Okafor Chidera: I Trained as a Lawyer, I’m Enjoying Life as a Fashion Designer 

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Okafor Vivien Chidera is a socialite, fashion entrepreneur and lawyer. Her passion and love of fashion, coupled with her taste in class, style and poise made her venture in fashion designing and now she is on a journey to excellence with her craft. She talks to Tosin Clegg about falling in love with fashion designing, growing her brand, challenges of the business and a lot more

Growing up in Abakaliki

I grew up in Abakaliki and I’m the second in a family of seven, six girls and a boy. I attended All Saints Nursery and Primary School, and Federal Government College, Ezzamgbo. Later, I went to Ebonyi State University to study Law and went to the Lagos Law School after which I was called to Bar 2013. I have worked for both The Law Union and Deux Partners before leaving the active practice of Law to set up my fashion brand. 

I have always loved fashion

I love mixing colors, fabrics, patterns and so much more. Growing up, my mum was the go to woman in our neighborhood for moulding gele and she owned a saloon and a tailoring shop. She would help women and her friends get ready for events. I just loved the process of dressing others and of putting fabrics together to create something beautiful. There’s something very satisfying in having a hand in making another human being look their best. 

 The story of ‘Bella Vehida’

As a teenager I had a diary where I wrote my dreams and aspirations. I wanted to own a fashion brand and I even named it ‘Bella Vehida’, and it took 13 years to get here. I registered the business name Bella Vehida in 2014 after law school. I knew what I wanted and I was willing to be put in the work and through sheer will, hardwork and real focus, I was finally able to start operations in 2018. The easiest part is dreaming. Actually turning that into a goal and taking the necessary actions to achieve the desired results of making it a reality is a different matter altogether. So you have to be consistent and no matter the difficulty encountered, and how many times you’re discouraged, just keep pushing.

We officially opened our flagship store and started operations in 2018. I was motivated to start my own business because fashion is something I’m very passionate about and I just want to make sure I explore all my passions and interests while I can. There is also something amazing about nurturing a dream and making it a reality. 

Still on my law profession

I didn’t leave the legal profession. It’s always with me and a part of everything that I do. The beautiful thing about law is that it can be used in every sector. My law background is a huge advantage to me even in my current industry. Secondly, Law will always be my first love and I can return to active practice in the future should I choose to. A fashion brand is more than a single individual, yes I’m the founder of Bella Vehida but I may not always be its Creative Director.

I make ready to wear and couture pieces

For my ready to wear pieces, my focus is functionality, comfort, style and beauty; the kind of clothes one would wear again and again, mixing and matching them with several pieces along the way. For my couture pieces, I make clothes that one would stand out in. My goal is to make sure the wearer is remembered and it’s important to me that when you wear my brand to any event you’re uniquely dressed and you make a statement. 

The Nigerian fashion industry has grown over the years

We have designers showcasing on runways across the globe. We have international celebrities wearing our brands and now international fashion icons attend and participate in fashion shows right here in Lagos. It’s a great time for African fashion; we are unquestionably on the rise. Power is a huge issue for most industries in Nigeria and we are not exempted. Cost of production is high due to the electricity issue in Nigeria. We also have the issue of competition on price, design copycats as lazy designers will copy your work and sell it cheaper to undercut you. 

There are also issues of lack of reliable manufacturers in Nigeria and unreliable employees in production companies and tailors who are infamously unreliable, lack of funding from the government and others to improve productivity. 

We need better support from the government and other industries to help improve productivity. It will greatly help to improve electricity, have a better system of checkmating copycats in the industry and introducing fines to discourage this blatant copying and replicating of other people’s original designs. Also, it will help for the government to place heavier restrictions on importation of clothes from china, as well as more campaigns to support Nigerian fashion brands.

 Foreign made vs locally made

It’s actually quite sad that we constantly choose foreign made over locally made most of the time. There is always the fact that most people think foreign is better, which is an absolute lie. And I think for most people, it boils down to cost at the end of the day. Clothes mass produced in china are ridiculously cheap even if somewhat lacking in quality and the average Nigerian is looking for the cheapest price they can get. It’s difficult for locally made brands to compete with their prices because our cost of production is high. 

 My fun, funky, flirty and fabulous work

I have always characterised my work with the 4 f’s and they are fun, funky, flirty and fabulous! I create pieces that not only make you look good, but feel good too. When you wear my brand you can be sure you would be remembered. So for me, fashion, while profitable, is also a long term investment, especially for anyone looking to build a brand, you have to be willing to do the work and be consistent to achieve desired results. 

I want to be an all inclusive brand and we are going to diversify into other areas of fashion aside from clothes in the near future. We want Bella Vehida to be a household name and to be recognised not only in Nigeria but also across the globe as a thriving fashion house. Our goal is to make sure the average person owns something from our brand.