Erelu to fashion designers: don’t imitate others

July 30, 2019

Ekiti State Governor’s wife Kayode Fayemi, Erelu Bisi Fayemi has been a strong supporter and patron of the African Fashion Week London (AFWL) since 2012. She speaks with Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME on the challenges hindering the growth of African designers in the global market, her plans to establish Ekiti Entrepreneurship Week, her dream of the yearly fashion event holding in August in London, among other issues.

You have supported AFWL since 2012. What are you looking forward to at the ninth edition this year?

I am truly pleased to have been a part of AFWL’s work since 2012, when the Founder of AFWL, Ronke Ademiluyi, asked me to be the Patron of AFWL 2012. The 2012 event was really nice and when I attended in 2018 after a number of years had gone by, I was very impressed to see how much AFWL had grown. In 2019, I am looking forward to seeing more designers and more of a connection with a new generation of Africa based designers who could do with international recognition.

How do events, such as AFWL, contribute towards the reputation of the African continent?

Events, such as AFWL, remind the world that the African continent, in all its diversity, is rich in all areas of fashion. Fashion is an integral part of our identity as Africans. Through our various textiles, tapestries, embroideries, hairstyles, jewellry, permanent and non-permanent tattoos, we tell stories that reflect our history, values, complexity and uniqueness. Through events, such as AFWL, we showcase our creativity and the ways in which we celebrate every new dawn through dressing up in ways that reflect occasion, mood and convention.

What do you think has hindered African designers from achieving the same success that western designers have achieved?

There are many factors responsible for this. I will mention just a few in no particular order. First, there is the uneven access to global attention via international media attention. There is the perception that you cannot get anything coming out of Africa that can be better than what an Italian or French designer can come up with. Second, there is the issue of access to international markets, which is a fall out from the first challenge I identified. Third is the problem of finance. Without adequate capital, designers cannot produce at scale, will not be able to invest in marketing and advertising and cannot overcome production hitches caused by weak infrastructure such as electricity, poor roads and so on. Fourth is the sensitive issue of realistic pricing. I am aware that there are high production costs associated with fashion all over the world. However, the markets are different. Just because designers sell an outfit for $500 in London or Paris does not mean designers in African countries can charge the same rates. Yes, there are many who will buy but most people certainly will not do so on a sustainable basis. There is a designer in Nigeria who made nice outfits for me a few years ago, I almost had a heart attack when I got the bill! Even if I can I afford to pay, I might want to prioritise other things other than spend so much on a single item, when there are people around me with school fees and medical bills to be paid.

Could you tell us about any fashion-related projects in Ekiti?

I am starting a project with young designers and dressmakers in the State. In October 2019, we are going to have the Ekiti Entrepreneurship Week and a component of that is going to be devoted to exhibiting the works of Ekiti designers as well as a fashion show. The fashion industry can help create jobs and wealth. We also have a weaving industry in the state which needs to be revived and promoted. I am going to be actively involved in that, too, through collaborations among my office and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development, the Directorate of Employment and the Council for Arts and Culture.

As the AFWL Global Ambassador, what will you like to see this platform achieved?

I will like to be able to draw attention to the need to invest in women and girls. The economic, social and political empowerment of women is very important. No development is possible without taking into consideration the needs of half of the population. I see the fashion industry and its entire value chain as one way in which we can promote the voices and creativity of both women and men, with an emphasis on paying attention to the fewer opportunities that women have for growth and development.

Why do you think African fashion has recently come to the forefront?

I think industry watchers and citizens around the world now understand that Africa has been at the forefront all along. Whatever it is – creative designs, originality, colour, wearability, glamour, pizzazz, grace, elegance, attitude, you name it, we have it!

What does the future hold for African fashion and organisations,s such as AFWL?

The future is quite bright for African Fashion and AFWL. We should focus on the things we do well and not worry about imitating others. You can only be the best version of yourself otherwise you end up as a poor imitation of someone else. No African Fashion designer should be aspiring to be the next Coco Channel, Tom Ford or Vera Wang. We have fabulous designers who can claim the world as their own. It would be my pleasure to continue working with AFWL to play a role in that.

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