How did you get into fashion business?
Well, I started doing fashion business at age of 18, when I was a student in England; I used to supply a lot of boutiques in Nigeria. Those days, I would take my money, buy clothes and whenever my parents came from Nigeria, I would pass them on to the Nigerian boutiques and I would get my money back.
At what point did you decide to make it a full-time job?
I did it till 2005 when I relocated back to Nigeria; at that time, I was doing it as hobby. But people were telling me, ‘you can do it as a full-time job.’ I really wanted to work, but God had plans for me. Sometimes, it gets challenging; every December, it used to be very hard. I would say to myself, ‘I’m not doing this anymore.’ But then, I would say to myself, ‘I’m not a quitter; I won’t quit.’ So, I decided to something else which was to go into bridal line; bridal industry pushes the fashion industry in Nigeria. When there’s a high wedding seasons, you have a lot of work; when there’s low wedding season, there’s no work. So, I decide to go into the industry; it took a whole year to be honest.
All together, how long have you been in fashion?
I’ve been in fashion for about eight years now; this is my ninth year. But with bridal, I started planning in January 2015. What I did was to try and get franchise, partner with people and cut out the middleman cost from selling luxury bridal dresses. So, it’s not just a situation where we go abroad to pick up dresses and come to sell here; we partner with a lot of bridal stores.
The new shop took one year to plan and I’m happy that I fulfilled my longtime dream. Even if you had your wedding dress, we have the veils, tiara, purses, and traditional outfits. We cater for all that as a full bridal store. We currently have about 13 designers on our stable.
Could you tell us about MQ Lifestyle brand?
Basically, it’s two stores in one; the bridal store is called Blush by MQ, but the parent company is called MQ lifestyle. With big houses like Vera Wang, I can’t afford to be a partner, so, I go through secondary market, which is going through people that own bridal store in places like London. I would go to them and say, ‘this is what I want to do, this is my budget.’ and they will give me. So, basically, what happen is that, eventually, I’m selling at the price they would sell as well. The brand was born out of my passion for fashion; I used to sew.
What’s the difference between Blush by MQ and MQ Collection?
I produce MQ in Nigeria; it’s an indigenous section that caters for women from age 30 down to 60 years. Under the MQ, we have gorgeous kaftan, Ankara, silk that is suitable to our weather here and women love it. So, it’s two companies in one; it’s MQ and Blush by MQ. While is pick Bluch by MQ from international brands, I produce MQ collection here. I do everything by myself; I travel around the world to get what I need. I travel to India, Paris… I go everywhere to source materials.
Do you have any formal training in fashion designing?
No, but I just like to create things; I’m a builder and a designer. I just love to di things with my hands; I sketch and draw, though I have Bsc in Environmental Chemistry and an MBA in Strategic Management and World Economy.
How has it been as an entrepreneur?
It’s been fantastic; God has been good and I’m truly grateful. The process was organic; it was gradual. We started this thing and we would fall, we would stand and we would continue. I tell my staff everyday, ‘once you like what you do, just keep doing it.’
I’ve never worked for anybody in my life.
Has being Alhaji Lai Mohammed’s daughter influenced your business in any way?
Honestly, I would say that he imparted a lot in me; he taught us to be hardworking and not to rely on anybody. If you know him, if you know the person he is, you would understand that he’s a very dedicated man; he’s dedicated to his craft. He does what he does and he does it well; he’s not driven by money. But one thing he has given me, money can’t buy; he taught me to believe in myself. I remember the first time I went to India to buy fabrics… every time I would fall on bad times, I would always go to him; I used to go to my mum first. So, I showed him my book and I said, ‘see, I made this amount of money in x amount of time in 2008, give me a million naira loan and I would give you back in two months.’ And he did. A lot of times, we had to rebrand; he helps. But I think more of what he has done for me is to make me believe in myself; it’s not about money, it’s not about position. At the end of the day, I started the bridal in January 2015; he was deep into election that period. I don’t even think he knew anything abut it until May; I had done it because I did my research.
Are you conscious about religion in your designs?
Oh yes, modesty cuts across. If you are Muslim or Christian, once you want to get married, we have something for you; we cover both religions. For us, it’s about being modest; you want yourself covered. What a priest would accept, an Imam would accept, that’s the truth.
Does that mean you don’t follow trend?
MQ woman knows herself; we follow trend but we don’t follow it blindly. I’m Muslim, I’m of a certain age, so, I can’t wear anything; I don’t sew just anything. I believe in modesty and respecting one’s self and one’s body.
The fashion industry has become very competitive in Nigeria, how do you intend to cope?
You know, everybody sees competition as a bad thing; I see it as a very good thing. When we started, we were sewing rubbish, that’s the truth. There was no standard because not a lot of people were doing it. But when the market got flooded, everybody has to be on his or her best; you have to be on your toes. So, if you want to work and you are in the business to fulfill yourself and not waste your time, I think competition is very good. I think that’s one of the good things that have happened in the industry. I for one embraced it; I push myself. I sleep ad dream fashion because I want to be better than the next person.
Do you sew yourself?
I don’t sew, but I sketch the designs. I really believe there’s a lot more behind the scene that needs to be dealt with.