Kola Kuddus: My Greatest Challenge is Managing People and Business

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He creatively designs weird pieces. His pragmatic bent is striking. You can’t pigeon hole him. His mastery of delicate craftsmanship of Nigerian masculine figure, through immense creativity, handwork as well as their ideas, speak volume of his instinct, gut, love, passion and honesty for the trade. His clothes are noted for a tradition of been borne out of a sense of purpose, of need, and the innate ability to activate the Nigerian experience. Little wonder one of the reasons he generates so much support from his industry. As a front liner, he aptly demonstrates that the boundaries of men’s wear are easier to transgress, whilst his works evoke excitement and outrage when their conventions are challenged. He designs stir up conversations around questions on power, sexuality and gender being raised by men’s fashion. Kola Yusuf, the Managing Director, Kola Kuddus Couture speaks to with Adedayo Adejobi on growing up, incursion into fashion, influences, his participation and high hopes of repositioning Nigeria’s fashion industry through, and his breathtaking romance with the wife of his youth

What was the best gift you remember receiving as a child?
The best gift I received ad child would be education and proper home training.

When you were a teenager, what did you do for fun? Did you have a favourite spot to “hang out”?
As a teenager I hung out more with my family and few friends. Well I remember going out to play video games.

What time did you have to be home at night? Did you ever get into any trouble?
My curfew was 7pm but I hardly got into trouble most especially with my disciplinarian parents.

What sparked your interest in fashion?
My elder brother loved fashion growing up and I took it up from him unconsciously. Getting to the university, my friends and classmate noticed my style and called my attention it. This instantly turned me in a personal shopper and a stylist for my friends and network.

What made you take fashion more seriously and make a career out of it?
My craving for wanting to create more unique pieces made me take fashion more seriously. This led me into taking it a step further by enrolling in a fashion school to do a Diploma in dress making in 2006 at Nobel Afrik. Also, my clientele-base was growing and so I hardly had time for another thing asides fashion.

Are you self-taught or did you study fashion design?
Initially self-thought, but on realizing the knowledge I had wouldn’t take me to the next stage, I enrolled at Nobel Afrik fashion academy where I bagged a diploma in dressing making. After this, I took courses at London college of Fashion and Central Saint Martin’s London in fashion design and production, and personal styling.

How has your work evolved since you began your own label?
My love for creating know no bounds and it’s keeping the label evolving. I started out making just shirt as a student, got into designing leather foot wears and accessories at some point and much later into suit making. Today the brand does more Afrocentric inspired pieces and less or what we started out with and with this the brand keeping evolving in its style and aesthetics.

How would you describe your brand?
The brand today is an Afro minimalist fashion brand that loves to create unique and classic pieces of clothes and accessories making it one of the top menswear fashion brand in Africa. With brand integrity and assiduousness, we have been able to meet the demand of our ever evolving clientele to a satisfactory level.

What’s it like being in the industry?
I have learnt a lot being in the fashion industry and theirs still much more to learn. It’s a mixer of creativity, production, commerce and much more with new innovations on a regular basis. It’s an industry and that never goes to sleep and forever evolving. It could be exhausting sometimes especially in a country like ours.

Being a man in fashion, are there any types of clothing that you avoid wearing?
I’m not really, sure but I sometimes prepare wearing skin-tight clothes and over baggy clothing except Agbada and dashiki.

How is your work received internationally?
My work has been received well internationally. I remember showcasing in London and South Africa a couple of times and receiving so much emails, but now, I look forward to international collaborations and partnership. By the way, there’s a few in the pipeline already.

Do influences from outside of Nigeria find their way into your work?
Although my brand is Afrocentric, but it’s not limited by it African boundaries. Fashion and creativity know no bounds, and it’s difficult to control creative influences from across the world.

What are you fascinated by at the moment and how does it feed into your work?
At the moment I have been enjoying going for art exhibitions and making loads for friends with artist of all sort. This is helping my creative thought process and reshaping my directions. Now, I’ve got wall paintings around my studio that constantly keep me inspired.

What is the biggest lesson that you have learned since your incursion into Fashion?
One of the biggest lessons I have learnt is to be to myself more and more. I found out that being you makes you unique and gives a level of fulfilment.

What advice would you give to young aspiring designers?
Young designers should crave for passion for creating and get themselves soaked up in any positive act that makes them more creative. I would also advice they shouldn’t rush into owning a brand but spend more time working and studying creative brand, as this allows them to discover themselves and get a better grasp of the business and sense of direction.

What would you like to achieve before the end of the year?
I am looking forward to more partnerships within and outside the Nigeria. I also plan to take more fashion and business courses and go on more fashion tourist visits.

Are you superstitious or do you have any rules you live by?
I set yearly goals for myself and I set out the rules to achieving this goal

What’s your philosophy about life?
I believe in hard work and hundred percent commitment to whatever I am working on. I constantly commit my affairs onto the hands of God.

What and who inspires you?
I like arts and nature a lot, these two things constantly inspire me.

What have been the biggest Challenge So Far?
Managing people and business has been my greatest challenge, but I am constantly getting better at it.

Biggest Challenge to Come?
The biggest challenge to come would be keeping up with all the new innovations in fashion especially with data and artificial intelligent

Your work has never changed. The clothes have, but have the principles also changed?
Fashion and style keeps evolving, the principles to life and achieving goals remain the same though it could sometimes be challenging sticking with the same principles.

What do you consider the price of your success?
The price for success would be the sacrifices, the pains and hard work and forgone opportunities one puts in achieving a goal.

Tell us about your participation in FADAN?
After 12 years of being a member of Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN) as a floor member and taken different executive roles, I have decided to vie for the highest post as Executive which is the post of President of the Association. I am presently the vice president of the association. Starting and running a fashion business can sound like an easy and attractive venture until you go through some tough times that can make you consider quitting or regret starting the business. But the interesting thing is that the Nigerian fashion industry is worth N1.8trn yearly, so how do we tap into the market and huge potentials?
Mu interest in vying for the position of the Association is hinged on supporting and helping members grow, creating a community that enables collaboration amongst fashion entrepreneurs, integrating fashion start-ups into the fold and most crucially bridging the measurable gaps between the chapters of the Association.

What does FADAN future hold?
FADAN holds bright and promising future for its members and the fashion industry at large.

What are your aspirations for FADAN in the coming years?
I look forward to an all-inclusive, innovative, enterprising and versatile FADAN majorly concerned with the growth of its members and the fashion industry. I look to a FADAN that protects and promotes it members.

What do you do outside work and being busy with the business of FADAN?
Outside work I enjoy travel times with family and hanging out with friends.

Being a designer, how do you cope with advances from ladies?
I am yet to start receiving advances. I’m more focused on work and family.

How did you meet your spouse? What did you like about her?
I met my wife through a family friend of mine and her personality was everything. I later realized we complemented ourselves well.

How and when did you get engaged?
We got engaged in 2010 on one of our trips back to Nigeria, then she used to work and live in England. I think it was a day or two before she was going back. I got the ring and started shivering. I reached out to a couple of her friends, a member of sibling and mine. I remember printing would you marry on the shirt. After we had dinner, the waiter rolled in the trolley and by then I was already on my knees. She hadn’t seen the ring before she started crying and the team moved in.

When did you get married? How old were you? Where did you get married? What was your wedding like?
I got married here in Lagos in 2011 and I was 29 years old. It was quite a big wedding especially because my wife is from Ijebu and also the first child, so it was loud.

What was the first big purchase you made with your spouse?
I am not sure I can remember.

What makes your spouse special or unique?
She is a gift from God to me. She complements me in loads of way I can’t explain. Some of my flaws seem to be her strength and I appreciate her more for that and God most especially for a perfect match.

How did you feel about raising your children? What was the best part? The hardest part?
It’s a total new experience especially with the world evolving so fast. The way we were raised is quite different from the way kids are raised these days.