I Always See My Fashion Business as a Career



Interviewed by Funke Olaode

Yours has been an enduring fashion business. What has kept you going over the years?
I started out as a fashion designer in the year 2000. And what has kept me going is the passion for fashion. It is what pays my bills. For me, it is a career. And for every career or business one has to think about sustainability and long term. Prior to my foray into fashion business I was into contract. With contract, you may get a job and in the next three months you don’t get anything. I realized I had free time on my hands. Instead of hanging around friends, I decided to nurture my passion and here I am. With all the efforts I have put into it in the last 17years, I want my fashion business to outlive me.

You started out when fashion wasn’t that lucrative, what gave you the assurance that you were going to succeed?
I had a clear cut of what I wanted from the onset. When I started it was like a vision for me. Again, I wanted to be different. I think with the difference people who didn’t understand the vision and brand were somehow confused because they couldn’t understand where I was coming from. I got a lot of funny names. I remained focused because I believed in my vision. I wasn’t accepting fabrics for five years. Zizi Cardow is purely a brand and a boutique where you can walk in and buy what suits your taste.

There was a time your brand was synonymous with Ankara fabrics. Why Ankara?
Even though Ankara wasn’t made in Nigeria or Africa it was something we have always been identified with. I am not for expensive things. Given a chance back, the fabric can actually compete with other fabrics on the runway or red carpet at international events such as the Oscars, New York Fashion Week and London Fashion Week. It is also a way of promoting our culture. Most of my designs were inspired by my Igbo heritage. I was trying to use Ankara to promote my culture and at the same time give it a global appeal.

Of recent people see you more of a fashion designer com evangelist. How do you strike a balance between the two?
I think all of us are called to the service of God. Initially, I thought it was going to be difficult to be committed to the two, surprisingly I have done well. Being an evangelist hasn’t affected my job. I am a member of Eternal Sacred Order of Cherubim and Seraphim. I joined the church long before I got married. I was about 18 years. My daughter was dedicated in the church. People always have this perception that may be one goes there because of one problem or the other. No. It is a personal thing as you find your salvation where you find it. That is where I found Christ and I got to know His awesomeness. In life, God places us in different positions to propagate His word, which is the purpose we are all created. I come from a liberal home. Growing up my father was attending Cherubim and Seraphim before he stopped. I am not a fanatic as I can worship in any church. Beyond church and denomination, I think our relationship with God matters. And being a church addict doesn’t make you better than those who don’t go and it doesn’t guarantee your salvation.

There is this ill perception attached to the white-garment church. How do you handle it in your day-to- day relationship?
The perception is still there. You always find this funny look on people. I have seen some clients withdrawing their fabrics because of my religious belief. Such things don’t bother me anymore because I know the God I serve and I don’t have to prove it to anybody. I once engaged a customer on phone for two hours trying to explain the misconception about the white garment church. By the time she showed up we ended up fellowshipping in the shop. I have had a situation where a client will walk in and we will be discussing fabrics then switch to conversation about the beauty of God and who He is. We end up praying together.

What are the things people don’t know about you?
I am a very shy person. Though I have my alter ego when I go on stage and that is Zizi Cardow but when I am in my closet I am a different person. That’s why at any fashion show I don’t like hanging around or strolling with my models. I will show my face and take a bow because I believe it is not about me but my work.

Outside fashion what other things do you have a passion for?
I would like be to be a forensic profiler. I love the idea of getting into people’s heads, understanding why they do things, why crimes are committed. It is fascinating. It also teaches you to tolerate and understand people.

What do you do when you wake up in the morning?
I tried at some point to do some exercise but it didn’t last up to a month. These days I dedicate one hour every day to praise and worship my Maker. It is not about praying or asking for one thing or the other but praises. It is a wonderful moment.

If you had to rate your satisfaction with life so far, how would you rate yourself?
I would probably rate myself 15 over 10 because knowing where I came from and where I am today it is only by God’s grace that I am here. There have been ups and downs, but most times people only see the glory but don’t know your story. Life is not a bed of roses but how you handle the situation makes the difference.

What lesson has life taught you?
Life has taught me patience, tolerance, humility and the fact that at the end of the day everything is vanity. The most important things life has taught me is not to cling to material things.