Many of us have dreams and aspirations, but life has a way of adding new twists to the stories we write for ourselves. Sola Akinmade, a young designer in her early twenties agrees with this. She graduated from the University of Ilorin with a degree in English, and hoped to pursue a career in TV presenting – her first passion.
“I was a TV presenter for a while, with a company called Golden Heritage Ltd. but in Nigeria, it is hard to be a TV presenter and have a private life. I really wanted a private life.”
These concerns drove her to consider interests outside of a media career. Sola’s mum was a designer so one could say it’s in her blood, but she didn’t think she would end up as one.
“My mum didn’t influence me growing up. In fact, I hated fashion designing but I have always loved to look good. I was always winning fashion-related awards in school. I also dress people for awards and dinner parties so one day I decided to pursue something in fashion.”
She certainly looks the part. In an industry where badly drawn brows and poorly coordinated outfits are punishable crimes, Sola is a poster girl for glamour. She never leaves her house without her phone, handbag and lipstick.
“I am the ‘always on fleek’ type of girl and this is not because of the industry I am in. It’s just something I love. I’m extroverted. I love to look good always.”
Sola rocking one of her designs at a wedding
Looking good and turning this into a business are two separate things. Making this transition was a big change, but Sola’s mum has always been supportive.
“When I told my mum I wanted to do fashion designing professionally, she was very happy. She hates office work and prefers ladies having their own business. She taught me basic things, like how to sew, but I learnt every other thing on my own.”
Even with a strong support system, starting a new venture might raise its fair share of fears and doubts. In particular, securing the capital to get a business off the ground can be daunting. Sola’s support system came in handy when it was time to face these initial fears.
“I was actually waiting for that big money – like 1 mil – but when I realised I couldn’t get that, I started with 50k and it was my mum that gave it to me. I started making clothes for my friends and I told them the first one would be free but the next one would be paid for. Little by little, I started making money.”
Nigeria is known for being a difficult place to do business in, so things couldn’t always have been easy for Sola. Seven months on, she doesn’t regret quitting her 9-5 job. The journey hasn’t been exactly rosy, but she isn’t complaining. Her business – Made Collection – is far more lucrative than her previous job and she finds fulfilment in the work she does now. However, it is undeniable that the Nigerian fashion industry is pretty saturated. Nevertheless, she tries not to focus on the competition.
“I believe in carving a niche for yourself. Some people like doing ‘jack of all trades’ but I keep my stuff simple. I make casual outfits that everybody actually needs and the occasional aso ebi. I do mainly casual clothes.”
Made Collection top
Sola is very passionate about creating this niche for herself, even if it means going against the peer pressure that can come with working in a cut-throat environment like fashion. Instead of focusing on these obstacles, she’s committed to maintaining her originality and seeking out new opportunities to promote her work.
“Sometimes to get far in the entertainment industry, you will have to have sex with the key players. This is one of the reasons why I left. Thankfully, it’s not so bad in the fashion industry.
“About penetrating the market… Well, I really just started so I heard about this competition called ‘Nigeria’s Next Top Designer’. I registered for it and, luckily for me, I’m part of the top twenty designers. We will be showcasing at this year’s Africa Fashion Week Nigeria. A winner will be picked and, if I win, it could be a platform for me.”
Sola is also focused on keeping her designs affordable, and sometimes she charges as low as 2,000 naira. The highest she has ever charged a client is 25,000 naira and that was for a red carpet event. Even with such competitive prices, the current economic climate doesn’t seem conducive to Sola’s business.
Another design by Sola, modelled by a friend
Yet, contrary to my assumptions, Sola says she gets at least two clients a day. People want to look good, even in a recession. Dealing with clients on a daily basis is not an easy feat – some can be a real handful. Sola recounts tales of troublesome clients and how she handles such situations.
“One of my girls sewed an outfit for a woman and she raved and ranted, so I had to buy the fabric and sew it all over again. Some customers are also perfectionists and some are actually delusional, enforcing a particular dress size that they aren’t. But you have to satisfy them.”
Aside being demanding or difficult, Sola has seen her fair share of evasive and even dishonest customers. These clients are a risk to her business and staying on top of this is hugely important to her. One such client contacted her via social media for an outfit.
“I had to keep calling her and she even made me rush the job because she wasn’t in Lagos. She made me send it to her through public transport and I had to chase her for almost a month for the money. It was frustrating.”
With the demands of such a high-pressure industry and managing clients who aren’t always easy to deal with, one might wonder if Sola really does have time for herself and, dare I say it, a love life.
“I have been single for a while by choice because Nigerian men can be somehow. I was dating this guy then he went to the UK for masters. He started dating another girl there whom I have a mutual friend with.
“His family here knew me and his family in the UK knew the other girl. He had two phones and I was always on his dp in one of the phones while the other girl was always on the second one. It was messy. I recently met someone sha but nothing serious. It’s not official.”
From my conversation with Sola, I found her to be bubbly, positive and easy-going. She has found herself in a career path far different from one she envisioned, but she is absolutely loving it and looking forward to bigger and better things as she expands her business. In the next few years, she hopes to have successfully launched a clothing line and be happily married. Sola’s focus and dedication was palpable throughout our conversation so I know she’s well on her way to becoming a household name.
People Like Us is an exclusive column created by TNC to document the lives of everyday Nigerians.
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