Iyabo Ninalowo needs a little introduction. She is one of the biggest Aso Oke fabric merchants in the country. This gorgeous and elegant looking woman runs one of the most successful and flourishing Aso Oke outfits in that sector, it is called Culture Speaks. She is known for stocking top quality Aso Oke, with exquisite designs that you will rarely find anywhere else. She also has the capability to offer exclusive designs to her top customers who demand exclusivity. This is one of the reasons why many A-list celebrities and top society women don’t joke with Iyabo Ninalowo when it comes to settling for classy and exquisite Aso Oke. They all know she stocks top-notch designs that will make the most expensive Lace fabric play the second fiddle. Ask any top society woman, and they will tell you that all you need to do is go and see Iyabo Ninalowo and she will get you the Aso Oke design that suits you perfectly.
Another thing many love and admire about this adorable lady is her charming personality and absolute beauty. She is blessed with a fabulous figure and stunning look that makes her a walking advertisement for the business that she does. She has just the perfect body frame and height to carry whatever she wears ever so well. And yes, Iyabo also has an enchanting smile to go with it. The effect of this is that, once she wears a particular Aso Oke and steps out, every lady she meets wants to buy the same design from her and from there, the demands start coming in.
Pretty looking Iyabo Ninalowo was one of the ladies honoured by City People at the recently held event, An Evening With The Matriarchs. She spoke with City People’s Senior Editor, WALE LAWAL (08037209290) about her humble beginning in the business and her passion to make Aso Oke a household fabric for every home. Enjoy the excerpts.
How do you feel being among the distinguished women honoured here tonight by City People?
It is an honour. It’s a great achievement for me. I feel so proud to be part of those of recognized here tonight by City People. I appreciate City People, the publisher and every one of the staff. You will go higher Insha Allah.
I was particularly drawn to you because of what you’re wearing. It’s so beautiful. From a distance, I thought it was lace fabric but my publisher told me it’s actually Aso Oke and that you are actually one of the biggest Aso Oke merchants in the country as we speak. For how long have you been in the business?
We give God the glory for the journey so far. I can’t say precisely how many years I’ve been doing the business because I was born into it. For me, it was simply a matter of taking over the baton. The journey has been so smooth, I thank God. We are consistently trying to see how we can improve on it every day. You just said a while ago that when you saw me you thought I was wearing lace. This is lace Aso Oke. We are trying to bring Aso Oke to a level where it becomes everyday wear. Everybody sees this and says wow. No matter the amount of Lace fabric you’re wearing, you can’t compete with me as I am, right now, and I’m not bragging. That’s the truth. It comes out so simple and elegant and that’s where we are. And we plan to take it higher. Very soon, Aso Oke will become everyday wear. It’s going to be office wear very soon and one for every household too. So, just keep following us, we will get there together.
We grew up knowing Aso Oke as a fabric that’s only meant for exclusive occasions, now you’re transforming it into something else. How challenging has it been for you to take Aso Oke to the level you have taken it?
You see, if we didn’t move away from that perception of yours, Aso Oke would’ve become extinct or out of fashion by now. We would’ve gotten so tired of it because it will be the same thing that our great grandparents had that we are still going to be wearing. So, the best way to bring it to the newer generation is to improve on it. Make it lighter. Make it fashionable and that’s exactly what we’re doing.
You are a walking advert for your business. You’re a gorgeous looking woman who knows how to wear what she sells. You could easily have gone into any other line of the beauty business, whether it’s fashion, whether it’s cosmetics, you name it. What part of your background shaped you to become who you are today?
My mum sells Aso Oke. She was one of the biggest merchants in Aso Oke in her days. So, you can understand what I am saying now. All of her kids were trained informally by her. We didn’t have to pick a pen and paper. She was teaching us everything. From colours to different types Aso Oke fabric. And from there, we graduated.
Let me put you on the spot. What I meant was, your grace, your charm, beauty, poise and elegance, I’m sure you didn’t learn all that from mum, so where did all of that come from?
No, not really. I give God all the glory. Everything about me is God’s gift. It’s His grace, it’ not me. The way I walk, the way I talk, whatever I do I try to do it in my own style, but it’s all the grace of God, not me. And I thank God for that really.
How do you get the young ones to see the beauty of Aso Oke?
A blind man will see this, I tell you, a blind man will feel it. You see, you can’t hide beauty, no matter what the case may be. Like now, you’re just seeing me for the first time and you identified with what I’m wearing. It’s not my personality you’re talking about, the first thing was what I was wearing. And I actually came in to advertise what I sell. So, it can’t be hidden. Nigerian culture, African culture cannot be hidden. If only we can invest more in it. If only we can invest time, energy and resources in it. The English people advertised their suits, that’s why all of us were wearing them. Despite the fact that it wasn’t comfortable for many of us, it became everyday wear for us. The English people forced it on us and compelled us to find it comfortable. So, if only we can learn too from our own culture, we’ll enjoy it.
A lot of women in your line of business are groaning and complaining about the unfavourable economic climate and the rising cost of the dollar, they say it’s been difficult importing fabrics. How challenging has this been for you?
I am an optimist to the core. I see this as a phase and we will definitely come out of it better. God will see us through. We’ve gone through it before and we came out of it. We will come out of this stronger as well. I know that by the grace of God we will come out of it better. The dollar can’t continue like this. The economy won’t continue like this, that I am sure of. What will become of our children if it continues like this? No, it won’t, I am so sure things will be better very soon.
What is the name of this type of Aso Oke that you’re wearing right now?
This is called Laser-cut Aso Oke. It’s all stones, fully stoned and it’s called Laser cut. It’s so light, beautiful, soft, and it’s called Laser cut.
What is the name of your business outfit?
It’s called Culture Speaks.
Wow. That’s very apt. So, what should we expect from Culture Speaks in the coming months?
Well, a lot of newer things. Modern and vibrant stuff. Don’t worry, we will always carry City People along because the publisher has always been behind us and I’m sure he will continue to stand by us. So, you will soon get to see what we have.
Finally, where were you born, where were you raised?
I was born at Island Maternity here in Lagos. My parents are from Ijebu Ode but I was brought up in Lagos Island, Daddy Alaja street precisely, so I have been an Isale Eko babe all my life.