The Nigerian fashion industry has come a really long way from the days when fashion designers were seen as simply tailors. However, Nigerian designers still don’t seem to understand the business of fashion.
About 20 years ago, you could count all of Nigeria’s fashion designers on one hand and most people thought they were unnecessary. Also, no one was talking about week long fashion shows in Nigeria.
Vogue Italia wasn’t coming to Nigeria to scout talent or see which designers were making a mark. People preferred to look through fashion magazines for what the female politicians/socialites were wearing, take them to their tailor and ask “you fit do am” and hope to God that they didn’t lie when they replied, “aunty, no worry.”
Then, the 2000s rolled in and suddenly, creative minds started craving more. Some of the most prominent and foremost designers such as Zizi Cardow, launched their fashion brands in the early 2000s.
However, a lot of people still didn’t take them seriously, as there wasn’t a business structure in place for the fashion industry in Nigeria. To many, they were just glorified tailors.
Thankfully, over the years, things have changed and the fashion industry has come a long way. People now understand that a fashion designer isn’t just a tailor. However, most designers still haven’t learned the business aspects of fashion designing and making it into a profitable business.
The truth is that it is tedious monetizing art, which fashion is a form of art, because art isn’t intended to be structured, even when it has structure to it, it’s still flexible. But, fashion is not impossible to monetize. Here are five things you should consider about the business of fashion and making profit as a fashion designer:
Everyone’s chanting, ‘Buy Nigerian, so we can grow the naira’ but most Nigerians aren’t going to buy ‘Nigerian’ if the Nigerian designed clothes are way above their pay grade. The middle and lower class are in the majority of the socio economic scale in Nigeria. If designers could take the reality of the economic situation of most Nigerians into consideration and structure their creative choices and prices around that, they may be rolling in Naira.
This is a major issue in the Nigerian fashion industry at the moment. I understand that designers may want to express their creativity or that the inspiration for a particular collection may steer the pieces in a specific direction, but no matter what it shouldn’t lose its functionality. Above the aesthetic of the pieces, fashion designers are selling its ability to actually be worn by Nigerians and the truth is most Nigerians won’t spend money on something they can’t envision on themselves. There is always a way to balance creativity with wearability, you just have to find how to interpret that to fit your brand vision and aesthetic.
I recently had a conversation with Papa Omisore of P.O.C and he mentioned that he had a very specific target audience, which isn’t too large. As a result, he doesn’t have to spend as much on materials and fabrics and the general cost of production isn’t too high, thus, his prices are affordable. In the business of fashion you have to figure out a way to balance out keeping the production cost relatively low while still maintaining the integrity/aesthetic of the brand by practicing quality control. In a collection you may have one or two high end pieces but generally think about your target audience and plan your cost accordingly.
Speaking of target audiences, it is important to define what you’re good at and pursue that. There are designers that only do menswear or womenswear and they are doing great. For others who do both, it took them years before they introduced the other aspect of the brand. This way you can focus on your strength and be amazing at it, which consumers will appreciate. On the other hand, not all designers can start with couture or bespoke, as that costs way more to produce. Some will just have to start with ready-to-wear and build up to bespoke tailoring and services.
The right reasons:
Finally and most importantly, don’t go into fashion designing because you think it’s glamorous. I cannot count the number of people who go to LFDW type shows and watch the final bow from the designer and think ‘damn, I want that.’ Brothers and sisters, I hate to break it to you but fashion designing is quite challenging with a lot of hard work and a slice of sleepless nights. If you ask the seasoned and great designers of today, they’ll tell you that in their journey, there have been times when they really wanted to quit but the passion for tailoring or fashion or whatever ‘none superficial’ reason brought them to fashion designing, helped them keep their focus in those tough times. So, what am I saying? Before you leave your well paying 9-5 to start your fashion brand or clothing line, think about the costs, the amount of work and have a specific aesthetic in mind.
Please feel free to comment below on your thoughts and opinions. In addition, if you have some more questions that you would love to address, kindly send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy the clip from LFDW 2015 and check out House of Deola's latest Komole series.