Industrious, creative and adventurous, he left the shore of Africa to explore the fashion world of Asia, berthing in India, a land of colours, creativity and commerce. He went; he arrived and conquered. With insatiable desire to conquer more frontiers, he has returned to Africa, starting with Nigeria to do what has not been done before, open new vistas and add more spice to Nigeriaâ€™s effervescent fashion industry. Uche Jesus, the Creative Designer of Diamond Ark, is a visionary and a hard worker, bustling with ingenuity and unrestrained optimism, he speaks with Oge Ezeliora about his fashion brand and the marks he has made
â€¢ President Muhammadu Buhari Was Impressed By My Fashion Success In India
â€¢ My Mother Remains the Biggest Inspiration in My Fashion Forays
hy did you choose to go into fashion?
First, I was born into a fashion family. My mother was a famous fashion designer and event decorator in my town. I lost my father at a very tender age and my mother took over. She is a very hard-working woman. I was a decimal point in her fashion business when I was in school though I didnâ€™t learn garment making from her because those days we saw fashion designers as less privileged people.
My mother remains my source of inspiration. Her achievement as a local designer is a big challenge to me to do far better than her. She taught me to believe in my ability without begging and complaining. She is the wind beneath my wings.
How and when did you discover this talent?
Diamond Ark started in my living room in 2011 November. Today, Diamond Ark has established state-of-the-art showroom in Festac town, Lagos, Nigeria, with head office in Safdarjung city, New Delhi and the third showroom has also been commissioned. Everything started after my trip to India in 2007. The trip opened my eyes to what fashion designing is all about, I never knew that people can go to school to study fashion as a course. Indian fashion industry inspired me to return to India again in 2010 as a fashion student. I got admission into JD Institute of fashion Technology, New Delhi where I obtained diploma in fashion designing and garment manufacturing. Before my graduation in 2011, I had started making garments for people in my sitting room. I adopted Diamond Ark as my brand name during my last college fashion show. My plan was to move back to Nigeria and establish but some Indian models, friends and the director of the institute, Mr. Rc Dalal, who is my greatest mentor encouraged me to establish in India, register my brand with India government and build the first African brand in India. It was very challenging. I thank God for the wisdom and strength to overcome all the challenges.
Why are you in Nigeria?
I am a Nigerian; Nigeria is my home. I originated from Anambra State. I love my country. Nigerians are fashion crazy. Every event in Nigeria is a fashion carnival. Our men are best dressed men in the world. Our men are fashion conscious; both middle and first class people look fabulous at every gathering. Nigeria is the best fashion destination in Africa. We have an attractive and a promising market. Nigerian fashion industry is growing fast. I have seen the works of our home-based designers, theyâ€™re very creative. No matter how creative and how good I am abroad, there must be limitations. Top 100 Indian successful designers are based in India. Top Nigerian successful musicians and actors made their fame in Nigeria. I will have unlimited market in Nigeria and I want to also contribute to the growth of our own fashion industry. I have acquired so much experience from Indiaâ€™s fashion industry. I have built a good brand there. I have made Africans proud. It has been five years of positive stories; Indiaâ€™s leading newspapers have my success stories on their front pages. Our dear President Buhari was impressed with my record when he visited India in 2015.
What were your challenges?
Establishing Diamond Ark in India came with a lot of challenges. I put my trust in God. I worked hard day and night. I thank God for the passion I had. As a beginner there was psychological fear on how to convince people on what I could do. I was not sure if my designs will be acceptable. I was not sure if Indian fashion industry will welcome a foreigner. Above all, I was financially handicapped. I approached few people for sponsorship but help didnâ€™t come from them. I have no option than to encourage myself and keep moving. I worked from home for six months before I was able to rent a space and within five years I was able to establish two showrooms in India and one in Lagos. Today, my focus is how to capture the Nigerian market and Africa in general. I give all the glory to God. I thank all my clients, fans, and pastors who have supported Diamond Ark with prayers. Special thanks to India and African community and the Nigeria High Commission in India for their great support.
Tell us about Diamond Ark Lifestyle label.
Diamond Ark Lifestyle is a luxury fashion brand that specialises in menâ€™s suits such as formal suits, wedding suits, Indo-Western and French suits. We also make all kinds of shirts like tuxedo, formal and casual shirts. We are highly professional in suit making. We use the best Italian and London refined woolly suiting fabrics and we pay careful attention to detailing and classic finishing that meet the global standard. Our creations are daring and fresh. Diamond Ark is renowned mostly for outstanding creativity in suits and shirts, classic fit tailoring, world-class finishing, quality and distinctive use of luxury and colourful fabrics, intricate embroideries and a gloriously rich Indian, African and Western aesthetic. Itâ€™s a best destination for quality party suits and blazers. Today, we are one of the fastest growing designer brands in India. Ever since, we ventured into fashion industry in India, we have developed unique styles of our own, reflecting our creativity in western garments and ancient traditions of Indian and African craftsmanship in a contemporary manner. Our understanding of ancient designs and the innovative use of traditional crafts has created a new classicism. We are masters in intricate hand embroidered and colourful suits. We are taking wedding suits to another level.
What should we expect from the brand going into the future?
We are working on a new collection soon. We are already getting proposals for some styling projects. We will stock some major retail stores in Nigeria. We will be more in the face of the people from now. I promise you wonâ€™t get tired of us. We will be doing phenomenal stuffs. Fashion is a lucrative business. Fashion has made me popular. It has connected me to kings and queens. It has given me a name and personality that canâ€™t be ignored. The business of fashion is full of fun and passion.
What makes your band unique?
What sets Diamond Ark apart from other brands is our unique eye for details, creative designs, quality fabric, and client satisfaction and most important, the proper fits of an outfit on the wearer. We believe that a dress should follow the shape of a man or a woman and not the other way around. So basically, the value of products we offer to our clients sets us apart from the crowd.
How will you describe African fashion?
African fashion is the richest form of arts the world can ever know. Although we have yet to explore our potential as we ought to but I do see African fashion taking over the fashion world.
Did you get any funding for your start-up?
No funding at all. I am self-made. Surely, I am building a global brand. My plan is to make Diamond Ark a leading brand in Africa and also a major player in global fashion which requires huge funding. I am working hard to attract government funding in order to actualise my dream.
What do you love most about what you do?
Well, I took fashion designs as a hobby and what I love most about it is that my designs are unique and different and they are moving forward and taking me to places. I engage in individual training but I seek serious minded and focused trainees.
What challenges do you think you will face in Nigeria and do you have what it takes to dominate the fashion industry?
First, I am not coming to dominate the industry. We have a lot of good designers who have branded their labels. Fashion, Nollywood and our music industry can never be dominated by an individual. These industries have done well already. I can only contribute to their growth. Diamond Ark Lifestyle will work hard to be among the leading brands in Nigeria and Africa in general. My biggest challenge will come from my clients. I have built a fraternity of fashionistas that wants to look outstanding at every function. Diamond Ark has become a lifestyle to many and they want to see new designs and many want to be the first to wear the newest design thereby forcing me to create new things each day. They want to wear what is not available in the market. So, I must think out of the box daily. I want to do exactly the same thing and maintain the same quality in Nigeria.
Any award or endorsement deal so far?
The brand has won so many international awards; made costumes for Bollywood films and the official costumes brand of Mr. India Global since 2013. In 2012, I was a jury member at the grand finale of Mr. India Global. In 2013 January, I made the cover page of Hindustan Times newspaper which also attracted India Embassy in Abuja to feature me and few Nigerian entrepreneurs in their 2013 India Republic Day magazine. The success the label recorded within this short period was unprecedented. Satyam fashion Institute Noida and Film city Noida invite me yearly as a motivational speaker to inspire their students with my success story. In 2013â€™s Noida Film Festival, I was the only designer nominated by Asia Academy of Film & Television (AAFT) as the guest speaker on Fashion in Film. I was a jury member at Jodhpur fashion carnival in 2013. International Film & Television Research Centre India honoured and awarded â€˜Life Membershipâ€™ to me.
South African Embassy in conjunction with Women International Network (WIN) decorated me with â€˜Universal Humanityâ€™ award in 2013. Some Bollywood and Nollywood celebrities have adorned Diamond Ark and I have designed costumes for some Bollywood and Nollywood films. I am currently working for some African top music stars, top army officers, diplomats, politicians and so on. Our mission is to be a leading luxury suit brand on the continent of Africa by the year 2025.
Where do you see yourself two years from now?
Two years from now, I will be more famous in Nigeria; the brand will expand more to other cities in Nigeria. I will be better than what I am today because my today is better than my yesterday. So, Diamond Ark will have more clients and more fans with more superior and luxury garments.
What is your advice to upcoming fashion designers?
Fashion is lucrative, it is full of challenges but with hard work, smartness, consistency and passion you will get there. Be creative and always tell your story. Each design is a spiritual journey; pay more attention to good finishing. You donâ€™t need millions of naira to start up something â€“ donâ€™t wait for your first client to locate you; rather be your first client, be your label, best model wear only your designs.