Idris Aregbe: Celebrating Values, Promoting Culture

Idris Aregbe

Idris Aregbe

For 11 years, Nigeria’s premiere beauty pageant, Sisi Oge, has empowered over 50, 000 models and 11 queens. The concept which recently rebranded as Culturati, is believed to be Africa’s largest cultural fiesta.  As the brand holds its 12th edition on June 30, the brain behind the initiative, Idris Aregbe, in this interview with MARY NNAH, reveals that the idea of rebranding was inspired by his love and passion for celebrating values that promote the African culture. Excerpts:

What informed your decision to rebrand from Sisi Oge to Culturati?

Culturati is a cultural festival inspired to showcase African culture.  As a matter of fact, it is a concept designed to showcase the good side of Africa to the world. We have quite a number of people who are doing great things African in Africa and all over the world – people who are growing the African continent. That was why I decided that we needed to take this brand further by rebranding from our usual Sisi Oge, which has been an annual cultural event to a more encompassing brand, Culturati, after celebrating the 11th edition, which was a resounding success.

Now in its 12th year, the brand has passionately rewarded the contributions of creative minds, nurtured cultural ambassadors, and empowered burgeoning art and fashion enthusiasts, while propagating the beauty of the African culture within and beyond the proximity of Africa.

Culturati is an edutainment cultural festival channelled towards a thorough acknowledgement and enlightenment of Africa’s rich history and values; It is a sustainable fusion and celebration of Africa’s arts and culture with a mission to revive indigenous culture on the brink of extinction on account of reckless abandon, as well as the rapid influx of westernisation.

Now, this cultural amalgam is intended to celebrate Africa’s exotic culture with a variety of entertaining engagements from, arts and fashion exhibition, music/dance drama, cultural festival/pageantry and a host of other electrifying performances.

Culturati, formerly known as “My Heritage, My Pride & Sisi Oge,” is not just an annual festivity, it’s a cultural movement aimed at promoting the African heritage with a strong commitment to instil our fading cultures in the hearts of today’s youths. It is designed to sustain our culture and of course, we are also incorporating SMEs and expanding our scope.

So, the notion behind Culturati 2019 is to explore nature’s creative beauty, create a renaissance of our cultural heritage, raise cultural ambassadors, and grow SMEs in the creative industry. To this end, we are building up programmes that are ongoing, to create the right momentum for the major event. The objective is to see how we can empower Nigerians. We are looking at culture from the prism of business and trying to tell the world that Culturati is not just about beauty pageants, nor events but promoting our culture with a perspective to also explore the business angle of culture.

The brand Sisi Oge was rebranded to Culturati in order to create an urban appeal that will distinctively capture the vast beauties of the African culture in its entirety.

The objectives of Culturati include, amongst others, to rebrand and re-introduce African cultures and traditions such as art, dance, fashion, music, food amongst others to the international community. It also aims to attract international tourists to Africa as well as to resuscitate our fading cultures through enlightenment, education and association.
It will also create a favourable market to showcase our amazing heritage while stimulating discourses around shared valued themes that participating bodies and individuals can buy into to foster socio-economic development – beneficial to all and sundry. It will alsoreward creative excellence and provide soft footing to tenderfoots in the creative industry, which is why Culturati Fashion Hub was orchestrated.

What are the business angles of culture you feel people should explore?

We are fully ready to launch the Culturati online business hub, which would profile business owners in terms of fashion, arts, crafts, entertainment, and everything that has to do with African value and heritage where anyone who is interested in any aspect of these businesses can hook up with individual owner of these businesses. We are also talking to banks to see how they can give some kind of zero interest loans to support these ones. That is why the exhibition we are holding this year is also to identify those key brands in the market, which we believe can sell and which we can also give support.

What exactly differentiates the forthcoming edition from the previous ones?

Like I said, with Culturati the concept is bigger and we have more to offer. We are offering additional content and a wider scope and reach. We are going beyond the mere fashion show and pageant to look at the business angle of culture. We are looking at promoting unsung heroes who are actually growing the economy of the country.  For example there is a a business dealing in smoked beef (suya) at Allen Junction, Ikeja, called University of Suya, which has been running for about 37 years. We have like three generations that have been doing the business. They have been growing the business and empowering young people from one generation to another. This is what Culturati stands for.  We want to identify some of these key businesses and see how we can engage and empower them and also help them redefine what they are doing and then put them on the world map. We want to encourage them and let them know that there is a brand observing them and that they just need to continue to move forward and see how they can continue to give out their best to the society. Whether we like it or not, if grow our local business, we are equally growing our society. So, we are looking at turning passion into wealth and to also continue to see how we can empower young people do SMEs. So it is not just about another pageantry event but is about celebrating African values.

You mentioned that there is a line-up of activities for the coming event. Can you talk about them?

Well, as a build up to the Culturati Night Grand Finale, which comes up on June 30 at the Balmoral Conventional Centre, Federal Palace Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos by 5pm. We have a line of activities which include interactive symposium held on June 11; Culturati Celebrity Football Match for June 20 by 7pm at Fun Turf, Admiralty Way, Lekki Phase 1, Lagos; Hair Braiding Festival on June 23 by 12noon at Nike Art Gallery, Lekki, and an Art and Fashion Exhibition on June 30 by 10am at the Balmoral Conventional Centre, Federal Palace Hotel, Lagos.

The event is primarily aimed at acknowledging and appreciating our treasured cultural heritage and traditions. The night will feature thrilling experiences from arts and fashion exhibition, musical performances, dance drama, cultural festival and pageantry, special recognition and awards amongst other.

The hair braiding festival/competition aims at celebrating the best hands in the industry, that is local stylists who are capable of making unique hairstyles, see how we can empower them set up businesses for men and also connect them to one of our sponsors, Lush Hair, a brand of synthetic hair extensions, so that we can easily achieve our aim. We also have the food aspect, which we are trying to come up with different recipes that have to do with the African vibes and for the African people. In terms of fashion show, we have seen different sorts but now we are looking at things that are targeted towards promoting the African values and cultures.

This concept has been running for over 10 years and it’s growing day by day. How would you describe its impact on Nigerians?

It’s been great, with the pageants alone, we have trained over 50,000 models and we have had 11 queens over the years. When you look around today, you would see some of our models featuring in most of the big shows in the fashion and entertainment industries.  I’m glad that in the last 11 years, we have been empowering young people, directing them in the right path and providing them with amenities to excel.  So, for us, we are not just a pageant promoter, it is about trying to redefine the African youths and the African woman in particular. So we thank God for where we are today and I also thank God that we are fully rebranded and that we are fully ready for a proper businesses platform to see how we can take small business owners from the level they are at the moment to a better level. That is why for this year’s edition of the show, we are partnering with a lot of big brands that also would be giving values to our youths.

So, 11 years is not a joke. It has not been easy but we thank God for where we are today. We are here today because we understand what we are doing. Today, we are not just celebrating the 12th edition but we are rebranding into a bigger and better platform to accommodate many more youths, more local business owners and to encourage more local Culturati heroes – those who believe in Africa and in African businesses. So, Culturai is not just an event but a platform for many to excel.

Now, you are going beyond the usual beauty pageant, extending your scope to incorporating budding SMEs and others. Won’t this make you deviate from the original concept of Sisi Oge?

Well, I have always said that I am not a pageant promoter. I wasn’t doing that because I wanted to parade models. I was doing it because I understood that with this concept, we can grow a better content. And that is what we have witnessed today with the birth of Culturati. Sisi Oge has always been content and it is that content that has grown to be what we are today – a better content, better platform.

Looking back at 12 years ago when you started Sisi Oge, did you envisage what it has turned out today?

Maybe I didn’t see it this way but I knew it was going to be different from what was on ground then because I understood what my content and concept were all about. I was ready for it. And I thank God that today; it is even bigger than what I envisaged.

Starting about 12 years ago was tough but because it was what I really believed in, I had to push hard on it. I didn’t allow any obstacle to hold me back. I was willing and ready to contribute my own quota to the society; I was willing and ready to support people because I am also a product of people’s support.

What is your vision for Culturati?

It is for us to continue to grow and create more platforms for the younger generation, so that in the next five years, we would have so many beautiful things to show. I am using this opportunity to call on Nigerian youths, to come up with beautiful ideas that would better our society.

Titilope Lisk: Working to be the Biggest Fashion Brand in Africa

Titilope Abiodun Lisk is the co-founder of Lisk Fashion Company, one of Nigeria’s top indigenous fashion brands with speciality on male wears. In this interview with MARY NNAH, she talks about the brand’s unique selling point, plans for future expansion and most importantly, plans to delve into female and kids fashion line soon. Excerpts:

Tell us about Lisk Fashion as a brand?

We are a fashion brand, although we do mostly male wears for now but we will soon launch female and kids line very soon. Yes, we want to sew cloths that are fashionable and cloths that people can wear. So, we strive to cater for as many people as possible and that is what we build the brand around. Although we majored more on corporate but we have now included urban wears, native wears and other fashionable wears that in a couple of years this brand will be seen as a full fashion brand. We just want to be in everyone’s wardrobe. That is the idea.

Who are the brains behind Lisk Fashion Company?

My husband and I are the co-founders of Lisk Fashion Company. I am a graduate of the University of Lagos. I used to be a banker till last year when I resigned to follow my dream. My husband, Seun Lisk, is a trained engineer. He has worked in the finance sector for a couple of years and he still works there.  He founded this about 12 years ago. He was 18years old when he started doing fashion at the University of Lagos. He studied engineering. He started making cloths for himself when he was in school. Lisk has always been there but we are two years now as a business entity in Nigeria.

What inspires your designs?

I have an interest in fabrics and travel. Fabrics give me loads of idea on what I can do with the fabrics. I even get ideas from people doing the wrong things. Nature also gives me inspiration.

Two years down the line, what are your success stories? 

Before we became a business entity, I’m talking about eight years after we started this; I have never had to do any advert, not even as simple as Whatsapp but this brand has been consistent for the past seven years. We have had referrals and people have testified of still wearing their wedding suits after six years we made them. Most of what we had done for the past seven years were referrals and there have never been a period we have never been busy, even without advertising. So, what we have done is to work on our quality and make sure we give out the best.

We try our best to meet international standards, such that people have had to ask questions as to whether our products are actually made in Nigeria. We have worked on our quality and fabrics, stitches and we have hired the best of hands. What we have also done in the last seven years is to build a team that can do different things. We have worked with a lot of celebrities. We have styled awardees for the hip-hop awards; we have worked with Ice Prince, Praise, Dotun, Mofe Duncan, Bryan Okpara and a whole lot of them.

What challenges have you encountered since you started?

The major challenge revolves around production. I think this is the major challenge every fashion designer faces in the country. We have issues with power. We have to train people to meet the standards acceptable internationally. So, another challenge is getting the right people to fit into production aspect and getting them to do the right thing. The devaluation of the currency is also affecting the business and the buying power of people. These challenges exist but the major has been with production. As a result of production challenge, we have to struggle to meet up with timing.


What is your staff strength?

We are about six but we have contract and indirect workers which sums up to over 30 workers.

How do you source for raw materials?

We have local importers that bring in the products and they also have direct affiliation with some foreign companies that make and sell fabrics. So we source from local importers and from international markets.

What kind of fabrics do you use to make your male outfit?

For our suits, the preferred fabrics are wool-blended materials. We also use cotton and African prints but it is based on demands. We don’t want to box ourselves to a corner. For the female clothing line, it is a mix of everything. Like I said, we have different people who want to make different things. We try as much as possible to cater for everyone. We do the African print, the urban and corporate.

What steps are you taking to put your brand in the global map?

For quality, what we have done in the last eight years is to ensure that our products meet international standards. So, apart from producing locally, our tailors are trained to meet with the international standards. We also produce some of our outfit in other countries and they also follow international standards of production. We are also infusing technology into our brand to enhance our production and reach to people. We also plan to do e-commerce by having a mobile app, where people can order for whatever they want. Right now, we have a lot of people that order for our products from all over the world, especially Africans in diaspora. Some of them may want to get married and they stay in America and Germany and we deliver to them. So, from the patronage we are getting, it is clear that people believe in African designers.  I have some friends in America who order for our suits and we send it to them. The designs we have are cutting-edge designs.

What are your unique selling points?

The truth is that you cannot survive in this business without having the basic things. So, you have to look at the basics and quality is crucial and we are never going to trade this for anything. The designs are also very important. Not everyone has this. The fabrics we use and the cut are very unique. Everyone has unique size and body structure, so we ensure it fits everyone’s unique personality. Also, like I said, we are adding technology to everything we do. So, technology is going to be one of our major selling points. So, we are building something that has not been seen or done in this part of the world and that is going to be an advantage for us.

Being a wife, how are you able to partner with your husband in this business and still maintain the home front?

This was the major reason I had to quit my job. We are blessed with two children, a boy and a girl, ages four and two. It is not easy but it is just about being organised and setting your priorities right. I wake up every day as early as five, get the kids ready for school and go on with the daily activities. Sometimes I stay up late at night doing one thing or the other. I would say being organised is key.


Is your clothing line one for profit making or just for the love or passion that drives designers?

There is a market for this business in Nigeria. People will always wear cloths. I have seen businesses with lowest profit margins but I think the margins in a business should be enough to sustain it. So, passion alone cannot sustain you. You need to be able to grow as a business. When you make cloths that really look beautiful but no one is buying it, then there is a problem. For me, passion is very necessary but you also need to have an entrepreneurial spirit. You have to know how to cut cost, maximise profits, market your products and all these put together builds a brand. Fashion business in my opinion is just like every other business. There are certain strategies you may need to deploy at times on the job.

 How will you compare fashion business in Nigeria to other developed countries?

Like every other sector, we are still behind; we have a lot of catching up to do. The good thing is that we have the market in Nigeria and there are lots of gaps to still cover. In other countries, fashion designers have taken themselves out of the business and allowed it run as a real business. I am yet to see this happen in Nigeria. Business continuity has become something difficult to achieve in Nigeria. There are brands that are over 100 years old but Nigerian brands hardly outlive their founders. This is the problem. We do not have enough capacity and funds to run the fashion business the way it’s supposed to be.  I think there are lots of Nigerian designers that are big, yet people don’t wear their cloths. They need to start taking themselves out of the business and allow it run as a business entity, where they will employ capable hands to run the business in the proper manner.

In few years to come, where do you see this brand?

In the next few years, we hope to be the biggest fashion brand in Africa. We are working towards this and we are putting plans in place. We are doing some things now that we can’t disclose but in future, you will see the manifestation. We have a vision to be the biggest fashion brand in Africa.

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