menswear. How does it feel?
In terms of followership, it’s been great. And the impact has been great as well. Because people have come to appreciate the industry and what we do. Of course, there’s still a lot to be done in the industry as a whole, and not just concerning our brand, but so far so good.
When you started out, did you imagine you would be such a huge inspiration to menswear designers and other designers as well?
Honestly, we didn’t. It wasn’t our plan to inspire or move mountains. We were just passionate about what we did, and what we did was different at the time. Inspiring people just came naturally.
So, what has kept you going all this time? Definitely, you’ve had trials and challenges over the course of your career, but what would you say pushed you to keep striving?
There are a number of things, to be honest, but passion will always be at the top of the list. Passion is important in whatever you’re working on, because without it, even if you’re just selling water, you’ll feel like you’re carrying weight every morning. Passion keeps us waking up every morning feeling like we just started. It also keeps us looking forward to the next day.
Would you say your present artistic values are the same as when you first started out?
Yes, I would say we have the same momentum. In terms of design, we don’t intend to change our style. As a brand, it’s important to us that people see an Okunoren item or design and recognise it. It’s definitely an advantage to us. However, in terms of creativity, we’ve matured in what we do.
What would you say has been the highlight of your career?
That would have to be the fact that we are accepted and menswear is accepted in Nigeria because of what we started 14 years ago. Today in Nigeria, every groom is wearing suits made by Nigerian designers. Once upon a time, it would have been an Armani suit, but now people actually believe in local consumption. The acceptance actually keeps us going.
What excites you the most about the fashion industry?
Creativity and originality. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of creativity where menswear is concerned – everyone keeps doing the same thing. People need to start believing more in themselves. The second you copy a brand, then you are no longer a creator. However, womenswear is very exciting. Also, it’s very exciting that despite the fact that we’ve been in this industry for 14 years, we haven’t tapped half the potential. Right now, we’ve only tapped into about 10% or 15%, but in the next quarter or two quarters, we should be doing a lot more.
What projects from the Okunoren twins can we look forward to?
We are working on our ecommerce platform. From the designer standpoint, technology hasn’t really been tapped into in the fashion industry. We are also working on our womenswear line. We’ve actually been working on it for the past two years, but we want it to be something ground-breaking. And, of course, we are working on a third project we can’t really share on right now.
Last year, you launched a competition for fashion innovation. We didn’t really hear anything about what happened with that.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get the number of entries we expected. In addition to that, there weren’t a lot of creative entries – most were from people we didn’t consider to be serious. So, we apologise for that. We intend to send out a press release to this effect, which will also introduce something else we are working on to mitigate this. We are very much interested in doing something to harness young and new talent in the industry.
What advice do you give people trying to make a name for themselves in the fashion industry?
Kehinde: We always say hard work and originality are important. As well as innovation and passion.
Taiwo: You have to be independent in your thinking and believe in your ideas. You have to have that liberty of expression
Currently, a lot of people trying to come up in the fashion industry struggle with production. How would you suggest they tackle that?
When you talk about production in Nigeria, it’s a big deal. For you to be able to produce efficiently, you need to invest a lot of money. Many people are still stuck with the one tailor approach where they wait for one tailor to finish the item – it’s very ineffective. This is where the problem lies for designers. Upcoming designers unfortunately have to be limited to that. But you have to grow your business to the point where you can set up an assembly line for production. It’s actually one of the things we’re trying to tackle as well. Designers in other countries generally don’t have to deal directly with tailors unless they are making prototypes, but we do here. Nigerian brands struggle to go global or meet mass production demands because of the mode of production.
Do you think there will come a time when your items will be open to a more medium-income scale market?
Yes, of course. In fact, this is one of the reasons why we are going into ecommerce. It has a wider reach and will be a lot more cost effective for us. We hope this will allow us reach people we currently can’t. In addition to just selling our clothes we will also be doing a lot of data collection that will enable us serve our customers better.
From my discussion with the Okunoren twins, I can tell they are passionate about making a difference in the fashion industry. As much as they pride themselves in their originality and creativity, they want to inspire other designers to do the same. How much more creative and original can menswear get? We can’t say for certain. But we’ve been promised some “ground-breaking” new releases are coming and we eagerly anticipate the release.
Photography: H3Kenny by Kene Nwatu
Outfits by Okunoren