‘Fashion is about putting pieces together to make a classy design’

The Creative Director of Olajiji Cordwainer Couturier, Olatunji Onafuye, a fashion designer and stylist who has styled the likes of Vector, Chidinma, Aki and Dayo Adeyeye speaks in this interview with KEMI SOKOYA on his love for fashion, his passion in making people look good, and the challenges young entrepreneurs face in Nigeria

How did you come up with your brand name and the message behind it?
Olajiji is a native name from the western part of Nigeria. Cordwainer is simply a craftsman that makes footwears, while Couturier is a stylist that makes and designs clothes to specification.

The fashion market seems saturated, how do you intend to keep afloat?
You just asked a good question. For me, I believe in hardwork and improving oneself. I will not stop researching and coming up with new designs. But regardless, I try to make products affordable for consumers.

Would you say fashion is lucrative enough for you? 
Paying bills on its own is owing up to responsibility. Everything about progress is either you take a risk or you are given on a platter of gold. So, if you are opportune to have a sponsor, all is good but if not, then you might have to walk your way alone through the thick and thin. I thank God for opening my eyes to fashion. At least, I’m comfortable and I eat or do whatever I like to do. I’m still growing, however, and open to expanding my business. I guess that has answered your question.

Does your background influence who you are now?
Yes, it has in so many ways. I come from a background of fashion-inclined community whereby you dress the way you want to be addressed. Growing up in such an environment has made me to be conscious of what I wear.

Are you satisfied with your choice of business?
Fashion is a passion for me, I love to look nice and make people look nice as well. But I plan to venture into other businesses as we grow along

What is the major challenge young entrepreneurs face in Nigeria?
For me, I think it is consistency and in availability of fabrics when they are out of stock. But measures are being put in place to help small scale businesses grow through government funds and support of some non-governmental organisations. I don’t like to blame the government; remember we make the government. Once knowledge is impacted, one needs to build and make research and then come up with his or her own innovation so as to employ and add positive growth to the society at large.

How do you define your style? 
I like comfort and being simple. I enjoy good pairing of attire and footwear.

How do you source for your fabrics? 
We have nice places in Lagos. I mostly go to the Lagos Island Fabric Market and Tejusoho Fabric Market. Customers buy what you show them. So, it’s the innovation you create that they buy.

Do you have any specific research process when you start new collections? 
I do research everyday, it is a non-stop thing likewise learning. Also, life is a teacher, we learn from it everyday.

Do you have Nigerian designers that inspire you?
I like the designs of Mai Atafo, Uche Nnaji and Lolu, a footwear merchant.

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Setting up an NGO to empower youths. This will not be just fashion; it’s definitely going to cut across other career goals.

Are you a fan of Ankara prints?
Have you ever seen an African man that doesn’t wear Ankara? Yes, I am a fan. I’m an African man. For me, African traditional wears differentiate an African brand from other fashion brands

Do you consider any fashion item indispensable?
None that I can’t think of because fashion is about putting together pieces to make a classy design

While shopping, which fashion item catches your fancy? 
Everything catches my fancy and most times I end up buying more that I bargain for just to create new designs.

Which fashion accessory do you live for? 
I don’t think I can do without any fashion accessory. I like to put on everything because one accessory compliments the other.

Do you conform to trends? 
I basically don’t flow with trend. I create new designs out of trends.

How comfortable do you feel in jeans and T-shirt? 
I’m very comfortable in it. Is there any man who doesn’t like jeans and T-Shirt? But I do not wear it regularly.

Whose celebrity styles do you like most?
I like Noble Igwe’s style. But over the years I’ve styled celebrities like Burna Boy, Bryan Okwara, Dayo Adeneye, Dammy Krane, Sexy Steel, Banky W, Chidinma, Yemisax, MI Abaga, J.Martins, Clarence Peters, Pasuma, D’Banj, Chinedu Ihedieze (aki), Vector and many more.

What is your ready-to-go outfit?
T-shirt and jeans with a sandal

Which outfits take up major space in your wardrobe?
My three-piece traditional garment

What determines what you wear?
It largely depends on the occasion I’m attending. If it’s a club party, I’ll likely wear a T-shirt and jeans. But for a wedding party, I can do traditional wear.

Who is your best designer?
It’s myself. I wear my designs mostly because it gives me the freedom to try new things and be creative. Also, how do you explain or convince clients to buy you if you don’t wear you.

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