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We’ll never see full potential of fashion industry without government support – FADAN President

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President of FADAN, Funmi Ajila-Ladipo

Funmi Ajila-Ladipo is the President of Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN). Disturbed by the lack of enabling environment and professionalism in the industry, which she identifies as drawbacks, she tells GERALDINE AKUTU how Nigeria could surmount the odds and make its multi-billion Naira fashion industry bloom to full potential.

DESPITE the evolution recorded in the fashion industry, some Nigerians are still not satisfied with local designers. Is this due to the penchant for foreign wears?
I wouldn’t say that, because there is a breakout in the fashion industry that is making everybody go into it. Some are professional while some others are not. Nigerians are fashionable and like to wear high-quality clothes. So, if clothes are not up to standard, there is no way people won’t grumble, as nobody wants to pay for jobs not well done. Interestingly, while there are real professionals who only make commercial clothes, a lot of designers out there can only be described as business people.

There is a lack of professionalism. People try to meet targets they are not capable of delivering. There is a lot of copying because designers want to make quick money without being creative. So, at the end of the day, people are not satisfied. Another issue is that Nigerians like a personal touch to their outfit. Some clients tell you to make exclusive outfits for them and that nobody else should have that design. If you are not a professional, there is no way you can add that professional touch to a fabric.

However, we do not have the right equipment in Nigeria yet to go into full-time manufacturing because the system is not supporting it. The country has not really supported the system. It is not a matter of providing one or two sewing machines for people but ensuring they are skilled and have access to the right machines and equipment. This way, there will be fewer errors and problems in the industry.

Despite the activity in the industry, a good number of our celebrity designers don’t get mentioned internationally. What are we not doing right?
It takes a lot of money to get mentioned internationally. Many internationally recognised designers must have done a couple of shows abroad. But organising fashion shows require a lot of money. Ironically, those that are really talented don’t get the opportunity to go that far due to lack of money. The talented designers are usually employed by those with money to fund the business. It is also not all designers in America that get mentioned all over the world; everything takes time. You just have to keep working at what you know how to do best and become a master at it. At the end of the day, it will be worth your while.

I must, however, note that people are too quick to look for international recognition. Those in this category are making a blunder because even when they are known internationally, only a few people may be wearing their designs in Nigeria. Once they get known internationally, they cater only to the top class. So, only a few can afford their designs. This is not the way to go. I think people should strive to be known locally first.

For instance, Madam Nike Davies-Okundaye, who owns the popular Nike Art Gallery in Lekki, started in Osogbo from somewhere nobody knew. She kept doing her thing. Today, see how far she has gone. She is a success story because she never gave up and her work brought her out. The quality of your work will always find you out. So, we shouldn’t rush things.

Over time, I’ve discovered that people love the fame and glamour associated with being a designer without the required hard work and creativity. I see the quality of designs some people display on Instagram. I always find it baffling because the quality of clothes is not it. But we like making so much noise in Nigeria. Ask those people to make 10 to 20 designs and they start to panic. By the time they get to the third design, they veer into something else. Any designer that knows his/her onion must be attentive to details. And the essence of the whole thing is for designers to be able to meet clients’ demands and do it very well.

How can our designs become more appealing to international clients?  
It is becoming appealing but everything has its time. So, the best thing for us is for the government to get more involved and support the fashion industry and help it grow because most of the fabrics we see are not made in Nigeria; they are made abroad. This means we depend on whatever designs we get from them. Many of the fabrics we use are made in China. Even Ghana has its own materials that Ghanaian designers are using very well because they get support. The international body will rather pick things from Ghana than Nigeria because of the quality and simplicity of the things they have. Nigeria still has a long way to go. Without the government’s support, there is not much we can do. If nothing is done to help the industry, we will keep going in circles, making a lot of noise without heading anywhere.

Finishing has been described as one of the low points of Nigerian designers. What can be done to enhance quality control among local designers?
Finishing is very important. That is where professionalism comes in. That explains why I’m always in the factory to ensure that things are done the right way because I can’t afford to fail and disappoint my esteemed clients.

Designers must have the right material for the finishing, the right machine, as well as the time to work on it in order to yield good results. Not having the right machinery, poor power supply, and no government support can affect finishing because people spend so much to fuel their generators and would like to make their money quickly and pay the staff.

How do you measure the industry’s growth and lucrativeness in the last decade?  
It has grown in quantity but not in quality. I interact with young ones in the industry, especially those from abroad, and they often tell me they cannot cope with the epileptic power supply and production hub. The system has not encouraged designers and the government needs to do something about it. Why can’t the government invest in the industry, so that it becomes a source of revenue generation? All government does is to buy a few machines to empower interested persons and give them money, which really cannot solve anything. I think it is not only by giving money but ensuring that the textile industry is working, so that we can make our own fabrics, instead of going to China

Most times, when you take your fabrics to China for design before you return to Nigeria, your design is already in America, London and other parts of the world. Meanwhile, you gave the idea to China because we don’t have the industry to service the designs.

Meanwhile, the fashion industry is lucrative, if you know what you are doing. It is attractive if you have passion. But nothing will come to you on a platter of gold. You just have to be ready to give all it takes. If you are really passionate about what you do, you don’t first think about the money. Delivery is the key. When you deliver quality service, it will bring money.

So, what are the major challenges besetting the industry? How can they be surmounted?
We need a production hub and availability of raw materials. Challenges can be surmounted if the government can look into it and we have the right people in the right place that can give information as to what is lacking in the industry. If you ask someone from China to come and tell you what is lacking in the industry, they will only look for opportunities for their country. They put machines, collect big money, then return to their country to say we don’t have an industry that produces fabrics because everything is from them. Those who have the proper idea of happenings in the fashion industry can best handle these challenges.

Also, we need the right representatives and I don’t think we should politicise it. We politicise things a lot in this country and make things look like a family business, instead of engaging in capable hands.

Another disturbing issue is that we like employing foreigners thereby making our people look like second-class citizens. The country is not industry-friendly. We depend too much on foreign things, which is killing the industry. Our people also need to change their mindset to make things work. We think about money instead of professionalism. The government cannot do everything; we have to be patriotic and protect what is ours.

How is the industry contributing to the nation’s economic growth?
The fashion industry has been employing people, thereby taking a lot of people off the streets. When you teach them, train them well and employ them, you take them off the streets and make them useful to themselves and society. Having a means of livelihood gives a sense of dignity. But it could have even been better if we were making these fabrics at home, because we would have been making much more money.

What can young designers do to remain relevant?    
They have to keep up with the trend. You can develop your ideas and styles from what is trending, as well as do things that can set the pace. You don’t have to depend on foreign things. We are trying, but if people can mass-produce, and the industry is encouraged and supported financially, there will be a great improvement.


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