Kiki Okewale is easily one of the leading fashion designers in Nigeria today. She presides over the fast-growing Kiki Okewale fashion empire. It is indeed an empire that is fast evolving and she churns out extremely creative pieces from her stable.
A few days back, this beautiful wife of Lagos Fertility Doctor, Dr. Babatunde Okewale, the Medical Director of St. Ives was our guest on City People Instagram Live Chat during which she revealed how she set up her fashion business just a few years ago. Below are excerpts of the chat.
Can you share with us the steps that you took and how you’ve veered out to other branches?
When I got back to Nigeria, I worked with a couple of companies. This has always been my field but I knew that I had a passion for events and fashion. So when I was going to quit my paying job, I said to myself, what can I do? For events, I used to travel a lot and because I was trying to start a family I didn’t want to do something that I had to be traveling a lot so I started with fashion. I didn’t have a mentor or a friend or anybody so I had to mentor and groom myself. When I started, I didn’t know where to source for fabrics and all of that. What I did first was go to someone who made clothes and I said I wasn’t going to be the one sewing but then I wanted to have the basic knowledge. I don’t want to start a business and if someone doesn’t come to work then I’m stranded. People thought I was going to the high-end places but I went to the inner circle of it, where they are doing it raw. I took like three months for the learning and I started checking for fabrics. The first set of fabrics that I bought, I bought them on Alibaba, I didn’t know anybody and it was so strange. I was taking a risk buying online but I was willing to. I bought the first set and I nearly had a panic attack because I bought much. Luckily for me they came and I knew I wanted to have my own shoe and purse bridal set brand. So I started doing research to get information so I tell people to make sure they know what they are going into. I went ahead and learnt. I just made sure I filled my head with everything I wanted to do.
Of course, I made a lot of mistakes along the line because I didn’t have anyone I could run to. But the journey has been so amazing because I started with selling fabrics deliberately. I wanted to make clothes but I didn’t have clients. I didn’t start with having a shop; I started from the booths in my car and one room in my house. I remember when I started my store and a woman came and said it was too scanty and she didn’t think she could shop there. And the truth is in life people will try to stop or discourage you and that’s why I have my mentorship class. I didn’t have a lot of support from people and it wasn’t intentional, I just didn’t have people enough around me. I didn’t go to university here so I didn’t have friends in my circle who want Aso Ebi.
Starting was quite tough as people will say they love the fabric but they were scared because the fabric isn’t cheap and they don’t want to give it to a designer that will destroy the fabric. The people started knowing us for luxury, exquisite beautiful fabrics, bridal fabrics and people will come and say can you make this for me? So everything was in stages that’s why I tell people not to dabble into everything at the same time. Though when I started I already bought my sewing machine but I didn’t go out and employ people knowing that I didn’t even have clients yet. So they would come and buy the fabrics then I got one tailor, two, three then I got ten, then fifteen and we kept on growing from there and the journey has been so amazing. Yes, we’ve had our obstacles, challenges, days of crying, screaming and days of saying I’m done. It’s not been all smiles and that’s the way business is but along the line I’ve been able to meet amazing women. We’ve styled a lot of high-end people that we are not allowed to boast about.
How many years now?
5 years. We celebrated our 5th year this April. We’ve been blessed with a lot of awards and we also represented Nigeria in Dubai last year and also in Babcock, Thailand, so they pick one Nigerian designer every year and we’ve done that. And if not for this COVID, we had a lot of invitations. The one we did last year was fully paid for and I’ve never seen anything like that. Going out there and representing Nigeria, showing that we are much more than they hear about us. The journey has been so rewarding and fulfilling and we are thankful.
Tell us a bit about the different segments that you have in terms of your business?
So when we started initially, the one thing that I had was hope, and then it was Hope Fashion. The name came in a funny way. When we were going to start it was HOP (House of Plush) and a friend of mine said to me that she had a registered name HOP and I kinda was feeling the vibe that she was angry and it wasn’t even the same field. And my husband said why not just had E behind it so it became House of Plush Empire and over the years people say they buy because of the name. So HOPE by Kiki Okewale is simply a fabric page where we sell exclusive, luxury fabrics, bridal, Aso Ebi and all sorts of fabrics. Like I said earlier, I have my own brand name for my shoes and purses which is Bling by Kiki Okewale, that’s where we have our matching shoes and purses. I was shocked by how people welcomed our shoe brand. I have sold to people I never would have thought would buy from us because we did not compromise on the quality. We’ve had international clients buy from us and saying this will compete with all the high-end shoes of the world. Our Kiki Okewale brand is ready to wear. We have different pages to actually represent what we sell on them.
I’ve also noticed that you’ve added a bit of empowerment. Did that start before or after COVID-19?
No, one thing I’ve always done since I was a little child was trying to encourage people. It’s always been a key strength for me. I’ve always loved giving back. Public social responsibility has always been a key strength for me. Because I lost my father at a very tender age I’ve had to go through difficult life challenges that I understand what it is to not have support. Sometimes you don’t even want their money; you just want someone to listen to you. As I grew, I started launching out. From the beginning, I’ve had room for mentorship, empowerment for those that are schooling and still want to work. Life has been really tough, and like one of the coaches would say you went from a silver spoon to no spoon. I’ve had a silver spoon from baby to age 11 and at age 11 when I lost my father I basically had no spoon. I started working at the age of 12 and at age 18 I was already a manager where I had older people I was managing.
I’ve done all sorts of jobs and I know how it feels like not to have anybody and that is why I’ve always made myself available for mentorship even on my birthdays. It has been a part of me so every year I always make sure I do something. We need to keep helping the people and not waiting for the government.
What else should we be expecting from your brand before the end of the year?
A lot actually. So we’ve just expanded our Ikeja store. I want people to come into Nigeria and say that their trip is not complete if they don’t come to my store. We’ve made it a luxurious store where you come in and you are totally spoiled for choice. You can come in there and from there go to a party. It took a lot but it was worth it. We are not even done but we are open to the public now. We are going to come up with a collection. We are going to have an online fashion show and we are working with a lot of creative people to also help with the designs. There are so many things that people can come up with but we need to do a lot of research, learning and be open-minded. We still have an international fashion show that we are hoping would still hold. A lot is under wraps but we will be unveiling one after the other.