‘Fashion is My Passion’


She has been in the business of fashion since 2009 as the Creative Director of Obsidian and Founder of leading lifestyle brands supporting African fashion, beauty and lifestyle entrepreneurs – ZAZAII. Isoken Ogiemwonyi is a multi-award winning, multi-hyphenate entrepreneur committed to growing the fashion industry in Nigeria. She spoke with Mary Ekah about her fashion line, her motivation and aspiration

How did you end up in the fashion business?
I had always experimented it at school, but after university, I decided to give it a go full time. I would also say that my passion for design became a full-fledged retail career.

What are some of the high points of your experience so far?
I have had so many high points in the past half-decade or so, it’s a little difficult to pick – but if I absolutely had to choose it would be being named 11 out of 25 top African Women Achievers by the Guardian UK, winning the (then) MTNLFDW Young Creative Entrepreneur of the year award, and being named one of the top 100 most inspiring women in Nigeria by YNaija and LeadingLadiesAfrica.

What are some of the brands ZAZAII presented at its flagship store?
We stock a wide range of emerging and established designers in fashion, lifestyle and beauty. For example, we have urban and athleisure brands like Lagos Laid Bac, Sanusi Lagos, January 7 & Literati, feminine and flirty brands for everything from wedding guest style to work like Uju Estelo, Rococo, TNL, Obsidian, Keem Harun, Bellezza Audace, OSC Signature, Teda Designs, Simeogieme, Wanger Ayu, Kale & Kulema, Nuraniiya and Eve & Tribe. We also have great accessory brands like Joela, Raya Jewellery, Ariaba Lifestyle and Dapmod. And specialist brands like swimwear brands Andrea Iyamah and Kamokini.

Are you looking to expand ZAZAII beyond Nigeria?
Definitely, once we achieve certain milestones, we’ll be looking beyond our current location.

You formerly held a monthly fashion and lifestyle market, Le Petit Marche; do you plan on reinventing that?
Yes, we tested the PopUp at ZAZAII retail format earlier this year, and are currently tweaking the model to reflect the new environment.

You also have your own fashion line, Obsidian, what’s new?
Obsidian is my baby – we focused on pure play retail for about three years, and admittedly, it suffered a lot of neglect in the last couple of years, but we’ve restructured and are back with a bang! We just shot an ad campaign and lookbook for our sophomore leather goods collection, and we will have a new clothing collection in a few months. Get excited!

Do you think Nigerians are accepting and supporting African fashion labels now?
Without a doubt, there’s been a paradigm shift from the early reluctance when we started LPM over six years ago to the wholesale adoption of African fashion and lifestyle brands by both consumers and the mainstream media.

Do you have new projects for ZAZAII in the works?
Our major project this year is our Trunkshow Tour. Essentially, we will be popping up with several of our inshore brands in several locations across the continent and in the diaspora. Taking the ZAZAII Experience global, kicking off this summer.

When you are not working on ZAZAII, what do you think of in your spare time?
I’m always on, which means ZAZAII is always in my thoughts. However, I like to read, and work on my personal development when I’m not actively working on ZAZAII or Obsidian.

How do you stay ahead of the new trends in the fashion scene?
I’m constantly educating myself – the Internet is such a great resource. I also believe in developing a T-Shaped mind,(A theory that deep knowledge of your specialisation and wide understanding of many other disciplines creates broader skills and knowledge and learns by linking up different perspectives from different specialties) so I’m interested in developments in other sectors, especially in technology and beauty. I like to read widely, converse with and learn from thought leaders both locally and globally.

Who are some of your favourite African or Nigerian designers?
There are quite a few. I couldn’t possibly choose, there’d be too many.

What is the future for fashion shows in Nigeria?
Fashion shows will always have their place as a trade tool for fashion designers and the industry at large, I expect that at some point we will have two shows a year and we hope pioneers like LFDW will lead this charge. I also imagine that we will see a proliferation of more brand-led shows that attract international buyers.

What are some the challenges with the Nigerian fashion industry?
They are myriad, but I’d say barring infrastructural issues like power, education of artisans, the buying public and the designers themselves. We have retailers who don’t know what a WSSI is, designers who can’t tell the difference between a markup and a margin or wholesale and retail pricing, artisans who have never seen a pattern or a toile and a buying public that constantly compare the kind of economies of scale, and consequently pricing flexibility enjoyed by brands like ZARA and Topshop to our much more limited designer infrastructure on the continent.

How do you think these challenges can be resolved?
There have been strides to connect and educate, but I believe until we can stop working in silos, pretending that we are doing much better than we actually are, and commit to improving ourselves as individuals and as an industry – nothing will change.

What are the new fashion innovations for 2016?
The industry is evolving rapidly – but I believe the most relevant innovation for brands here is centred on social and influencer marketing. Mobile apps like Instagram and Snapchat are becoming increasingly important for consumer engagement and to a certain extent, sales, and as Instagram introduced in-app ads late last year, I believe we will see it become essential to every fashion brands marketing mix in the future.