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‘Pursue your dreams but don’t go into it blindly’

By Ijeoma Thomas-Odia
26 November 2022   |   3:52 am
Adaora Ifeatu Soludo is a Luxury fashion and digital business entrepreneur. She is the creative director and founder of Aorah, an ethical and sustainable fashion label rooted in culture and traditions

Luxury fashion and digital business entrepreneur, Adaora Ifeatu Soludo

Adaora Ifeatu Soludo is a Luxury fashion and digital business entrepreneur. She is the creative director and founder of Aorah, an ethical and sustainable fashion label rooted in culture and traditions, transforming traditional African textiles (Akwete, Aso Oke and Kente) into contemporary designs.

She holds a degree in Economics and Politics from the University of Reading as well as a Fashion communications diploma from Condé Nast College of Fashion and Design. Soludo bagged an MSc degree in Management from Imperial College Business School.

Nigeria’s rich variety of textiles and flamboyant traditional attires inspired Soludo’s career in fashion designing and she has garnered experiences working with start-up fashion tech companies and large luxury brands like Moschino.

In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her passion for building a sustainable brand by developing the fashion industry and ethically and sustainably transforming traditional Nigerian textiles into new designs.

Tell us a bit about your passion for Fashion. How did that come about?
it was at a very young age in Nigeria I got interested in the fashion industry. In Nigeria, there are lots of flamboyant textiles; you go to church on Sunday, everybody is in their best outfits – there were just so many rich textiles and flamboyant traditional attires and I just grew to love it as a child, and then I started making my own pieces.

I got an Internship when I was 16, as a designer – It’s just something I developed growing up and seeing all the amazing clothes and textiles that we have and it was something that inspired me to pursue it.

Would you say your passion for fashion is hereditary?
I wouldn’t say it necessarily came from my home. My mum is a beautiful woman, she dresses nicely but I think I was inspired by other things, especially our culture, all the different cultures in Nigeria, the fabrics we have, the textiles, and the way women dress, to be honest, I just want to make pieces that will make women feel beautiful with textiles and fabrics. When I style clothes for my brand, I want to deep dive, into researching different Nigerian textiles.

I went to Aba, I went to Abeokuta to see how Adire was made and explored that, and I played around with Aso-Oke as well – I was just exploring the different textiles and then eventually landing on Akwete with a Southeast fabric. I would literally say it’s the multicultural landscape in Nigeria and all the beautiful textiles that were what really inspired me – that was my earliest memory anyway, from when I was younger.

Tell us about your brand. How would you describe your brand and what stands it out from every other fashion brand?
Aorah is an ethical and sustainable brand, which is rooted in culture and tradition, and we transform traditional African textiles into contemporary designs. We’ve worked with Akwete, Aso-Oke, Kente, and Adi-ire, but we use Akwete as our circle point and we offer timeless designs and produce very limited pieces that celebrate women.

We often take this very traditional old fabric and use it in a sort of different unique way, while paying tribute to heritage, and we still work with the female weaving community in Abia State where the fabric is made. We just make sure we produce daily while representing the tradition within the textile, using it in exciting ways and introducing it to the world because it is a fabric that I think is a little bit forgotten.

What is your take on our textile industry in Nigeria?
Preserving the textile industry is really difficult because we have a lot of amazing raw materials. A lot of things are becoming very expensive. Even things like people importing cotton and importing all these things.

Up in the North, there’s a lot of cottons manufactured and often in the North as well they, have exotic skin and leather manufacturers. The craft in Nigeria is very adventurous; look at how Adire was made, look at the craftsmanship, the level of detail and expertise that goes into making these beautiful textiles. Then a lot of brands leave it and still import from other places. So that’s why for my brand, we make sure we incorporate the beautiful pieces that we have within Nigerian and Africa.

You were in Lagos recently for the Lagos Fashion Week. We’re you showcasing?
Yes, we were actually just in Lagos for Lagos Fashion Week. Aorah was selected as one of the finalists for Lagos Fashion Week’s Free Access Programme, which is sustainability accelerated programme to nurture young designers. It focuses on sustainability within the fashion industry. We created a three-piece collection that we showcased – the feedback we got was amazing and we look forward to doing more and going back again next year.

What more should we be expecting from your brand?
Generally, I’m very passionate about the women that work with us, the women that weave the textile we work with. I’m also really passionate about the textiles we have in Nigeria. I want more for the young designers and brands that we have in Nigeria.

For example, I put together an event in September called the Anambra Fashion Expo – it was the first of it’s kind and it was the biggest fashion event in South-east Nigeria, because I remember being in Anambra a couple of months ago, and I was just looking at all the incredible works and pieces.

The entire market was in Awka, they had no way to showcase, they hadn’t thought about showcasing at a larger event so I put together the collaborative event. For my brand, I think we’re all about collaborating with other young designers, with women, and also working to make sure that we incorporate Nigerian textiles and put Nigeria on the map.

You have been in the fashion industry professionally for five years, how would you say the industry has evolved?
The Fashion Industry in Nigeria has exploded. I remember while I was younger knowing a handful of brands, now, you see so many Nigerian and African designers.

Nigerian fashion is selling internationally, doing big things. It is much bigger than it was when I first got interested in fashion and we’re only going to grow bigger and better and I think Nigerians essentially are leading the way with that. When it comes to Africa, we have amazing talents and we’re only going to get better.

The Fashion industry is known to be a multi-million dollar industry. How well will you say Nigeria is tapping from that wealth?
In Nigeria, a lot people are pushing with putting the country on the map – from music to movies to fashion, I think the fashion scene in Nigeria has definitely made a name for itself.

The Lagos Fashion Week is probably one of the biggest fashion shows in Africa. When you look around internationally at the big designers that we have, a lot of them are from Nigeria. We have so many big brands and big designers that are coming from Nigeria.

Nigeria is tapping into it, and I we’re going to get bigger and better and more refined. When you talk about the Paris Fashion Week, New York Fashion Week, in those conversations, you also have the Lagos Fashion Week, so you can see Nigeria is now on the map when it comes to the wider fashion conversations around the world.

Are there challenges you have faced, running your brand in Nigeria and how are you able to surmount them?
I think anyone that has ever tried to do anything in Nigeria, knows that the challenges can be endless. There are a lot of issues that we face, from light supply to finding the right skills and workers, to logistics – there’s an issue every single day.

And, I think these are challenges that are faced by any business running in Nigeria, so it does make things very difficult. But you just have to push through them. Many Nigerian businesses thrive in spite of these challenges. We’re all just doing the best that we can to not make these challenges destroy our businesses.

What is your advice to young women like you seeking to make a mark in their space, and also trying to beat the stereotypes about women being seen a certain way?
I think people should do what they are passionate about; pursue their dreams. But, I think you shouldn’t go in blindly, you should do your research, educate yourself as much as possible, and learn as much as you can.

If it means working for somebody for a while, if it means going back to school, doing what you can to make sure that you are as knowledgeable as possible and you understand what you’re doing when it comes to either starting a business or going into any specific field. Women are capable of a lot of things; we’re multi-dimensional. I think it’s amazing to see women in all different fields – from STEM, to Fashion, to Music, whatever it is they want to do.

The more women we see in all these different things, the better. For young kids, young women, coming up, the representation within all different fields is great – whether you want to go into medicine, you see female doctors doing amazing things, you want to go into fashion, you see a lot of female fashion designers. Whatever field it is, it’s great that young women have representation and they see other women also, doing amazing work.

What is your life mantra?
For me, it translates to everything I do both in my person life and in my business, and I think for me, it’s about leaving the world a better place than I met it. So whatever I do, I just want to make sure that I don’t make things worse. You don’t want to do something that’s going to put people around you in a worse mood than when they first met you