FUNMI AJILA-LADIPO:If Not a Fashion Designer, I Would Have Been a Singer or Lawyer

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She is intuitive as a fashion designer and creative as a human. Her pedigree is unassailable. Shrewd, pragmatic and selfless, she shoulders the responsibility of Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FDAN) – it is her second coming as president of the association. Funmi Ajila-Ladipo, Creative Director of House of Regalia, was recently re-elected as FADAN’s president unopposed. Well, until a former Vice President of the association, Wunmi Oluwadare –owner of Wunmi O – spoke against the re-emergence of Funmi as FADAN president. Wunmi claimed that the election of Funmi did not follow laid down regulations of the association. Is this about a personal difference? What exactly went wrong between a president and her former deputy? Funmi, incumbent FADAN President, speaks with Azuka Ogujiuba about what she feels was responsible for her re-election, why she thinks Wunmi is condemning her position and how she has remained relevant in the industry. She also talks about how she lost her father and mother in the spate of three months and where Nigeria’s fashion industry will be in the next five years

Congratulations on your emergence as FADAN president

Thank you, I’m really grateful. It’s God.

FADAN former Vice President, Wunmi Oluwadare, alleged that your emergence was fraught with irregularities and that you did not carry her along. 

What’s your reaction to that?

I joined FADAN and I believe that she also joined FADAN. We both joined the association at  different times. I don’t have any beef against her.  But the thing is that, if you don’t attend meetings, if you are not positive to change and if you are not positive to growing the young people, there’s no way you can misdirect my administration. I was duly elected as president of the association. I was voted into office and I think I have the mandate to run the association to the best of my ability. I don’t have any beef with her and if she’s not being carried along, it’s because, she doesn’t attend meetings. Probably, she’s not positive about it.

 The recent election, before you emerged as the president, Wunmi alleged that you didn’t invite other members. How true is that?

It’s because she’s not getting herself involved in the activities of the association and because she’s not the president. We had Delta, Abuja and Ondo at the election. We even had Akwa Ibom. Because she doesn’t attend meetings, probably, that’s why she doesn’t know these other people came for the election. Since my administration kicked off, we had a whole lot of changes. The association has moved ahead of her; I think she was just looking for something to say about me. Everybody was there.

 Before you became FADAN president, how was your relationship with her?

We were not friends. We were just co-members of the association; we were not close friends. There was nothing personal.

Have you ever called her to know if there was a problem?

As I said, I don’t really have any problem. I don’t really have any problem with her. If I’ve been voted into office and I became the president, instead of you, I think the best thing is for you to cooperate with the president and if you are not cooperating with me, there’s really nothing I can do about it. Because everybody comes to the association, you pay your dues while you are in the association. You were not forced to be a member of the association. But I think if one person among 200 people feels that she’s not being carried along, it’s probably she doesn’t want to be carried along. But nobody would force her to do what she doesn’t want to do. It’s a professional body. We are all working towards the growth of this association, to make sure the younger ones are also carried along. But one thing I want to say is that, the vice president cannot misdirect the president. The vice president is supposed to listen to the president. If you are bigger than the authority, then, there’s a problem. I can’t step down when somebody feels that she must take charge. I took oath of office to lead the association and that’s what I’ve done, and I’ve done it to the best of my ability, the whole world can testify to it. If she loves the association so much like I do love then she will participate in every activity. I’m committed to growth of the association.

 You were returned  unopposed, giving you a second term as president. How did you achieve that?

I think the evidence is there to show for what I’ve done. If people feel you are doing a good job, why the change? I’ve done the best that I could do and I’ve not finished what I started. It also shows that I’m doing something good and everybody wants me to carry on.

 What are some of your achievements as FADAN president?

We have the secretariat now at National Art Theatre and supported also by the National Council of Art and Culture. We have been able to push up our relationship with the government. We also have the part of industries supporting designers; then we have some chapters – Akwa Ibom, Delta, Ondo, Lagos, Abuja, Yobe, Uyo, and Ibadan (Oyo). We are also working on other chapters. This is something FADAN never really had and we also have strong designers; designers that have factories and have been in business for a long time. We want to make sure that the association is a professional body that stands for creative arts and that’s what we are doing. And also we have the runway FADAN; we have FADAN maps and we’ve been able to change the logo of the association and also amended the constitution. The face of FADAN has changed from what it used to be. In the past, we had about 10 people attended meetings while more than 60 attendees are recorded at meetings today. More people across the nation are interested in being part of the association and its activities. We’ve been able to build a very good patron; we have good media support and relationship. We’ve had a very good relationship with the Nike Art. We do engage in cancer awareness walk and breastfeeding day awareness walk.

 Is it true that she’s the first Nigerian female designer?

One thing I’ll like to say is that Mama Shade is a born fashion designer. Like we know, it’s not like there weren’t other designers at that time, probably because she went to a fashion school in England and she’s well recognised. I think she’s the first and foremost to have her own shop at Falomo, Ikoyi. At that time, people never really came out to open shops to make a living out of fashion designing. I grew knowing her as the founder of the association. Mama Shade is the first for me and for the association. Along the years, I think, Mama Shade saw the need for the association to grow beyond what it was and she found the fulfillment of her dreams in me and she just felt, ‘Oh! I need this woman to continue.’ I did not neglect her because she’s the founder of the association. I have gone to her for counsels. Even some of the top designers still refer to Shade Thomas-Fahm and she needs to be given her due respect as somebody who founded the association. She’s like the mother of the association and if the mother of the association can say, ‘Oh! This child has done well and I’ll like her to continue,’ who are other people to say no? And most of the young people also wanted me; everybody in the association wanted me. I think I did the best I could do and my work is speaking for me. It’s not so much about my face but my work. I’ve been able to give opportunity to young people, expose them, and build confidence in them.

 Apart from being FADAN president, what else do you do?

I’m still a designer; I still have my little shop (Regalia). It’s been in existence for probably, since 1987; so almost about twenty-something years now, I still do the same thing, cut and sew. We do ready-to-wear. I’m still in the same business. I’m not doing anything else. So, it shows why I’m passionate about being in the industry.

 If you were not a designer, what would you be doing right now?

I would have been a singer or probably a lawyer. I’m a very creative person. It started in my early years; so, I would have been in arts anyway, and anything that has to do with the arts.

Do you have a nickname?

Lala!

What’s the meaning?

Lala means sunshine; so people around me just feels that ‘Oh, she brings sunshine.’ My kids actually came up with the name. I just try as much as possible to impact whoever I meet. It doesn’t matter where you are coming from; I’m just me. I love to be with people; I’m a human lover and not a human hater. Some hate people; I don’t fall into that group. You know when you see people progressing, somebody is doing well, you just start hating them and you want to bring them down – it is hatred. I love successful people and most people you see around me are successful and hard-working people.

 What are your childhood memories?

I remember one of the days I sneaked out to go to a beach. On getting there, I danced; that was my first time and I never knew it was recorded and at the end of the day, it turned out to be a dancing competition and I won. I sneaked back home. My parents never knew I went out. But on Sunday, they showed it on TV. It was a huge embarrassment; my father’s brother was there and he was like ‘Is that not Funmi?’ I just moved away from the room like that, and my parents were like ‘When did she go? No, that’s not her!’ That was the most embarrassing moment (of my life). And I pretended as if it wasn’t me. On that particular day, I did not take the car. My friend, who was supposed to pick me up, was far away. I had to jump over the fence; when I returned home, nobody knew – even the security men did not know. I think that’s very memorable for me. It was very embarrassing and everybody kept on calling my father and they were saying ‘Oh, we saw your daughter on TV’ and he was like ‘It’s not her; she didn’t go anywhere. How come? It’s not her; probably, it might be someone else.’

What is your relationship with Abike Dabiri; is she still a friend?

She’s no longer a friend. She’s a sister; she’s someone who loves and she’s passionate about the growth of others and the younger ones. She has a Mother Theresa’s heart; that’s what I call it. It takes life to walk together; it takes people who are like to you to walk together. We have another friend, Enitan. We are all very close buddies but everyone is busy. We still see and we are still family. We are no longer friends, we are family.

Where do you see the Nigerian fashion industry in the next five years? 

Well, it all depends on the government; a whole lot of infrastructure will have to be put in place for people to really make profit. For example, all the gains that designers would have made go back into the burdens of bad roads, poor electricity supply and increase in fuel price. Besides, most of the materials that are needed for the industry to grow are not made in Nigeria. So we have to keep depending on the Western world to get some of the things that we need. So in the next five years, if we talk about creativity, we have it in Nigeria; we have very strong fashion designers in Nigeria. We have people who are ready to fly. But you can’t do it on your own. There are so much that we rely on the government for. So in the next five years, I’m sure with government putting the right things in the right places, we’ll be on top. Nations will come looking for Nigeria.

How do you relax or spend your free time?

I haven’t thought of that really. I like my lonely moments. When I’m at home, I don’t have to do anything. I go into my studio at home; I go to church and minister in the choir. Maybe I relax when I travel, but I get very bored.

What does love mean to you?

Love means someone who cares for me. Love means someone who’s there for you; someone who can cover your back; that’s what love means to me. It’s not the love everybody speaks about. When you mess up, that person is ready to stand for you and say ‘She didn’t mess up. She did well, can’t you see?’ But he or she can call you out later and say ‘You messed up!’ You will know you did mess up. That’s love to me; it’s not only when you sin. It’s much more than that.

So what has been your happiest moment?

When I met Christ.

What is the saddest moment your have experienced?

It is losing my mother and my father three months apart. I love them both.

Who has influenced your fashion sense?

All Nigerian designers.

Then, what about foreign designers?

I like Karl Lagerfeld; I think he’s timeless.

What is your favourite colour?

No favourite colour. I love all colours; I play around with all colours.

What is your favourite food?

I love boli (roasted plantain) – boli and fish –, the Port Harcourt style.