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My designs are not for all – Ashake Oge

By Tobi Awodipe
06 August 2016   |   2:18 am
I am Ashake Agoro and I’m the fashion designer behind the brand Ashake Oge Coutures. We are a women’s wear brand that originally started in London and later moved to Nigeria. We do ready-to-wear, bespoke tailoring, training and also consulting as well as styling.

Ashake

shake Agoro, the brain behind Ashake Oge brand, told TOBI AWODIPE of her journey into fashion, pricing in fashion, the travails of being a female businesswoman in Nigeria and her plans for the future

Can we meet you?
I am Ashake Agoro and I’m the fashion designer behind the brand Ashake Oge Coutures. We are a women’s wear brand that originally started in London and later moved to Nigeria. We do ready-to-wear, bespoke tailoring, training and also consulting as well as styling.

So how did you get into the business of fashion designing?
Fashion is something that I’ve always done. I grew up in a fashion household, my grandmother was a seamstress and my mother was an interior decorator, she had tailors: so it’s something that I grew up with and its something I’ve always done. But it was only a hobby after a couple of years ago when I decided to take it up seriously as a business.

Hopefully are you going to pass it to any of your children?
(Laughing) I hope one of my daughters will pick up the fashion DNA. I don’t want this to finish with me.

So how has the fashion journey been like?
It has it ups and downs. It’s good when you get recognized for your work, you win an award, but the downsides are the challenges you face like most other business enterprises, especially in the Nigerian environment, staff problems, electricity issues, finding skilled workers, finding avenues for sales and business development and so on.

So what has ben the positive so far?
The positive, like I mentioned when you win an award and get recognized for your work, when you make something amazing for a client and they’re happy. You know that gives me joy, it keeps me going.

In your opinion, what are the struggles of being a businesswoman in Nigeria presently?
Everything is a disadvantage (laughing) The environment, in fact, almost everything. Now, however, there are some grants to make things easier but I think we still have a long way to go in terms of finding skilled workers that are willing to work and stay, electricity and so on. Infrastructures still need to be put in place because right now when you’re doing business as a woman you have to create your own infrastructure, which obviously makes your products more expensive.

How do you rate the Nigerian fashion industry?
There’s still a lot of work to be done, but I’ll say we are not where we were three years ago and three years ago we weren’t where we were five years before that and we are not where we were ten years before that. Every year there’s an improvement, it’s very gradual but there’s definitely an improvement. Things are improving, people are becoming more aware and appreciating Nigerian designers more, especially now with the dollar rate and cost of living, a lot of people are looking to buy within the country instead of going abroad to buy clothes and everything and of course that will definitely help to grow our home-grown businesses.

Nigerians have complained about Nigerian designers’ outrageous pricing. What is your opinion about this?
Most imported goods are mass-produced, but we don’t have any mass production here. Mass production certainly means it will be cheaper. If the top I’m wearing now is mass-produced and they’ve created like one million of it, it will be easy to sell it for N5, but if a designer has produced a one-off outfit for you to wear, you can’t expect it to be N5 because the overheads are different. Where you are buying those clothes from, there’s a lot of infrastructure that are already in place there. Now think of a designer that is buying fuel at 150 naira per liter because there’s fuel scarcity, and then you have to pay your staff minimum wage, you have to pay rent, you have to take care of yourself, these are the overheads you have to think of that go into producing a particular item, so you really can’t compare. Besides, just like you have clothes that are $5, you have clothes that are $1,000, so if you cannot afford a designer that is selling a dress at $1,000 because it’s Louis Vuitton then you will go to Primark and buy your $5 outfit. The same applies here in Nigeria. We have designers of all ranges. Everybody has his or her price, so you basically find where your level is.

Why is there no mass production in Nigeria yet?
I think there are a lot of factors involved. First, we need skilled workers. Before you think of doing mass production, one needs constant electricity, one needs well-trained workers, but where are the training schools? There are some small training schools that maybe train like 30 people a year but when you talk about mass production, we are talking about employing a thousand workers at once, we are talking of having constant electricity because if you’re running generator 24/7, your products can’t be cheap and that even defeats the purpose of doing mass production in the fist place.

What does your daily routine consist of?
It varies, I do designing, even as I design I still sew, I have meetings with clients, I attend different events, I also style. I have clients that I style and dress up for events so my schedule is never the same everyday.

What motivates you?
I’m an internally motivated person; I don’t really get motivation from outside. I think because I’m passionate about what I do it sustains me this long because it’s a very though industry to be in and if you’re not passionate and you don’t like what you do you would give up.

So what makes Ashake Oge unique from other designers?
I think it’s good that we are having more and more designers because the more people we have, the more the industry will grow. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. I don’t even think we’ve even reached 50 percent of the number that we are supposed to have. We have 180 million people in Nigeria and over half of them are still buying clothes from outside the country. So we’ve not even reached the level where people we have on ground are able to clothe every Nigerian, the designers and tailors we have, they’re not enough to clothe every Nigerian.

Until we reach the stage where the clothes people are buying are 50% inside the country, then we can now say yes we have too much designers.Your favourite designers locally and internationally.My favorite designer is Kosibah though he’s not based in Nigeria but he’s Nigerian. He does wedding dresses and couture bridal clothes. I also like Lanre da Silva and Jewel by Lisa. Internationally, I will say Alexander McQueen and Victoria Beckham.

So what should we expect from you soonest?
We just participated in Africa Fashion Week Nigeria and the Ashake Oge brand keeps evolving, even I don’t know where I’m going in the next five or six years all I know is that I’m following my passion and I’m growing with it, I keep evolving with my brand. If you asked me last year I wouldn’t tell you that I’d come up with a sport wear inspired collection, but this year for the AFWN, we did that. Last year during fashion week, we launched a children’s wear collection, which has done really well. I keep trying to come up with new things, new ideas, looking at the market, what’s available, what’s not, how we can improve, it’s a continual process.

So apart from the African Fashion week, which other show have you participated in?
I’ve done African Fashion Week New York, London Fashion Week, Paris Fashion Week and Mercedes Benz Fashion Week South Africa among others.

Your advice for aspiring fashion entrepreneurs?
Be ready to work very hard and give it your all, keep positive people around you make sure the circle of people around you are people that are helping you grow, if there’s anybody in your life who is not contributing positively, let them go. Make sure your circle is full of positive people, people that encourage you everyday, it’s very important.

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