This is the story of one of Nigeria’s most enterprising women. She fell in love with clothes and designing over 20 years ago, after having inherited the traits from her mother, who birthed, Odua, her fashion house located at Elizade Plaza on Ikorodu Road, Lagos. Deola specialises in elegant evening wear and corporate clothing for today’s women. She also creates exclusive African traditional, yet, contemporary designs – Traditional Exotic – for men and women. You can recognise her touch in the simple cuts and understated elegance of Odua.
Interestingly, this wasn’t what she set out to do when she was young. After her A’Levels abroad, she had gone on to obtain a BBA in Business Admin at the University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida and an M.Sc in Finance at the University of Lagos on her return. But that bit of her training comes in useful in running the other family business Elizade Nigeria Ltd, and yet another fruit juice company, Crown Drinks.
Sometime in 1998 Deola, daughter of Chief and late Chief (Mrs) Ade Ojo, who is married to Kofi Sagoe, an Executive Director of Toyota Nigeria Ltd, and has 3 lovely daughters – Arahab, Abab and Essie, spoke to Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE, about her business and the big break she got from her appearance at the M-Net Face of Africa regional finals held in Ghana. As we celebrate 25 years of City People we are bringing back all the old interviews we did then. Below are excerpts.
Many people have heard so much about Odua. What do you do here?
What we do here is basically haute couture high fashion, custom made to the wearer’s exact body proportions. So we do highly fashionable dresses, evening dresses, dinner dresses, or gowns, cocktail wear, corporate suits, jackets, separates, trousers and dresses, shifts, for ladies. Then for men, we do traditional exotic, I mean the Agbada, with the embroidery. We also do Safari suits and French suits for men, in native African fabric, as well as, Western fabric. But that I would say is a new thing that we are doing now. I have realised that a lot of Nigerian men, though, they wear French suits, do not carry the African fabric with a lot of pride. When you go to all these French-speaking countries, Abidjan for instance, they are very highly fashion-conscious and you see their men walking around in very well-made French suits made out of their own native fabrics. So, I needed to introduce it to this market.
Is that all you do?
There are other things. We do Wedding dresses as well. I do everything that has to do with high fashion.
When did Odua open the shop?
This particular branch was opened in 1995. Odua is a sister company to Elizade Nigeria Ltd and we’ve really been in operation, for five years.
When you say this particular branch, do you mean Odua existed elsewhere?
Yes, it used to exist on Awolowo Way, in Ikeja and then we moved here.
Maybe I should take you back to the brief history of Odua. Odua really started as my mother’s hobby. My mother is the Sales Director of Elizade Nigeria Ltd. She is Mrs Ojo. She started it just as a little hobby, by the side. She used to be a teacher at the Methodist Boys High School in the ’60s. And because she has had this love for designing and making clothes in general, she would come back from school, make baby clothes, and she was noted by the PZ people In those days and they were Europeans, and, somehow, my mother’s clothes always stood out.
Thereafter, she got into the car business with my father. But she still wanted a little company that she could have as a fashion outfit. So, she looked into making Agbada with embroidery and all that. And that was how it started. But it wasn’t called Odua at that time.
Remember at that time, it was mostly the Hausa costumes that were really very much entrenched here: the Hausa cap, the Hausa design and all that. The Yoruba costumes were a bit relegated to the background. So, my father, it was, who gave this place the name Odua, because he said, listen, we have to bring out our own thing. It is not that we don’t appreciate the Hausa wears, but it doesn’t mean that the Yoruba wears should just roll over and die somehow. So, what they did, in essence, was to go to the University of Ife. That was about 15 years ago, to get a lady who would research into Yoruba design. So, the very first designs of the Agbada and the caps and all that were actually got from a professor at the University of Ife. The name Odua was chosen because Oduduwa was the ancestral father of the Yorubas.
So, how did you get entangled in all this?
I wonder myself. You know everything is, more or less happenstance, really. Because I was in the middle of a Masters programme at UNILAG, doing an MSc in Finance when students’ unrest broke the semester up and we all had to go home, and I had to come and help out in either the car business or, the drink business called Crown drinks. This place had started running then, my mother was the MD. And I said, ehm, okay let me just go and help out in Odua, let me help her manage it just for a little while, and then when school opens again, I will go back and finish. I did finish my Master’s programme, anyhow. I must say that I didn’t think that I had any interest in designing, or, anything like that. For me, if I needed anything. I’d just rather go into a shop and buy it, so, I wouldn’t be caught, buying fabric from anywhere to go and make anything, so as I continued to oversee their workshop when it happened. I really don’t know when it happened, but I started designing things. I have always been Arts inclined, but I did not really know.
So, what did it for you?
Maybe, my exposure to fashion abroad. Maybe, because of my exposure to all the fashion magazines there.
Was it the case that you had that fashion instinct in you, but it took a while for you to discover it?
People had said that I was stylish. People had always liked the way I dressed, They had always said that I put myself together well. You may not believe it, even till after I graduated, my mother was still buying clothes for me, because her sense of style always seemed to be just right. I have been brought up with style really, so to speak.
So, you haven’t taken the time to go for any formal training in fashion?
No, I haven’t. I guess the way it is baffling you is the way it baffles me now because I don’t know how come I am able to detect a bad cut. I know I have an eye for detail and that is borne out of the way I was brought up to be a perfectionist, really, so that anything that I have decided to go into, I have really killed myself to make sure that at the end of the day, it turns out perfect. That has influenced me a great deal.
Whatever I go into, I do it passionately, I am a passionate person. I go into it with all I have got and I don’t rest until I achieve my goal.
So, how do you run Odua?
I have Tailors. I have Cutters. It is not that I have such a very large shop, not as in the boutique, but as in, shall I say, a company here. Because if you are going to make the cloth look as good as this, there are only very few people who, after years and years of training and training, can achieve the level of things that you see here. So, some people can’t stand it and they have to leave, but largely most people have stuck by, just because they want to better themselves. I have a few experienced hands who even now are still learning.
How do you come up with your designs? What influences you?
There are some times when things that I see in magazines on Style, or, just out of my own mind influence me. I am the sort of person who stands in front of the mirror and drapes fabrics over myself to be able to get a decided design. I also have.
dummies that I work with, that I drape fabrics over. And sometimes, I dream of new designs and in the dream I am saying, oh my goodness, you shouldn’t be copying that person’s design. And I wake up to see that it was actually my design I was dreaming about, but I didn’t know. It comes from all sorts of things, from plants, sometimes, animals, the way the foliage of a leaf expresses itself. It is a myriad of all sorts of things.
So for how long have you been in this now?
I would say ten years. Obviously, because I didn’t have any formal training, it has taken me this long.
What would you say you’ve been able to achieve over these years?
We’ve come a long way. If we are going to trace it back from when my mother started supplying PZ, I would talk about how she started with baby clothes, baby pants, baby tops, bibs and stuff like that.
And then she progressed to uniforms, (especially executive uniforms). We have taken it up to the Agbada, Boubous, embroideries. From there, we went on to the Westerns and so, you can see the progression and now we are here.
Did you, at the time you took over Odua, take a conscious decision to move the business to another level, or, did this progression evolve over time?
I believe it evolved. Because of what my mother started, I didn’t want to just cancel out. Because you’ve still got to give her that acknowledgment at the end of the day. She, it was, who birthed this company. Except I saw that we were taking on too much, I didn’t feel there was the need to alter anything.
What sort of a person is Deola Sagoe?
I would say that I fear God. That again has contributed to the person that I am today. It has made me passionate about achieving my goal. In Christianity, your goal is Jesus Christ. And you keep looking at him and you keep looking at yourself and you know that, my goodness, you have to conform to the image of that man. And your flesh gets in the way a lot of the time. But then, you still keep running the race, you cannot give up, you keep going. So, you are trying to achieve perfection like him. Whatever cause I am interested in, by God’s grace, I go after it, with zeal and at the end of the day, I usually do achieve results that are notable.
So, what sort of a person am I? Very interesting. It’s not all fantastic. I am not the most righteous person on earth. I still have my own human flaws. Sometimes, I could be impatient with people, if I don’t quickly get to that goal, or, with myself. I am a mother who loves my family a great deal. I love my children very much and I try as much as possible to be with them and give them the guidance they need. I also do things like play with them, roll on the floor and just have fun with them. They teach me a lot of things like the latest dance steps and I do them as well. The eldest is 7 and the youngest is 18 months.
I love music. I also like to hang around my very few friends that I have who I get along very well with.
Would you say you are a very reserved person?
Hhn! I can be extremes, you see. I can be exceedingly reserved and when I am with my friends, completely free. I love to be in the company of people who are down to earth. I detest being in a place where everyone is trying to be somebody else, everybody is talking about the Chanel bag they bought yesterday. You know that kind of very superficial kind of level. I don’t thrive under such circumstances. I have many friends. I know a lot of people, even if it is because of my schooling. I went to Queen’s College, Yaba in those days and then, there are people that you meet through business. But, I have a weakness, I don’t go visiting them. There are just too many things that take my time. It is not that I don’t want to, but I am just not that sort of person.