Aramanda International is a fashion brand founded by Araoluwa Olamilekan Popoola in 2013, with a sense of style that can be described as infusion of the ‘Old’ & ‘New’ Nigeria. Popoola, in this interview, says the brand under his creative direction has tailored Kings from varying corners of Nigeria, dignitaries and public figures from the shores of Lagos to the streets of the United States of America.
How was starting up for you in comparison to where you are today?
Starting up was really difficult. No one was willing to be a guinea pig for a designer with no shop or clients. Nigeria’s market embraces only popular designers; it’s very difficult for newbies to break in unless you have enough funds to expand to achieve visibility. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that too. The biggest challenge is how to be accepted as a rookie. We must sell at ridiculously low prices when starting out. Yet, it is an uphill task! Furthermore, sourcing for tailors was tough. Tailors don’t like start-ups, either because of low wages or lack of sustainable clientele. Also, starting off in Ibadan (Oyo State) did not help. The market is slow, and tailors are not confident about its growth possibilities. But I had a dream, stuck with it, and pursued it! Today, the world wants àràmàndà.
What does style mean to you?
Style is personal. It’s whatever you deem it to be. Style is how we express ourselves. We follow trends passionately and if truth be told, no matter what one chooses to wear, somebody has probably worn it first.
From your experience styling Nigerians, how would you describe their fashion sense?
It is very diverse: from daring to minimalist and much more. Nigerians can be very traditional; they will embrace western styles but not without infusing our local designs. Our style is dynamic and challenging. We consider a lot of factors before styling. For example, when it comes to formal wear, the president’s dress sense seems to dictate what men wear most times. With President Jonathan, the Etibo style was in. Today with President Buhari, the kaftan and the Hausa cap reign.
Your latest feat and collaboration is a big deal. Share how it happened, what it entails and means to you?
The manufacturing deal with HD Designs New York is a big deal to EVERYONE at àràmàndà. We had always wanted America’s market and for a while, it looked like the American market did not want us. About three years ago, I sought to attend a fashion show in the US and was denied a visa. Thereafter, I opted to penetrate the US market remotely from outside her shores by getting our outfits in peoples faces.
We targeted influential people to experience our product and tell others about our good job and delivery. I am extremely proud to say that entertainers: NAS, Jeezy, Jidenna, Don Jazzy, Ludacris, Timi Dakolo; Comedian Ali Baba Akpobome, Actor Boris Kodjoe, Jay Morrison, George Weah (President of Liberia), Kagwe Mungai (former àràmàndà East African ambassador), John Mahama (former President of Ghana), Spotify’s Chaka Zulu, the Ooni of Ife Kabiyesi Enitan Ogunwusi, the Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, the Governor of Oyo State H.E. Seyi Makinde, and a host of others has worn Aramanda and loved it
Early this year, my business partner Stan Mukoro told me about HD Designs, a group he had worked within the past. He made the connection and conversations commenced. We worked assiduously to make this happen. Today, the USA knows àràmàndà. And now it’s time for the whole world to meet àràmàndà.
Are there plans to design for women too?
Oh yes! I’m excited to share this here first. The women’s line will berth before summer 2022. We are in talks with a women’s clothing line that shares the àràmàndà vision.
Who was your first international client and what was that experience like for you?
I honestly cannot remember the name of the first international client, but the first international celebrity client was Jeezy. I was thrilled! I was in Nairobi on business when my phone started buzzing incessantly. There were mentions and follows on Instagram. For the life of me, I couldn’t find the original post that caused àràmàndà to trend because there were lots of follows and likes on other photos. I will NEVER forget that experience. The word “thrilled” doesn’t quite capture how I felt that day. If a better word exists, you’ll be the first to know.
If you were to describe the fashion industry in Nigeria, how would you describe it?
The Nigerian fashion industry is as diverse as styling a Nigerian. We have several ethnic groups with traditional outfits that stem from their unique culture. Designers continuously strive to balance Western and our native fashion to create a very rich and diverse industry. One can only imagine how many designs can evolve from Nigerian tribes and ethnic groups.
The pandemic delayed us, but we are almost where we want to be. We’ve now signed a manufacturing deal with HD Designs New York for our ready-to-wear line, including sportswear. For us to compete with global brands, we need to ensure that our quality is on the same level or better. With this new partnership, we can achieve that!We’re speaking with investors to create distribution networks that can place our items around the world. We believe àràmàndà will be given the spotlight we deserve and the opportunity to showcase our impeccable tailoring and timeless pieces.
Proud to be a Nigerian? Share why.
Have you not met a Nigerian? We’re special, resilient people. Yes, I’m proud to be a Nigerian! Nigeria made me. Nigeria taught me to be who I am today. Honestly, if you can survive here in all ways, the world is yours to conquer.
Who are you looking forward to styling (local and international).
Wow! So many people. As a matter of fact, I want to style the world. Truly global. Diddy, DJ Khaled, Davido; anyone who wants to collaborate with me.
To every young creative Nigerian out there who has lost hope, what do you say.
It’s okay to be frustrated, but don’t lose hope. Frustration births progress. One has to constantly create new ways to move forward. Creativity needs perseverance and tenacity. No one gifts success to you. You have to want it and get it. And you must NOT get tired of wanting it. Do you know how many celebrities I chased after for years, before finally getting them to wear àràmàndà pieces? Take Michael Blackson for instance, it took almost four years to get him in àràmàndà. So when people share their wins, don’t be discouraged that you’re not winning too. Don’t get frustrated, because you really don’t know their story.
Would you advise someone who has a 9-5 job to have a side hustle?
Yes, they can have a side hustle. It’s all about balance. Someone is paying you to do the 9-5 job and expects results. Side hustles must not affect that productivity. And you’ll know when to convert the side into the main hustle. If you’re passionate about something other than your 9-5 job, by all means, go for it!
We’re grateful to the family for standing by while we’re on the road all the time to build a global brand. We’re grateful to the customers who started and are still standing with us.
They brought us to where we are. The journey has just started. We apologise to the few that we have disappointed: we are not perfect. And we look forward to serving new clients. We’re ALWAYS glad to introduce you to the new àràmàndà experience!