The shrewd president of Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN) Funmi Ajila-Ladipom, is zealously shouldering the responsibility of giving the association a face lift. In this exclusive chat with MILLICENT AREBUN ONUOHA and OLUWATOYIN AGUDA, the ardent fashion nationalist divulges her plans for the association and her fashion brand, Regalia.
This is your second tenure as FADAN president, what do you think positioned you for a reelection?
Two things that make people unopposed would be either bribing their way through or hard work, and we all know one of these would definitely outlive the other. For me, it is the work I have done. I put in a lot of effort to bridge the gap and build up on the foundation that people ahead of me like Mrs Alakija, Mrs Folawiyo, and Mrs Sade Thomas-Fahm have laid. I may probably be moving at a faster speed because of what I have learnt from those ahead of me. Consistency is also very key to me, being able to deliver on my promises during the campaign and working towards those I have not are reasons I would say contributed to my re-election.
In the last tenure, there were commendable transformations and achievements, what are you bringing to the table this time?
I really want to be consistent in what I do. I do not intend to change anything but to perfect what I have been doing. This implies that there should be continuation of past work. What I am looking at is refining and making better the things I have done. For instance, we have a Master Class in Lagos which can be bigger compared to what we did initially, we can also bring in more expertise, and also replicate that in other states.
Talking about the Bank of Industry’s (BOI) N1billion fund for fashion designers, can you put a figure to the number of designers who have benefited from it?
I cannot put a figure to it because it is a personal thing. What the association actually does is give you the recognition and recommendation based on your membership in the association, which gives you easy access to the Bank of Industry. Do not forget that BOI also have their own records, and they have to observe due diligence and background check to ensure that they can get the funds back. If you meet their requirements, you will get funding.
There are so many juicy benefits that come with joining the association, what are some of the requirements needed to join FADAN?
You have to either be in production or education, which means you are teaching fashion. You have to be doing apparel which includes clothing from your head to your toe; underwear, hat, accessories, shoes, and other wearable arts.
Does these mean fashion retailers can’t join FADAN?
Fashion retailers do not go through the process we go through because they don’t produce except they stock up products from indigenous designers and manufacturers. Membership is for those who are doing the same thing, people who not only have a common course but face similar challenges. A producer and someone who imports will not be on the same level when sharing their experiences and challenges.
Do not also forget that the producer will go through the entire chain of the production cycle from sourcing to marketing, to photography, modelling, packaging, production, pricing and marketing. The fashion value chain is so large and it requires a lot of money bringing onboard people with these skills. If there is a production hub for instance, then I can send in my clothes without having to go through the entire process.
How does the lack of production hubs in Nigeria affect budding fashion designers, and is there anything FADAN is doing about it?
I can’t compel people to have production hubs. FADAN as an organisation has been suggesting it. We have been talking but I do not think people at the top fully understand what fashion business is all about in Nigeria. I think they are more concerned with oil and gas. Another thing that won’t make the production hubs to service us is that we Nigerians are very proud people. We like exclusives, we do not like to wear what another person is wearing. So people will have a problem with that, which will limit the number of a particular design that can be produced.
Can you tell us more about your fashion brand, Regalia?
My fashion brand is working. I may not be all out there like some others because my main goal is to service my customers. I do not want to have a big store with nobody coming in. My aim is to service and counsel my customers which is the essence of me being in business, and to also enjoy my passion. Sometimes when you pay attention to the so many noises out there, you get distracted, you can’t come up with original designs and before you know it, you are copying.
What is FADAN doing to combat originality and intellectual theft?
Can FADAN do anything without the backing of the federal government? Can FADAN ask the police to lock up a shop? We can’t do that as an association except there are binding laws. There isn’t even a fashion council in Nigeria. There is no law against such. The internet also makes it easy for people’s design to be copied, and this is why people have to really go back to their drawing board to properly understand the business. You need to be creative to be able to service your customer. There is a lot of work behind the scene, which transcends the social media buzz and frenzy.
How has FADAN been able to marry the older designer with the newer generation of designers?
New designers have a lot to learn from the older ones. There are techniques and certain measurements in fashion designing that they need to be taught. Some of the young designers don’t even know the workings of the body, some can’t even take proper measurement. Some are just fashionsitas who want to make clothes.
Fashion weeks have evolved over the years, why has FADAN fashion week not been able to garner equal recognition as its counterparts?
FADAN is self-sponsored, and I don’t want you to forget that designers coming for these other programmes are showcasing, while we are producing. We are the content providers, and the interesting thing is that it is the same people in FADAN who are in these other shows. The other fashion weeks is business for them. They create platforms for them to sell their products. I feel they are two different things and we don’t have to compare, you can’t compare a farmer with someone who has a store for farmers to showcase their products now do you? They are both doing different things. The structure of the others is entertainment and to give the sellers the exposure but what FADAN does is to nurture.
What projects are we expecting from Regalia in the near future?
My plan is to continue with what I am doing, have people I can mentor and also probably put up a place where other people can exhibit made in Nigeria products. Also, probably put up a production hub.
What are FADAN projects for 2018?
We already had our first strategic meeting, and very soon we will be holding the second. Last year, we agreed that we will be training 100 people, which is coming up very soon at the National Theatre. Also, FADAN is coming up with a building where we are going to have hubs, show room, classes and conference rooms. When we unveil it, we want the public to come in and support us so it can be a source of encouragement for the youths, while creating employment for people. We want to be able to empower people, at FADAN, our goal is to teach people how to fish rather than give them fishes.