Ayomide Amosun Dabiri is the founder of Call Her Classic Fashion Agency and the Lagos Bridal Fashion Week (LBFW). Prior to her move into the fashion industry, Ayomide worked as a management consultant at McKinsey and Company. She holds a Bachelor and Masters degree in Law and is a member of the Nigerian Bar. In addition to brand strategy, the CHC fashion agency is focused on promoting the Nigerian fashion industry through collaborative projects and shows and the recently concluded Lagos Bridal Fashion Week (LBFW) is one of such projects. LBFW is responding to the growing demand and patronage for indigenous bridal fashion brands, a platform that aims to promote Africa’s finest brands as well as facilitate an environment for commerce. The 2018 edition of LBFW saw a variety of local and international brands showcase their latest bridal collections in Lagos to the world. In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, she talks of her journey into the world of fashion, the Nigerian fashion industry and how it can become a force to be reckoned with worldwide.
Tell us about your journey into the world of fashion?
Fashion has always been something I’m passionate about. I started my career as a management consultant at McKinsey and Company before branching out full-time into fashion. I now run the Call Her Classic fashion agency, which allows me to blend my experience from both professions (management consulting and fashion). At the agency, we work with fashion brands to develop strategies for their growth and development within the fashion industry. Typically, brands that approach us are desirous of increasing their engagement with their target audience, and of course, increasing sales. We work closely with representatives of these brands to design customized strategies for the growth and sustainability of the brand. This allows brands to focus on their creative processes while we manage the business side of the brand.
You recently organised a one-of its-kind bridal fashion show in the country. Tell us about that?
At Call Her Classic, CHC, in addition to the brand strategy work we do for fashion houses, we are also passionate about promoting the best of what Nigerian fashion has to offer, locally and internationally. Lagos Bridal Fashion Week (LBFW) is a platform we created to showcase the full range of wedding fashion products available to consumers in Nigeria. The goal is to ensure that brides decreasingly feel the need to look outwards for their fashion needs for their wedding day. We also aim to attract international brides and buyers to purchase bridal fashion items from Nigeria. We work with fashion and beauty brands to develop strategies for growth and sustainability. Brands approaching us are typically aiming to increase sales, awareness of their brand, engagement with their target audience and also their local and international footprint. Such brands are typically looking for experienced professionals to handle the business elements of their brand so that they can focus their efforts on consistently injecting the creativity required for a fashion or beauty brand to thrive.
LBFW 2018 was a huge success, we are so grateful to God. We worked behind the scenes on every minute detail for several months, so it’s been extremely rewarding to see the way the show came together and to hear all the positive feedback from our sponsors, partners, participating brands and of course, our audience. I really can’t thank our sponsors enough for their support. We had the support of so many amazing brands this year and we look forward to working with them for many years to come. This year’s show surpassed our expectations and the response has been pleasantly overwhelming. We have already, dozens of brands reach out to us to participate in the next edition, which is exactly what we hoped for, to continue to increase the volumes of talented brands we attract each year. Of course for CHC as the organizer, our aim is naturally for everything to be perfect, so there are definitely a few things we’ve identified that we’d like to improve on towards the next edition. The goal is for every edition to be even better than the last one.
What were your most memorable moments from LBFW?
During the days of the event, there’s actually very little time to stop and digest everything that is happening and there’s so much running around to ensure that things are flowing as planned. So for me, the highlight of my LBFW 2018 experience was the rush at the end of the final day, when the realisation hit me that we had successfully pulled off the event without any significant glitches and all the positive feedbacks started flowing in. It was particularly special for us that some of our participating designers who have showcased all over the world said that it was one of the best experiences they had ever had participating in a fashion show! For me, this is what it’s all about; doing things to an international standard and delivering well-executed projects. We don’t just want to be the best locally; we want to be performing at an international standard in all that we are doing. More importantly, we want Nigeria to increasingly be recognized globally as a major player in the fashion industry, this will be achieved by individual businesses in the Nigerian fashion industry continuously striving for and delivering excellence. I must also add that a highlight for me was working with the amazing team of people that I did. So many talented individuals within the Nigerian fashion industry came together to work on LBFW. They delivered excellence and I am truly grateful.
Does bridal fashion shows differ from the normal runway fashion we all know and how?
Yes, there are some obvious differences, and a few subtle ones. In terms of colours used in bridal collections, you tend to see mainly whites, pastels and metallics. With only the occasional burst of colour, which is typical of non-bridal runway shows. The pieces you tend to see on a bridal runway are primarily floor-length dresses and in some cases, jumpsuits. It is unlikely you see the variety of silhouettes presented in non-bridal shows e.g. trousers, jackets, shorts, mini skirts etc. This means there tends to be a lot of focus on accessories in bridal shows to really complement the dresses e.g. veils, bridal gloves, earrings, crown etc. Overall, bridal fashion runway shows tend to be a bit more romantic, feminine and more whimsical than non-bridal runway shows.
What are the challenges you faced putting together LBFW and how did you overcome them?
I thoroughly enjoyed putting together LBFW. It really is true that when you love what you do, it tends not to feel like work at all. One of the main challenges we did face, however, was filtering through the wide range of talents that we came into contact with. We had so many amazing designers approach us to participate in the show, so we had to go through a very long and detailed screening and selection process to ensure delivery of a top-notch, cohesive set of shows. A common challenge when running a business or organizing an event is disappointments from third parties contracted for various roles. We tried to combat this by heavily vetting the contractors we chose to work with, in addition to interviews, we asked around extensively for reviews before hiring. We also ensured that we always had a back-up plan such that we were never left completely stranded even when faced with contractors disappointing us.
You run a fashion agency and you’re a fashion consultant. What do these entail?
At the CHC Fashion Agency, we have identified that a lot of fashion brands in Nigeria are doing a great job in terms of creativity and publicity, but could use support in terms of structuring their businesses in a way that they can be sustainable in the long run. We work with businesses to develop strategies for their organic growth and sustainability within the Nigerian fashion industry. We also work with new brands to develop strategies for successful entry into the Nigerian fashion space.
How do you intend to distinguish yourself in the highly competitive fashion industry?
It is true that the fashion industry is competitive, however, I believe that there is more than enough room for everyone. There are so many different dimensions to the industry and so many areas that are currently not even being tapped into at all yet. Therefore, whilst competition is healthy and essential, I would say to anyone considering participating in the Nigerian fashion industry that there are opportunities for everyone who is willing to put in the work. One thing that’s very important to us is focusing on projects, which address gaps that we’ve identified in the Nigerian fashion industry. Therefore our projects tend to address areas where we see that there is high demand for a service, platform or solution but limited or no availability of it.
What is the major challenge you face in running a fashion agency?
Getting good staff can be tricky and fortunately, I have been able to recruit talented individuals to work with me and the aim is to continue to increase the number of people we employ annually. What I always say is irrespective of the level of talent a business is able to attract, dedicating time to training fresh recruits and regularly training even experienced members of staff is crucial to running a successful business. It is important for business owners to be willing to invest time in training members of staff or to bring a qualified professional in regularly to train their staff. This will significantly reduce inefficiency levels for businesses.
How would you rate the Nigerian fashion scene compared to 10 years ago?
There have been huge developments in our fashion industry over the last decade. Today, people in Nigeria have started to recognize fashion as serious business as opposed to viewing it as being a hobby. There are hundreds more young people running fashion businesses than there was 10 years ago and several brands currently sell pieces, which have been made in Nigeria to non-Nigerians all over the world. There are more publications dedicated solely to the promotion of Nigerian fashion. Nigerian fashion brands are being invited to participate in events all over the world and there are a number of well-organized fashion events, which take place annually and attract fashion lovers from across the world to Nigeria. The growth is undeniable and I have a lot of respect for the individuals who have worked tirelessly and acted as catalysts within the Nigerian fashion industry. I believe the next 10 years will see even more transformation and development of the industry, as well as increased global recognition of what Nigeria has to offer.
How do you think the fashion industry can improve from the state it is presently?
I believe that individual fashion businesses in Nigeria could go a lot further with better internal business structuring, increased investment (from private and public entities), access to well-equipped production units, increased ease in sourcing fabric and other required raw materials and better access to skilled labour. Above all, we need to continue to invest in educating ourselves, taking courses, learning from experienced mentors, studying international best practices and to further equip ourselves with the knowledge and expertise required to efficiently utilise the desired investments and other resources when they become available to us.
Would you say the demand for indigenous fashion brands match the supply and why?
I believe that the demand far outweighs the supply. Which is great, it means that there is still opportunity. Despite how saturated the fashion industry may seem, there is still room for new players offering innovative designs and good quality. In terms of why demand is currently outweighing supply, a lot of existing brands currently do not have access to the financial facilities and the infrastructure required to enable them to increase their production capacity and consequently supply to the market.
What has been your success rate in trying to promote made in Nigeria fashion brands?
The response has far exceeded our expectations. For example, following the 2018 edition of LBFW, we’ve experienced a high volume of enquiries and patronage of our participating designers. We’ve been contacted by people outside Nigeria to make enquiries about something that was shown on the LBFW runway! It’s very encouraging, for us and for our participating brands. We expect to continue to see an increase in demand for products made in Nigeria over the years with increased awareness of what the Nigerian Fashion Industry has to offer and improvements in the quality and consistency being delivered by our fashion brands.
Would you say Nigerian fashion is ripe for international exposure and investment?
Yes, absolutely! Creatively, we are bursting at the seams. What we need now is increased financial investment in our fashion brands, training to further improve the skill set and operational efficiency of people working in the fashion industry and better infrastructure to create an enabling environment for participants.
Who do you look up to and what keeps you going?
Without a doubt, my husband, my parents and my siblings. They support me 100 per cent in all that I do and constantly push me to be the best version of myself. They each have unique traits, which inspire me. One common characteristic is that they are all extremely hard-working and resilient. I can’t thank them enough for their continuous encouragement and for always going above and beyond for me. Other than them, young female Nigerian entrepreneurs successfully making a name for themselves through hard-work, determination and consistency, inspire me. I’m constantly seeking out opportunities to collaborate with such women. I am motivated by my desire to positively impact the Nigerian fashion industry, and the grace of God keeps me going. Even when I have faced challenges in business along the way, God has always shown me favours. In my free time, I enjoy reading books, spending quality time with family and travelling to new parts of the world.
Where do you see yourself personally and professionally in the next couple of years?
Over the years, we aim to become the go-to agency for African fashion brands desirous of long-term strategy solutions. We aim to continue to contribute significantly to the development of the fashion industry. We also hope to continue to recruit talented individuals and to create jobs for young aspiring fashion entrepreneurs.
What would you tell anyone that intends going down this path?
Do the groundwork, make sure you have a viable idea backed with a solid plan for execution. Form strategic partnerships with experienced people within the industry who can guide and support you along the way. Be willing to accept conservative amounts (within reason) whilst you work hard to get your foot in the door and build a reputation for your brand. Finally, be brave, don’t let people discourage you.