With a loan from the Prince’s Youth Business Trust, Nigerian-British fashion designer, Ade Bakare, in 1991 established the label, Ade Bakare Couture, a line of modern beautifully made stylish clothes that have international look with unique African influence. Having started off by selling his collection to boutiques and stores in England, the collection is however designed and sold by the couturier only twice a year, summer and winter ranges. However, today, Bakare has not only become a household name in the Nigeria fashion industry but also globally. He has made great waves with his bridal collection, the first of which he designed in 1995, and was selected by Bride magazine as one of London’s most influential designers. Due to his unique designs, which have been described as classic with a touch of modernity, the award winning fashion designer has showcased his collections in Morocco, Capetown, Mozambique, London, New York and Paris where he was given an award. In this interview with Mary Nnah, Bakare who is rounding off a weeklong fashion exhibition today talk about his journey so far and what motivates him. Excerpts:
What informed your ongoing fashion exhibition at the Terra Culture, Victoria Island, Lagos?
The exhibition which started on Sunday November 11 and would be rounding off on Friday, November 16, is a retrospective of my work over 25 years. It’s not the first time am staging the exhibition; it was done when I celebrated 15years and 20 years consecutively. I feel it is very important to inspire others especially the younger generation, and for them to see how your creativity can lead to a successful profession and life. In Africa we tend to focus more on careers such as lawyers, doctors, engineers amongst others. But the modern world has shown how people in the creative industry such as music, food, interior design etc have established companies worldwide. The idea of the exhibition is to identify, stimulate and encourage creativity in people regardless of fashion
We are bringing in students from local schools to attend, I feel usually these are the children who do not get the opportunity to travel far and see lots of exhibitions. Two schools a day with 50 students per school are targeted both from the island and mainland axis in Lagos state.
Tell us a bit about your journey into the fashion world began, particularly why you had to go into a field that is probably dominated by females?
Fashion is a business not hobby; it is also a profession, which can be studied to university level abroad. Fashion design was awarded degree status in the 1960s in England. I don’t think fashion is the exclusive preserve of any gender, indeed, most fashion designers are male. Creativity is innate, from an early childhood I was convinced I wanted to be a designer and was fortunate I had parents who encouraged me along the way.
Ade Bakare Couture started in 1991, so the business is over 25 years. We started with a ready to wear line in the UK that sold to shops and department stores across the UK. We then set up a couture line, and bridal line, a perfume called Breeze was introduced in 1998, with a new one launched last year called Ade Bakare Signature. We opened the fashion design academy also last year. Currently we are putting together a proposal to now get investors to expand in Africa and Europe. It’s been a tough journey but also very rewarding
Who are your target audience?
My target audience are those who love great design and appreciate quality. We are a design brand for women and men, high end luxury which the couture brand caters too, with branches in Lagos and Abuja, we still maintain our base in London in the West end. We recently launched a ready to wear line at our Nigerian boutiques. Clients can pop into the shops and pick up an outfit in most sizes from United Kingdom size eight to size 24. For men also there is a line of small, medium mad large sizes.
Who are the prominent personalities that you have worked for and how have you sustained them?
We are often asked in Nigeria who our clients are but I say all our clients are important to us and some prefer to remain anonymous, which we respect but we have been fortunate to have first ladies, senators, ministers, professionals and business people. It is important as a designer to give your clients good customer service and show them new designs constantly. This we achieve by making personal calls and holding shows for our private customers in Nigeria, through our annual show in December at the Wheatbaker Hotel in Ikoyi, Lagos.
What are the unique selling points that set you apart from other designers?
I believe over the years we have been able to create our signature look, which people recognise, classical beautifully made clothes with a touch of modernity. Now we embrace our African heritage, with the development of our designs in silk Adire which we started years ago. It has a luxury look and finish.
Tell us your success story?
My story is unique. I was a successful student in school. I won a lot of awards while in school in Manchester, London. I won a lot of awards for the school I attended and then coming out, I started my business a year after. Because I was also a designer of colour and there were not too many black designers in England, there was a lot of attention on what I was doing. I was fortunate to be located in the central part of London. It is like the Ikoyi of Lagos. So, I had access to a lot of well-paid clients. So the start was sort of quite easy, but it was how to sustain it that became an issue. I wanted to expand more. So, at some point, I sort of scaled the business down and travelled to make more enquiries in America, trying to see what I could do there. But the feedback was to go back and do what I was doing before. No business started easy. There was a time I was going to fashion houses in Paris and I was told that I still had to go back and develop my own label. With all that advice, I went back and continued. A lot of fashion houses worldwide do have financial backups but I never had. I always re-invest my gains into the business (laughs). This is because it is priority to my unique designs which have been described as classic with a touch of modernity. This demands being self-disciplined and principled to caution unnecessary spending.
You mentioned that you also run a fashion school, so how many people have you trained so far?
The Ade Bakare Design Academy started last year and we have trained about 20 upcoming designers. The next session starts first week in January. I feel it’s very important people who want to venture into the fashion design business have a firm understanding of the industry. We concentrate on fashion designing, creating new ideas, pattern cutting which is key and sewing. We have designers who are in the business who still come for courses to update their knowledge.
What does it take to be a great fashion designer?
It takes creativity combined with a good business acumen, which can only be gained through years of hard work, so the key word is tenacity. And the government can best aid fashion students through more fashion design schools all over the country that are well equipped. In the UK, there are over 500 fashion design government schools. The federal universities should also by now be offering fashion design as a four year degree as is obtainable abroad. Grants and loans such as those offered by the bank of industry (BOI) are positive aspects but the qualifying terms have to be reduced to enable more people benefit from the programme
What are the greatest challenges of fashion designers in Nigeria?
Some of the greatest challenges I feel is having a sound business module. Fashion designers are very creative by nature and less inclined to understand or appreciate the business aspects of running a business. They must simply partner with a friend who has good business acumen or employ an accountant. Calvin Klein, the American fashion designer said that for a designer to be successful in the 21st century, they must be able to design and understand business.
What is your advice to aspiring fashion designers?
My advice is that they should first study or practice with another fashion house, then they will be able to learn more before you set out. There are a lot of fashion design weeks springing up in Nigeria and the designers who show have little understanding of the industry, rather focus should be given to make sure they are able to harness the publicity they gain from the awareness of these shows. Fashion is a business and it’s all about profit and loss, not just showing glamorous clothes.