Oyiowo Ada Omakwu is Founder and Chief Creative Officer of NUBIAN DIVA, a fashion outfit that is making waves in Abuja. She speaks about her intention to become a brand name globally in this interview with Stellamaries Amuwa.
Tell us a little about your family?
My family is of Idoma descent, originally from Otukpo-icho area of Otukpo, Benue State. There were originally four of us siblings, with me as the only girl among three brothers. We lost my eldest brother a few years ago and my dad who preceded him.
What is your educational background?
I studied Nutrition and Dietetics but never really practiced as a Dietitian
What inspired you to start a fashion home?
Growing up, my mother made dresses as a seamstress, often creating her own designs or following designs of others. This influenced my love for fashions and fashion design at an early age. Upon completion of my studies in Nutrition and Dietetics from Kaduna Polytechnic, I gained employment with NNPC in their Protocol Department from where I later moved to the Medical Department where I could use my training in Dietetics. Throughout this time, my love for fashion remained and kept growing. I found myself struggling between the option of remaining with a well-paid position, or risk venturing out and pursuing the uncharted waters of my passion for fashions. How do I leave the stability of a good income, especially in the Nigerian context where money matters a lot and step into the unknown territory of fashions? These were conflicting, yet valid questions in my mind. Coming from a Christian background, I knew fulfilling individual life’s purpose remains one of the strong teachings of scripture.
Also, the fact that at the end of my days, I will have to give account for every talent/gift God bestowed on me here on earth, comprised points for reflective thought. My eldest brother’s life was a source of inspiration spurring me to follow my passion. He was well-read but figured out his life’s calling early and chose to pursue the latter wholeheartedly, as opposed to sticking with his original field of studies. Although we lost him early, by pursuing purpose, he touched a lot of lives and today his legacy still continues to touch lives. After much contemplation, I finally concluded that the most important thing in life involve fulfilling purpose and not so much the amount of earnings. Although I wasn’t due for pension at the time, I decided to step out on faith, trusting God for sustenance. I then submitted my resignation letter and left to pursue my dreams. As I look back today, I am glad I listened and followed my heart. It took a while to get established and even now remains a progressive process. I started out initially travelling to Switzerland and Austria to shop for fabrics, which I then took to Senegal to have them made. I then brought the final pieces for sale in Nigeria. When you pursue purpose, life has a way of bringing you back on track should you ever get off course.
In my case, I took ill and temporarily couldn’t travel during that time. I then realized I had to survive and mustn’t wait till the time I could return to international travels to pursue my business. I set up shop and started working from home. At that time people were wearing Ankara a lot and I had a personal love for Denim. A creative idea resulted where I combined Denim and Ankara for some unique designs. I got a tailor to make them for me and that did it! I attended an event and a lady fell so much in love with one of my designs that I had on, that she followed me all the way home from the event to place orders. That provided the spark I needed to launch out fully into creative Fashion designs and local production.
How long have you been in fashion business?
I started officially in 2012
Where do you expect to see your brand in few years from now?
My desire is to grow globally. Besides Nigeria, we do have some clients in US and UK. I desire to see additional growth in Nigeria, in other African countries, as well as in other parts of the world. One of the challenges with clothing made in this part of the globe remains poor attention to details, especially with finishing of the pieces. Nubian Diva remains committed to making a difference and standing out in this area by making sure our pieces are not only creatively inspiring, but well-finished with great attention to details. I believe this will definitely contribute to the love of our designs as we grow.
Who is your inspiration when it comes to fashion in Africa?
Honestly, I can’t really say I have specific designers as primary sources of inspiration, especially given that Fashion remains dynamic/evolutionary, and not so static in nature. Some of the things I enjoy doing where other designers are concerned involves learning about their life’s journey and experiences; thereby understanding what it took to get them to their current status. Also, I enjoy watching the fashion channel to see how shows are put together and how things are done. Other than that, the creative ideas put into my clothes come primarily from within. I follow such inner vision and they are later birthed in my designs.
Tell us about your most memorable childhood?
Most cherished memories of my childhood includes the love we shared as a family with my siblings and parents. I also cherish the friendship and camaraderie shared with friends and neighbors back then in Kaduna. This was a time when everyone considered their neighbors as part of their extended families.
There were no thoughts of tribe or religious differences as we related to each other. During Christian festivities, we shared food with neighbors including Muslims and they did the same during Sallah celebrations. The bonds established then still remain strong today. Whenever we run into each other as old-time friends, it’s almost like family reunion time!
Who are your clients?
My clients range from corporate to individual clients
How do you unwind?
I exercise, I love listening to music and if there is a need, I take time off for personal retreats.
How do you maintain your urbane look?
Again, exercise remains a lifestyle choice. I also try to maintain a fairly balanced way of eating. I eat lots of vegetables, fruits and drink lots of water.
What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion for me is a way of life. What you put on your body externally affects how you feel on the inside. Stepping out well dressed affects your composure, as well as boosts your self-confidence and image. This in-turn positively impacts interaction with others and lends overall positive energy to life.
In this industry where you have a lot of competitors especially in Lagos, how do you plan to stay relevant?
For now, when you talk fashion people think of Lagos because of the existence of better publicity there. When it comes to party, Lagos is the hub. The party scene involves lots of people and fashion. This results in Lagos offering more exposure and events as compared to Abuja. Despite some of these challenges with location, I believe the creativity and uniqueness of our designs, our dedication to quality, and our commitment to excellent customer service; all position Nubian Diva for competitive relevance and thriving in the industry.
What is your take on Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) assistance by the federal government?
Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) play a major role in most economies, particularly in developing countries. SMEs account for the majority of businesses. If the government wants growth in the private sector, it becomes important for them to create enabling environments, especially for small businesses. This includes providing solutions to the challenging power supply environment in the country.
Businesses need constant power supply to thrive. Government need to also pay attention to enacting fair policies as relating to SMEs. The current environment appears like not much thought is given to the impact of policies. For example , they don’t seem to care whether you own one or a hundred sewing machines. Once you are registered as a business and use electricity, you are charged enormous commercial rates. This negatively impacts the profit margin of SME’s and the situation needs urgent government attention and rectification.
As a northern lady, do you think the northern woman is where she ought to be?
The Northern lady has come a long way. We are not totally there yet. However, there is progress. Opportunities for global travels and international studies continually transform our world into smaller context and this includes the world of northern women. Such opportunities allow for wider and broader experiences in all areas of life, including fashions. As we travel and school around the globe: Europe, America, Dubai, etc., we see relevant emerging trends and bring such influences back home. Although some from the core north dress with veils, they now progressively do so stylishly, making sure veils match wrappers and complementary to entire outfits, etc. The northern woman’s world remains constantly evolving and progressively growing.