‘Many designers lack basic training’
BY CHRISTY ANYANWU
Renowned London-based Ade Bakare, is an iconic fashion designer. Ade’s creativity has earned him international recognition even as he is go-to designer for many Nigeria’s celebrities. In this interview with Effects, he shares his business ideology, perception of fashion in Nigeria and what makes his brand tick.
Why did you set up an outfit in Nigeria?
We decided to come to Nigeria due to the constant demand of our clients here. We used to receive invitations to present our collections in Nigeria. So, we would fly them in, with our range and models. Many of our clients personalities were built on the basis of this. There were demands for our designs, thus, we decided to set up a boutique in 2006 at Sandiland Arcade in Victoria Island.
Can you compare being a designer in London with Nigeria?
The business module differ from country-to-country. In London for instance, we have design studios in North West London and another studio in Soho West London where we attend to private clients. Appointments are booked for couture clients mostly. We also have manufacturers in London whom we have used for more than 20 years. In Lagos, we have a boutique and a small unit that produces ready-to-wear collections. So, a client can pop down to the shop and select a design off the rail. We also take private couture commissions on mostly made in England designs. In operating on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s imperative you have talented and experienced workers.To delegate and ensure quality services make things easier. Having experienced staffers is key. Each country has its strengths and weaknesses. In London, it’s very competitive and the cost of production is very high. Skilled labour attracts huge costs but the clients are willing to pay for quality. They have also moved on from brands decades ago and are always in-search of new styles and designers which make UK a fertile ground for creativity. In Lagos, we discovered that clients are more sporadic in their purchasing patterns, adore styles and fashion in general. On the contrary, Lagos clients are slightly impatient and would want things to happen immediately which is not how things work in couture. Also, there are less skilled workers even as access to fabrics is limited. Above all, there’s a huge love for clothes in both countries and that makes fashion business thrive.
How did you get into fashion business?
My journey into fashion is a long one. I bagged a degree in education from the University of Lagos and another one in fashion from the Salford University, Manchester. I was also successful and was invited to lecture on part time. The academy has a field of graduate teachers with years of experience and the objective is to arm fashion student with enough knowledge so that they can become more talented and business savvy. Most fashion schools focus on the basics of sewing and pattern cutting which are important but not enough to sustain growth in very competitive and creative industries. So, I’m enjoying every moment of it from fashion designing school in Manchester, winning awards for the university, setting up the label in 1991 and selling to boutiques and shops across the UK, opening a couture salon in Mayfair, London which brought about international recognition, creating a new perfume called Breeze, setting up a shop in Lagos in 2006 and in between, traveling around the world for fashion seminars and shows.
What about the take-off capital, did you secure a loan?
I read a column in the Evening Standard in London which offered a course for fashion students who planned to open fashion business. Upon their completion of the programme, those who were successful were offered the opportunity to apply for a loan from the Prince of Wales Youth Business Trust (PYBT). I was fortunate to have been given the loan. The money was not much but it came with a business mentor. Mine was a lady who was a buyer for British home stores (BHS) Isabel Nathanson. I learnt all I needed to know about selling to shops through her. I remember the first boutique I sold to was on Beauchamp Place in Knightsbridge SW1 called Adele Davis. She also owned a branch on old Bond Street, in Mayfair where I opened my own shop later.I have always grown without taking loans. I read with trepidation how financial backers pulled the plug on fashion businesses which made them crash. However, it is often necessary to seek loans to expand, but you must be certain what you need it for and how it will affect your business. My advice to upcoming fashion designers is that they receive training and experience, have unique look, create their own styles and not be in a haste. The business should continue even after you have retired and hopefully become an establishment. When you look at fashion houses in the West, it took them decades to get to where they are now. Patience is a virtue you must have.
How profitable is fashion business?
Fashion designing is profitable. Once you understand the dynamics of the industry, it will get better every year. It’s very important to create new styles which gives you edge over your competitors. You should also listen to your clients : know what they want, what they are in search of.
What do you do when you are not talking or doing fashion?
Whenever I am not busy with my fashion. I design costumes for theatre and films, the most recent being Steve Guka’s Nollywood film, A place in the Stars. I love collecting artworks. Recently, I went to the Art House Auction where I bought some artworks. I also attend art fairs regularly in the UK. I am intrigued about how somebody would take a brush and make beautiful two-dimensional images. It reminds me of fashion and the creative process. I also give talks at fashion seminars and workshops around the world.
How do you cope with difficult clients?
We do not believe there are difficult clients. They are just customers who have been misunderstood. It’s very important to listen to your clients’ needs and wants, and make them aware of your businesses capabilities. Do not offer what you cannot deliver.
You’re about to open a fashion academy, why do you think it’s necessary given the fact that there are many fashions schools around?
I feel it’s extremely important to have the school. First, I do not feel there are enough fashion schools in Nigeria. In the UK, with a population of about 65 million, there are over 200 government-owned fashion schools. In Nigeria, with a population of over 170 million, we have less than 10, yet we are a highly sophisticated fashionable people. Ade Bakare Couture Design Academy is the first of its kind by a fashion designer with international training and operating a business in the UK and Nigeria. This has given me the unique opportunity to impact the students both theoretically and in practice. At Ade Bakare couture design academy, we aim to address this imbalance.
The school is a new concept in fashion academy and it is meant to identify, teach and promote fashion talents in Nigeria. It’s almost an offshoot of our Young Designers Creative Competition (ydcc) which was set up in 2006 in Lagos to identify and promote upcoming fashion designers. Ironically, it has been 10 years since then.
What challenges are being faced by fashion designers in Nigeria?
Having also set up a fashion business in Nigeria, it brought to my awareness, the challenges fashion designers face setting up and running their businesses. I’m constantly invited to give talks and master classes on fashion. I realised there was a huge gap of knowledge. Many designers lack basic training. The passion is there but they lack the foundation to build upon. The academy was set up to address these issues. The school teaches the basics such as designing, pattern cutting and sewing and other necessary subjects such as textiles, photography, art history, fine art, French for fashion and a business set up course. These disciplines are integral to the success of one becoming a fashion designer.