‘Fashion is A Passion For Me’

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The Proprietor, Zaris Fashion Academy and National Secretary of Fashion and Designers Association of Nigeria, Mrs. Tessy Jibodu, is poised to bringing a complete overhaul to the fashion industry in Nigeria, striding to leave a legacy with her dream of setting up the first fashion university in Nigeria. As her fashion academy marks five this month, she tells Mary Ekah about her journey so far and plans to revamp the industry

What should one expect in this five-year anniversary?

We want to give back to society. There is despair and unemployment has ravaged the land, so for this anniversary, no pomp or pageantry, its just charity. We want charity to be the benchmark of this year’s anniversary. So on the first day of our 5th anniversary, we would be at the Boys Corrective Home in Oregun, Lagos State, where we will be giving out clothes and sewing machines, because they have a sewing department there. The second day we will also be issuing certificates to graduating students. We will also be giving our scholarships as well to people who can’t afford to pay for our Academy, for both our basic and advanced classes.

Meanwhile, we have had about 20 sets graduated since we started this Academy and about 320 students in all. For this fifth anniversary, we would be graduating about 90 students from four sets.

Is your decision to embark on charity this year merely part of the activities to mark your 5th anniversary?

Charity work is something we’ve always been involved in. Like most of our students’ projects have always been given out to charity.We have trained and sponsored a number of people without collecting fees, we partner with NGO’s to teach individuals skills that can help them better themselves. We have done that over time. Its just that five years is a landmark celebration and in consideration of the current recession in the nation, we just want to uplift a few souls and so for this year’s graduation, we have decided to dwell on the theme, ‘Giving Beyond Garment’. We specifically chose that theme for just what it means – we are giving much more than garments/clothes this year. It is about giving people a lifeline, giving them nets to fish.

So in the spirit of this anniversary, we will be giving out grants. In our past graduation ceremonies, we always invited a lot of people, spending so much money in festivities, party, food, drinks and so but this year, we have decided that there will be no jamborees, rather let’s use the money to help people achieve their dreams. There are so much people out there who want to be designers but cannot finance the course. We intend to do absorb them free of charge and that is what informed our theme and decision this year – to help people in the right way, help them achieve their dreams and life goals.

More importantly, our aim is to contribute to the growth of fashion in Nigeria. Our benchmark is professionalism and our aim is to add value to fashion business in Nigeria by gradually changing the face of fashion education in Nigeria. We are producing standard designers that can compete with their counterparts in fashion anywhere in the world. Our Alumni consists of winners of next top designers at African Fashion Week, they have been FADAN and DA VIVA ambassadors too. So for me, those are steps in the right direction in trying to change the face of fashion education. We have most of our alumni also working with big designers doing pattern drafting, fashion illustration, handling the fashion business in every little aspect.

How would you describe Zaris’ journey so far?

So far, the journey has been interesting, because fashion is a passion for me and for us here at Zaris. I have been doing it all my life. We want to thank God for five years, we have had our ups and downs but we are still here.

What are the peculiar challenges you have faced in past five years?

Running a fashion academy is more difficult that running a fashion house, because a fashion academy is where you train people. It is more like you are giving service instead of giving products and believe me, it is more difficult to give service than sell product. Getting the right students to enroll is one big challenge. I interview all my students personally and I need to see true potential in you before you can be considered a student. I need to see the fire and hunger in you before you gain admission here. Sometimes finding such students can be challenging. We have a standard we strictly adhere to because fashion is not all about glamour. It is handwork and dedication. It is not a free ride. Then there is the ever-lasting problem of lack of electricity because most of our training equipmentruns with electricity so sometimes we resort to devising ways to use tools manually. And then, funding. You need loans to run an Academy like this. During the past administration, we won a grand from the Youwin programme. We hope such miracle will happen again. Another challenge we have presently is space. We need to expand and build hostels for our students.

What do you want this present government to do for the fashion industry?

Fashion is a very big business, and the Western world is doing very well because they have their government support. It is not easy for a designer to have a place, to buy machines and to run after tailors. We will want to have a production hub for those who are making clothes so as a designer; you don’t need to acquire a big workplace before you can produce. If we have a hub, you can take your design there and they multiply it for you just like they do in China.The present government needs to understand the important role fashion plays on economic growth of the nation especially during the present recession. In developed countries, a council is set up to monitor the activities of the fashion Industry, how they make clothes so that designers clothes are not copied and other peculiar issues associated with the business. When we start to put all of these in place, then we can get a more structured economy. Then the emergence of fashion schools should be checked, to make sure they are teaching the right curriculum that is not below standards but of international standard. We need to produce for people quality designs that can compete with designs anywhere in the world.

What will you say makes students who graduate from Zaris Fashion Academy stand out from students of other fashion academy?

The greatest problem that we have as designers is that we are not able to express ourselves. My students are allowed to express themselves totally. For the average Nigerian designer, tailor or seamstress, they just go to the magazines and copy design. A true designer shouldn’t do that. Create a new design and convince your client it will suit him or her. You should be able to talk about fashion like engineering and other disciplines and if we don’t put the theories of fashion in place, translating fashion to another person is going to be a problem. That is why it is easier to work with my own students because they can interpret fashion.

I have most of them working with top designers because they can understand pattern drafting, they understand fashion internationally, the way and standard it is being done in the international fashion scene. This is why our grandaunts stand out. We build in them the confidence that is expected of an international designer and we improve their status.Then there is this wrong misconception the society sometimes perceives of people learning fashion; they see them as dropouts, people that could not read to obtain a university degree. I would say that people who have such mindsets are so narrow-minded and shortsighted because a fashion graduate is as professional as a lawyer, doctor or engineer.

Tell us how your journey into fashion started?

Way back in secondary school, Command Secondary School, Ipaja, Lagos State, to be precise, I had interest in the Fine Arts and I was the only girl among 15 boys studying Fine Arts in my class then. While studying I also was making clothes, even though they were not properly made then, the passion was there. I realised I wanted to paint, colour and sew fabrics. And I went all the way, so Fine Arts drove my interest and connected it to fashion. For me,it was just a natural transition.

How long does it take to learn and become a fashion designer? And what qualifies you as a fashion designer?

Learning the basics of fashion takes like three months. So if after that you want to do more, that’s fine, you just enroll for more programmes. In this part of the world, fashion is seen as a vocation for people who did not complete their secondary school.. But these days, being a designer does not mean you should just cut and saw. Fashion is an education in developed countries. Fashion goes beyond learning how to just cut and sew. There are various shape and sizes of individuals. You must visualise the design to fit into each person’s size and shape. You must know how to bring out pattern. It is a whole lot. You must know how to draw on paper and as well your relationship with customers.

As fashion designer relations to customers is very important. It is a process before you can make a design. As a designer you must have fashion education and also have a detailed knowledge on making a particular outfit.Designing encompasses every thing of putting garments together and delivering them to the prospective buyer or user while and tailoring is just one aspect of fashion. So at Zaris Fashion Academy, we teach every aspects of designing then the students decide on their own, the aspect they prefer to engage on. It’s a choice thing and that depends on their interest. And can bet that that with the skills acquired at Zaris, you can work anywhere in the world.

In the next five years what should we expect from Zaris?

For us at Zaris, it is more of quality, education, professionalism and giving, trying to change the face of fashion education in Nigeria. Professionalism in fashion is very important, so in five years time, we intend to grow the business, probably moving over to establishing a fashion university. My greatest dream is to have a fashion university where people can learn fashion designing in a very dignified way. There are fashion universities abroad and I hope Nigeria would have onesome day.