Entrepreneurs · Fashion & Lifestyle · Interview

DESIGNING DIVA: Akpos Okudu

Port Harcourt based designer, Akpos Okudu is one designer to watch out for. Her chic designs have made her a regular fixture at Le Petit Marche, Lagos and celebrities Joke Silva, Adesuwa Onyenokwe and Omowunmi Akinnifesi have been spotted wearing her outfits.

Here, the Future Awards nominee talks to me about how she got started, her fascination with bright colours and some of her trade secrets.

Akpos Okudu

Who is Akpos Okudu?

I’m a University of Port Harcourt History and Diplomacy graduate, a full time fashion designer and I live in Port Harcourt where I run my eponymous label.

What does Akpos Okudu, the clothing line stand for?

Akpos Okudu is a ready to wear line, known for feminine, bright, romantic pieces that are chic and fun.

Your retail prices start from N7, 000. Why should we buy clothes from you, as opposed to buying our own fabric and taking it to the neighbourhood tailor/seamstress?

Buying from Akpos Okudu is definitely stress-free. You get your money’s worth in terms of great fabric, great fit and great finish and I believe that N 7,000 is relatively affordable.

Your grandmother was a dressmaker; your aunt a designer. Obviously, you were exposed to the intricacies of fashion quite early.

Yes, my Grandma and Aunty both worked in fashion and I spent some holidays as a child at my Grandma’s and watched her sew so I guess that rubbed off on me. As I grew older, the interest certainly grew and I made the decision to learn more. The rest, as they say, is history.

What informed your decision to make it a career? How did your friends and family react?

It wasn’t a laid out plan. I started out making clothes for my friends, then friends’ friends, and it slowly transitioned into a business. My parents were very supportive of my decision. They were cool with it as long as I graduated. Having their approval was surely a blessing and my friends supported me by buying my clothes.

You have mentioned that among other things, you take inspiration from flamenco dancers. How do you think this has influenced your choice of colours and fabrics?

I really have a thing for colour, as I think it looks beautiful on women and can really lift your spirit so I gravitate towards colourful objects. It’s definitely something I inject into my collections, season after season.

Your signature colours are bright and bold but you have also worked with pastel colours, for example, the Lola dress from your 2011 collection. In your own opinion, what types of hues are most suited to the African woman?

I really love how bright hues look on dark skinned women. Colours like orange, turquoise and fuchsia can really make you glow but I know for sure [that] colour is a mood thing, so the colour a woman wears really tells you how she’s feeling.

You use a wide variety of fabrics and prints – from African prints to satin. Where do you get your fabrics from?

Sadly, I can’t tell. That’s a trade secret. [Laughs]

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Your clothes all have interesting names – Tarela, Eniye, Nicole. Why do you name your clothes? Why not give them numbers?

[Laughs] I think it’s more fun when each piece has a name.

How do you come up with the names? Are they in honour of friends or does the style scream ‘such and such is my name’?

It’s really random how I pick the names.  I name them after women I admire or my friends or just of whom the piece reminds me.

Your fashion shoots are always tastefully done and in very beautiful locations. How do you choose your models and locations? Is there a particular photographer you use?

Awww, thank you. I’m very particular about the mood I want to evoke with each lookbook so I put a lot of thought, time and effort into my shoots. Even with the models I’m very particular about whom I want. For the photographer it has to be someone who gets my vision.

One of your admirable traits is your out-of-the-box thinking. This is evident in not only your fashion style, but also the way you do business. You have chosen to sell your clothes not in a store but online. What informed this decision?

I started selling online because I didn’t have a store and because I have a lot of clients abroad who can’t buy from a store in Nigeria so it is convenient for me and my clients. Akpos Okudu is now stocked at L’Espace* though.

You started out with the blog Ijaw Girl and now you have your own proper website. How has the journey been so far?

My blog has been great but it was mandatory for us to grow into a website. I explained what I wanted and my boyfriend set it up. [Laughs] It’s been great and it’s been an easy way for the world to reach us.

*L’Espace is located at 19A Olosa Street (Off Karimu Kotun Street), Victoria Island, Lagos.

Entrepreneurs · Fashion & Lifestyle · Interview

TAKING AFRICAN FASHION TO NEW HEIGHTS

The clothing line Busayo NYC is all about style with an African twist. The face behind the brand is Nigerian-American designer, Busayo Michelle Olupona, who is as warm and gracious as her clothing is beautiful. Her blog posts and Facebook page are usually filled with tutorials, behind-the-scenes photos and fun giveaways.

Here, she talks to me about her unique business model, her cultural influences, how she handles criticism and of course, how she is redefining the concept of African fashion.

Designer, Busayo Olupona

Hello Busayo, how is work coming up on your 2012 collection? What can we expect?

A lot more accessories, integration of different types of African prints beyond our Nigerian offerings. A lot more classic shapes but more fun prints.

You have come a long way from being teased, as a teenager, for wearing adire shirts to being renowned for your work with African prints. How did that happen?

Immigrating to the US was a challenge; we left Nigeria and moved to a small town in California. I was about 12, kids can be tremendously cruel at that age and in retrospect, it is a very typical immigrant story but anyway I remember the excitement I had over this one particular outfit, which didn’t fly at all at my school. I think the change comes with age, you learn more about who you are and begin to appreciate the very thing that makes you different from other people. Also, I have to credit my parents – I grew up in a very Yoruba home and never lost my appreciation and love for our culture and that includes our fabric.

Somewhere along the line, you worked as a corporate lawyer. How easy or difficult was it for you to quit your job and work in fashion full-time?

It has been challenging. Practicing law in a firm, I knew quite early it wasn’t really for me but for a variety of reasons, mostly financial and because I had worked hard to earn the degree and become a lawyer, I felt compelled to stay in the position even though it didn’t make me happy.  Some define insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Well, I was practicing law and was really unhappy and was expecting that one day I would wake up and feel happy about my life and of course, it doesn’t work like this. I have since learned that I am the co-creator of my life and if I am unhappy with something, it is my responsibility to change it. It is hard and I am not sure what the end road is but I am enjoying creating my own business, doing something that I love and sharing the rich offerings of our cultures with the world and there is no better feeling than having someone wear a piece of mine and say that she loves it. It makes me happy.

The name Busayo, in Yoruba means “addition to joy”. Most of your clothes have distinctively Yoruba names as well (e.g. Dayo, Lade). How do you decide what name best matches a particular outfit?

Well, most of the pieces are named after someone in my extended family and after people I love. I think there is only one piece that has a western name and that, is named after someone very dear to me. There are some, that are not of relatives – Segun and Nneka, but I have always loved these names. My three favourite pieces from my first collection were named after my siblings – Tolu, Bola and Jide.

Curiously, some of your most feminine apparels have masculine names (e.g. Jacob, Kunle). Why?

The first collection was primarily named after the women in my family. I decided to honour the men in my family with the second collection and this recent collection was named after the men in my family. My Dad is Jacob and one of my uncles is Kunle. Not sure what I am going to do for the next one but I want the line to always have a Yoruba/Nigerian feel and be grounded in that culture.

Your scarves are popular with both sexes. Do you have plans to venture into menswear?

I love dressing women, it is what I know and what I enjoy though I would never say never. I am open to the possibility of collaboration on men’s wear and that is something I am looking into. [For now] I am enjoying just working on accessories and creating my own designs.

You are based in New York and have a sizeable American clientele. How do you cater to resident Nigerians who would love to own your clothes?

I would love to have a boutique in Lagos and luckily, through social media, I do have a following in Nigeria. I am primarily based in the States but my goal is to create a life in both the States and Nigeria. I love Nigeria very much and as a nation, we have a tremendous amount to offer.  In addition, I would very much like to be part of the fashion space within Nigeria, and continue to be a contributor to the growth and development of the Nigerian fashion scene.

You once came under fire for using a Caucasian model in your Fall 2010 campaign. What do you make of such criticism?

It is an interesting dialogue to have.  It wasn’t a deliberate choice not to cast a black model in the campaign, the model we casted frankly, was the best girl we saw. I think it is incredibly limiting to say, “I will only have black women in my pieces”. I design for all women.  It has always been important for me that my clothes and pieces remain versatile. I think any woman should be able to wear a Busayo piece, black, white or yellow. If there is a piece that only works on a black woman, then I believe that I have failed as a designer. Also, my customers are all across the spectrum racially and I love that. I think African fashion needs to move beyond making clothing only for black people. Issey Miyake doesn’t say “We only dress the Japanese”.  Other brands do not limit themselves in this way so why should we.  Part of what is exciting about what is happening in fashion right now is the cross-national and cross-continental dialogues that are happening, in particular, between the West and Africa and I think it is exciting, it opens up more options for young Africans in particular who can now buy pieces that represent their culture and yet are modern and contemporary. I am comfortable in my skin and my identity as an African woman and don’t need to prove anything to anyone.

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I have always thought that clothes sell better in stores because that way, the customer gets to feel the texture and try them on. You on the other hand, retail primarily through your website. Why do you adopt this approach?

As I was starting out, it made sense to sell online as I am able to grow the business organically. Distributing to stores is a goal that I am currently working on and it will happen soon.  I host trunk shows throughout the Northeast [US] and am currently working on creating a Pop-Up Store so I am always creating more traditional retail environments.

Your designs seem more suited to athletic and hourglass silhouettes. How about women who have androgynous or plus-size frames? What looks can they rock?

Great question. I think the singular most common feedback I have received about the business is the demand for plus-sizes. Women are incredibly vocal about their demands and needs, which is great. I am certainly working on expanding the line into plus-sizes and ensuring the fit on plus-sizes is stellar. I don’t believe in rushing into something unless I know that it will be done well.

These days, African prints are as ubiquitous as jeans. How do you distinguish yourself from the crowd? Might you consider using other fabrics?

I think I have a great eye for fabric and prints. There is an abundance of African prints on the market, I will agree but I do think there is a lot of room to continue to make interesting and more dynamic print choices and also, combining different African prints. I have always been interested in the potential of other fabrics like lace and Aso-Oke. I do integrate other types of fabrics on a few pieces, but I personally love African prints and will not shy away from using it. I don’t do this because this is the trend, I do it because sourcing and working with our fabrics is one of my great pleasures in my life and I always want to keep doing that. I think the potential for these fabrics is immense and we haven’t even begun to actualize what is possible with this fabric. It is not as ubiquitous as jeans, just yet.

Some designers send their clothes to celebrities in order to get free publicity. What do you think of this practice?

I think it is great. Like it or not, people see a celebrity wearing something and they want to wear it as well. It is something that I am working on. There are a number of celebrities, who I would love to get into my pieces. Kerry Washington, Adepero Oduye – an upcoming, seriously talented, Nigerian-American actress, Asa … there are so many.

What advice would you give to a young person trying to break into the fashion industry?

I think I would give this advice to anyone pursuing any dream. Don’t stop or kill that little voice that is trying to lead you to find and discover your true and authentic self. It is hard or it appears hard as the road might not be quite paved yet and you have to dig that road yourself. I think we all came to give our gifts to the world and it is our responsibility to discover our gift and use it to better the world. My advice is, figure out what is that you are meant to be doing and however, you can be doing it in the world, no matter how small, it is your responsibility to do so. So take classes, learn how to sew, spend time training your eye, talk to people who are already doing what it is that you want to do. Make pieces for yourself and wear it. There are so many ways and sometimes, what you want to do doesn’t quite exist in the form that you would like so you might have to create it. I think this advice applies for whatever it is you want to be doing, not just fashion.

 

 

Entrepreneurs · News · Science & Tech

NIGERIAN STUDENT CREATES SOCIAL NETWORKING SITE

by Akumbu Uche

A 22-year old Nigerian student has created a new social networking service, Ploggin.com

Its creator, Nnoduka Eruchalu, is a student at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) where he is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering.

Nnoduka Eruchalu*

Ploggin is an online platform that encourages worldwide interaction over the Internet. Much like popular social networking sites Facebook and Twitter, the site supports micro-blogging and live-feeds.

However, there are a few distinguishing features. Users have the option of posting comments anonymously and a user can upload a media stream containing a maximum of seven audio, picture or video files.

The site’s slogan reads, “Your collage defines you. Your anonymous feedback defines others.”

“I noticed that on other sites, people usually post a lot of unnecessary pictures and information. Again, the posting format I have created allows users to be more authentic, honest and less self-censoring”, explained Eruchalu.

“It took me about three months to write code, programme and set up the website. During this time, I was also working as a Teaching Assistant at school and interning at Microsoft”, he said.

Asked about plans for the future, Eruchalu said, “I hope that Ploggin grows but I am already working on my next idea. There is a lot of speculation about what the next major platform will be and when it comes, I want to be a part of it.”

Since its launch in November, Ploggin has attracted 250 users and a growing number of visitors.

 

* Photo courtesy of Nkemka Uche.

Fashion & Lifestyle

BEAUTY INSPIRATION: ASA

Beauty maxims usually dictate that you choose between bringing attention to your lips and bringing attention to your eyes. Thankfully, as this picture of singer/songwriter Asa shows, you can do both at the same time without looking like a neon sign.

To get this look, powder your face and neck with a translucent powder such as Sweet Vanilla Perfumed Talc.

Next, cover your eyelids with a bronze/copper-coloured eye shadow, like the one in Almay intense i-colour trio for blues 022.

Trace Sleek’s black liquid eyeliner along your upper lash line (Omit this step if you have narrow lids or close-set eyes)

One coat of Maybelline Lash Stiletto Mascara in Brownish Black to upper lashes is enough to make a statement.

Run a subtle berry colour like Revlon Lipstick in Pearl Plum Baby 467 around your lips. Coat lightly with lip gloss. Victoria’s Secret Beauty Rush gives you shine without stickiness. Try Yummy Berry if you’re dark skinned or I Want Candy if you’re light skinned.

This look can be worn to work in the daytime and translates easily into a romantic evening look.

Total application time is 5-7 minutes. Very OK, OK.

Music · Reviews

NNEKA – CONSCIENCE OF A NATION

By Akumbu Uche

Singer/Songwriter Nneka

MOBO award-winning Nigerian singer/song writer Nneka likes to describe her music as “simple, complicated and dynamic”.  Her third studio album, Soul is Heavy (2011) certainly lives up to that account.

Laden with themes of heartbreak, political agitation, spirituality and self-awareness, the album is a continuation of the singer’s obsession with Nigeria’s fate, history and future.

Despite the title and serious inclination, the songs in Soul Is Heavy are not the pounding, warrior-cries that made Heartbeat, from the 2008 album No Longer At Ease, a breakthrough performance.

Instead, you have an hour-long expertly produced melange of reggae, afrobeat, hiphop and even flamenco accentuating the singer’s seemingly fragile vibrato.

Do You Love Me Now, an intimate, introspective four-minute duet with her throbbing guitar, reminds the listener that Nneka’s acoustics can stand without the support of sound engineering.

She is often compared to Lauryn Hill, partly due to her girl-with-the-guitar image, but she has more in common with Nelly Furtado. Both have pale skin, high cheekbones, naturally curly hair, high pitch and heterogeneous appeal.

The similarities do not just end there. Like Furtado, Nneka can pull off edgy rhymes as well as a tune.

In Camouflage, she launches into combat mode with lines such as “The thing wey you dey plan, e dey destined to fail/you know say our battle na spiritual one”. Just when you expect to hear explosive sounds of warfare, the songbird returns to her trademark canary sweetness.

Her confident rapping provides a backbone for the tracks Sleep, Don’t Even Think, Stay and God Knows Why.

Unfortunately, a guest appearance from Black Thought, of The Roots fame, cannot save the latter from awkwardness and want of pace.

Although her choice of subject matter often means that her music is the least likely to be associated with the nightclub and party circuit, some of the songs such as My Home are cheerily up tempo and danceable. She even shows off a relaxed and romantic side with the tracks Shining Star, Restless, and Valley.

Her pièce de resistance comes in the title track, in which she powerfully invokes the revolutionary spirits of Ken Saro Wiwa, Isaac Boro and King Jaja of Opobo.

It comes as no surprise then that the current face of Reebok France is in solidarity with the Occupy Nigeria Movement. The refrain “Vagabond in Power” from the song V.I.P might as well be adopted as a rallying cry.

DEMONSTRATION; 40,000 today in Ojota [in Lagos], yes we are making history…first time in my life time that Nigerians of different tribes come together in pain to fight the corrupt system….the struggle continues…fight till we kpeme

So reads her January 11 Facebook update accompanied by photographs of a massive crowd and herself, right hand clenched in a manner evocative of a Black Power fist.

Whether or not the 15-track compilation will attract a cult like following, it is a vibrant and intricate yet humble lyrical demonstration that the protester can be passionate but the act peaceful.