Stitched in Nigeria for the world

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As global demand for African fashion skyrockets, Nigeria has emerged as one of the biggest source markets. This year, Statista, an online data platform, estimates that the West African nation's revenues will reach $9.23 billion.

The country's agbada, Chinko blouse and wrapper clothings regularly feature on international fashion shows, giving their designers a wide exposure.

The BD Life had a candid conversation with Ugochukwu Onukwubiri, director of the fashion brand 14ZEROSEVEN, one of the designers tapping the growing demand.

What is the genesis of your brand?

My official birth date is July 15. I was born on the 14th at midnight. In secondary and university the numbers 1, 4, 0, and 7 were significant to me in various stages of my life.

When I was choosing a name for my brand I was intentional about not choosing the cliché names like “Fashion House’. My name Ugochukwu in Igbo means “Eagle”. So on my sketchpad, I drew out an eagle with the numbers 1407 on top of it and that was the birth of the brand.

Style defines what I do. Fashion is quick; here today and gone tomorrow. Your style defines what you do with the pieces that you buy. My brand is androgynous, and comfort is a key factor for us. We mainly use fabrics like cotton and linen that are comfortable and breathable and work in both tropical and temperate regions.

Essentially, fabrics that are versatile and sustainable as people who buy my pieces are art collectors. They are buying pieces that can last a lifetime and can be handed over from one generation to the next, maintaining their quality.

Who is your target market?

Interestingly, when I started, I always thought maybe just the creatives will understand my brand aesthetics. However, as the brand has developed, we have collectors, from captains of industry to the young at heart. The older generation has started to quickly realise that you must not conform to any societal pressure to look a certain way.

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During the Covid-19 pandemic our business grew expansively. Most people realised they could shop from us and wear the pieces during lockdown to feel good and even after Covid, the pieces were still functional! And so, we worked through Covid. We found a shipping company that could ship locally and internationally. We have slowly gained a loyal clientele.

What are your price points?

Our price points start from $60 and the most expensive would range as high as $ 500.

What goes into making high-end pieces?

There are pieces in the collection that we produced with fabrics that we reimagined and reinterpreted and manipulated the fabrics to produce the final product. So, for instance, if it is a dress that is woven, two people in my production team work on the piece and weave the individual strands from various fabrics and convert it into a dress. This process takes up to four days to complete.

What role has culture played in the growth of your brand and the Nigerian fashion industry as a whole?

First of all, Nigerians are very vibrant, loud and effervescent people. You will be hard-pressed honestly, to find a Nigerian designer that is muted. Even if the colour palette is muted, when you look at the actual garment design you will see the happiness, singing, dancing and joy in the outfit. We are very musical.

If you look at our traditional outfits, you will see very bright colours. The collection that I showcased at Tribal Chic in Nairobi recently is a nod to the vibrancy of where I come from. It was literally a very colourful collection.

Nigeria has over 100 tribes. Is there a distinct look for each?

There is a special kind of intricate embroidery from the North called Chinko. In the collection that I recently showcased at Tribal Chic, we used it for many of the pieces. The Yoruba have traditional outfits called Agbada, the Igbo's have the wrapper and the blouse which is part of my identity. I am Igbo but I was born in the North so I have a rich northern heritage in me and now I live in Lagos, which is in the West so I am able to blend Igbo and the Yoruba cultures and they all come into play when I create my collections. I am very proudly Nigerian.

Where do you source your fabrics from?

We source locally and internationally. For instance, the fabrics that we have used in our latest collection were sourced locally. I used an Indian Sari that I purchased in Abuja. It is about getting international cultures to be part of your local culture .

Does the Nigerian government support the local fashion industry?

Is there a booming fashion industry in Nigeria? Yes? Things can be frustrating, but the government has put some policies in place to support the creative industry. Financial institutions such as banks have also created grants for creatives, which really helps.

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How has your brand evolved?

I started my career in the corporate world and some of the key skills I learnt then such as customer service, social media etiquette and branding are what I use in my business today. I also had a sewing machine at home and since I was very passionate about fashion design, after work I would practice my sewing and pattern-making skills that I learnt from my mother who had a fashion house.

Coincidentally, at my office, there was an elderly woman who used to create outfits that were well-tailored for my colleagues. I requested her to mentor me and she graciously accepted, so thus I apprenticed under her wings and perfected my sewing skills. Earlier on when I established the brand, I had to do all the production elements of sourcing fabric, cutting and sewing but many years on I now have a skilled team that assists me in running the day- to-day operations.

We have also evolved from a bespoke brand to a ready-to-wear brand.

What differentiates the Kenyan fashion from the Nigerian?

Right now the world is looking up to Africa and I would also love to see Kenyans coming to Nigeria to showcase their collections. We need to show the world that we are innovators and pacesetters.

Kenya and Nigeria are both cosmopolitan cities but have very distinct cultures.

There is a vibrancy connotation when a Nigerian walks into a setting, You will always know that they are Nigerians, they own the space with pride. Kenyans are slightly demurer and more modest and this reflects in the fashion styles of the respective countries.

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Print striped kaftan. PHOTO | POOL

How has Afrobeat music influenced you as a designer?

What part hasn't Afrobeats played? I will go back to the element of vibrancy when you hear the beats of any Afrobeat song, you want dance around and that is such a vibe!

When it comes down to it, fabric and cut are key to me. In another life I was a professional dancer and movement was very key to me. Comfort of the garment is influenced by the fabric.

How big is your production team?

I hire based on a person's positive attitude. The skills I train on the job. We keep it nice and tight. We are about six people. We have four tailors, one of whom doubles as a cutter. Then there is my assistant and myself.

I found that every time that the team has grown in size a lot of mistakes start to happen and you see things falling through the cracks and nobody is taking responsibility. But when the team is small and tight, everyone knows their role and what responsibility they play.

I handle the brand's social media accounts as it is very important for me to maintain the brands tone.

What do you hope to achieve for the brand this year?

Growth across the African continent into the international market.

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