FOLAKE MAJIN: Fringes of A Life of A Fashionista

She is one of the foremost fashion designers in Nigeria with experience spanning over three decades. She has clothed celebrities such as first ladies, society ladies as well as many corporate clienteles.  Folake Majin, is the creative and  managing director of Schon  Afrique label, under which she runs her own individual label, the Folake Majin brand. Her exclusive designs have featured in top Nigerian magazines and attracted international attention; vogue and Getty images. The Ahmadu Bello University English graduate has plied her fashion trade for 35 years.  In this encounter with Funke Olaode, the Kogi-born celebrity designer recounts  how she has evolved from being a classroom teacher to a fashion mogul.

Her passion for fashion traces back to her childhood. Her ingenuity and creativity of paying attention to details have drawn several high profile clienteles into her fashion tent. Mrs. Folake Majin, is the creative and managing director of Schon Afrique label, under which she runs her own individual label, the Folake Majin brand.  Mrs. Majin has been in the fashion business for 35 years and continues to dictate the fashion space because of her wow effect she often creates for her high profile clientele. She is known in the celebrity circle for her unique stunning and classy designs.

Timeless and classic, she is known for bespoke pieces for confident women with a desire to ‘stand out’ outfits that don’t necessarily follow trends but stand the test of time.  Often referred to as “Designer of First Ladies,” her clothes have adorned industry leaders in government, media, arts, and music and film industries.

Her exclusive designs have featured in top Nigerian Magazines and attracted international attention; vogue and Getty images to name a few. She’s a member of Manufacturers association of Nigeria (MAN), a member of Fashion designers association of Nigeria (FADAN)and the Vice President of Apparel and Accessories Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (AAMAN ).

Welcoming this reporter into her upscale showroom in Lekki, Lagos, the ambience speaks volumes about the affluence and opulence embedded in every stitch accompanied by tailored precision. Mrs. Majin has been operating in a different location for years, her new abode is more conducive, convenient and of course, closer to her clients who are all about that fit.

Born 65 years ago, the mother of six (three boys and girls) hails from the Yoruba speaking area of Kogi state but lived in Ilorin with her parents while growing up. “I grew up in Ilorin, a conservative setting.  I remember as a child, my father was in University College London (UCL), and my mother was a school teacher. My parents were disciplinarians, especially my mother. Maybe because my father was always not around. When he came, his biggest punishment was, ‘put your hands behind your back.’ But my mum, possibly until I got married, I used to think that she didn’t like me.  She was very strict. Every mistake comes with some smacks and beating.  I remember she once gave me gold earrings that I lost in church one day and it was hell,” she recounted with nostalgia.

A well-grounded and courteous woman, Mrs. Majin imbibed the culture of etiquette right from her school days at Queen Amina College in Kaduna.  “My secondary school was one of the best experiences of my life, because I went to Catholic school. And there were a lot of values we were taught as children.  I find it odd when people break the law, for example, crossing the lawn, sitting carelessly etc.”

After leaving Queen Amina College, Mrs. Majin wanted a career in the wig but couldn’t get admission to study law. She settled for English at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.  “I didn’t regret that decision because I have always had interest in Arts, Literature and so on.  It was a nice course for me to study. In those days, you didn’t just study only that course. We did courses in Social Sciences such as Economics. So, it was a very good experience.”

Before her foray into the fashion industry, Mrs. Majin was a classroom teacher.  “After the mandatory youth service I got married and relocated to Minna where I was teaching. I taught for a few months, then my husband got transferred to the Ministry of Defence, Lagos.”

While doing a sit-at-home wife and mum, consciously or unconsciously, Mrs. Majin was re-awakening his childhood ambition of being a fashion designer. “I have always liked fashion.  And as far as fashion goes if you ask me, in my next life what I will be, I’ll tell you I would be a fashion designer. I discovered this part of me ever since I was still a child.  We always look forward to all the ceremonial times when you have to do harvests and festivals in church.  I have always been interested in fashion. But when I knew it was deep for me was when my mum made me an outfit I didn’t like. I refused to go to church and I hid.”

The flame of fashion was reignited in the university as an undergraduate where she called the shots dictating the fashion space. She was admired by all for her fashion sense until she graduated. Mrs. Majin decided to make a living out of her childhood dream during an encounter with an old friend who admired her style and wanted a taste of her fashion sense. “It was my friend who wanted to copy styles that first ‘challenged’ me to give my talent a chance.  And some weeks earlier, I was with my sisters-in-law at a breakfast table, and they were like, ‘aunty, you know this your fashion thing, your children are now grown, you can start it’. And I said okay, there are so many ways God talks to you. He talks to you through people as well, and you may not even realise that it was God. Because at that time, if you ask me, I wasn’t even thinking that way. That’s how it started. I made the clothes for her. And I decided to make more. I made like 20 more dresses. I did it for all my friends in Ikoyi then.”

A very consistent and hardworking woman. Mrs. Majin’s fashion journey began in the early 80s. And by the mid-80s, she had blossomed and became a go-to fashion for top society women of that era. “I was even making the clothes from a small confine in my house then. After some time, I decided that I have to take it more seriously. I actually was quite ambitious, that was how I got a place. Along the line I went on training in pattern making and pattern drafting, these are the technical, structural and engineering parts of fashion designing, which is very important.”

For Mrs. Majin, one of her unique selling points or what makes her tick is her creativity which has been transferred to her offspring “For me, the design part of me is mostly a gift and a unique one because I have this ability to be able to design endlessly, and effortlessly. To be able to create exclusive designs per person no matter how many people I’m designing for. With the same fabrics, I can give everybody different styles.  That’s clearly a gift. I didn’t go to any fashion school, it’s my children that went. Two of them are also into fashion now.  They own their own companies, but once a while we collaborate to create a fashion show. We have done like two or three fashion shows that were sponsored by MTN, Bank of Industries a few years back.”

Having flourished in the fashion industry for close to four decades, Mrs. Majin attests to the fact that Nigerian brands have always stood out, become acceptable and has come to stay. “If you have an experience living in the north, it was never a pattern to look western. In the north, fashionistas do their clothing in traditional attires. In the south also, we had fashion designers such as Mrs. Folorunso Alakija that made their clothing in African Fabrics.  The francophone countries were always true to their culture, they used African fabrics for their clothing.  Here in Nigeria, the late Mrs. Maryam Babangida made wearing Nigerian fabrics enviable. She was patronised by a lot of Nigerian designers making clothes for her, because she wanted to look authentically African. So, it wasn’t much of a problem convincing people to wear our cultural fabrics when I started.”

Narrating her challenges at the inception of her fashion business and how she navigated through it, according to her, ‘it was enormous’.

“There were challenges of power, getting professionals, people that knew how to cut precisely, getting pattern makers etc. Now the industry has grown. Then, there weren’t pattern makers. You had to use the foreigners, these are people from francophone countries.  This was because they were ahead of us in indigenous fashion. And the designers there do pattern making and the like. Also, because I love lace a lot, I love the intricacies of lace, I have to train all my staff myself. That’s how they became experts.”

She started her fashion business in her flat and as her business grew, she got a warehouse and expanded her business. According to her, she was growing with her ambition.  “I told you I was very ambitious. I took a whole flat when I first set out to get a place. I later moved to a warehouse at the back.  My area of specialization then was African fabrics. I was making laces, Ankara, brocades etc.  Along the line I discovered I was doing a lot. It was time consuming, and I was like how do I balance out, so I can do the thing that brings more of the cash rather than the passion. Which is the business side of fashion. I ventured into wholesales of traditional gowns, uniforms etc. I do bridal wear, special location wear, and traditional engagement wear, special wear, custom made.”

A few years back, Mrs. Majin was in the news for good reason when a photograph of one of her designs went viral. It was a picture of Nigeria’s First Lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari. Did she actually make the dress?  “Yes I did.  I feel honoured and humbled. And I feel it’s the God factor for me, that’s what has brought me this far.

Mrs. Majin as a fashion entrepreneur is also rooted in the word of God. She is neither a pastor nor head of a church. Loving God comes to her naturally with her pastoral approach to life. “For me, it’s always the God factor. Where I am today is the God factor. Even the Fashion is the God factor. It’s not as if I deliberately set out to do fashion. Until I had my fourth child, I was purely a house wife.  I used to live in Minna with my late husband. I moved to Lagos after I had my first child. While in Minna, I was teaching in a Girls’ school then. Because that was immediately after my youth service. I’m not religious because religion for me is appearance. However beyond appearance, your relationship with God and obedience to him matters a lot. If you see me do anything, it’s probably what I have experienced and the way that the lord leads and guides me, even without me asking. Even my meeting with God was divine. Nothing happens by accident and nothing happens without God.  So I am very involved with God and His things and very involved with my church, the Baptist Church, Ikoyi. We are encouraged to hear from God, know God and serve him. And then, you have those circumstances around you, and you just find God at work, God will lead you.”

It has been 36 years of making Nigerian women beautiful through her breathtaking designs, Mrs. Majin said it is a terrain where she has found fulfillment apart from serving God.”

Endowed with a babyface, smooth skin with a dark long silk hair, Mrs. Majin is also an embodiment of contentment. Any beauty routine?  “No. It is the joy of the Lord. It does not mean that one doesn’t have issues. His joy has made us look younger than our age.  For me, makeup is not a must. I wear makeup when I’m going out or if I want to do a photo-shoot. Otherwise, everyday it’s just me and my powder.  For my hair, I try my best to keep it looking this way. I give directions to my hair dressers rather than them telling me what to do for me. Over the years, I know what works for my hair.”

Mrs. Majin has been widowed for 8 years, having lost her husband in 2014.  “God has been the glory and the lifter of my head. He has been my support, he has been my help, my joy and my everything. He is my providential provider.”

For deeply religious Mrs. Majin, her life lessons still rely solely on God.  “God is the glory and the lifter of my head. Life has taught me that I must depend on God. Apart from him, I can do nothing. I’ve learnt to rely on God and depend on him. Everything he says in his words is meaningful to me. Despite surrounding issues in my life. I find joy in God alone.  He has been faithful.”

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