Omoyemi Akerele

BY Anum Bashir

Lagos Fashion Week has an unstoppable force behind it - Founder Omoyemi Akerele is a Nigerian based entrepreneur pioneering the continent's homegrown fashion and design brands. She has been a member of the BoF500 for the last 6 years, and continues to work tirelessly to share some of Africa's most promising talent on the global stage. I was lucky to have met Omoyemi on my recent trip to Lagos, and got to chat with her about her life and career. This is a girl boss "Dig" in its truest form!

AB: Where were you born/ raised?

OA: I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria

AB: What was growing up like for you?

OA: Growing up was fun! I come from a very close knit family, second of seven children, so there was never a dull moment in our home.

AB: Earliest fashion related memory/ influences?

OA: Being a child of the late 70's, my wardrobe growing-up was largely a by product of our summer vacations outside Nigeria; choices made by my parents on work trips between Europe/ America, and let's not forget traditional garments which often came to life during occasions like weddings, landmark birthdays and funerals within our immediate/ extended families.

The 80's and 90's in Nigeria are not well known for their sense of  "BuyNigeria". My mid to late teen years were spent in University of Lagos and filled with a mix of the 70's bell bottoms and bell sleeves phase alternated with 90's high waisted jeans meets cropped tops/body suits meets soul braids largely inspired by artistes - Lauryn Hill, Brandy, Aaliyah complete with Dr. Martens, biker boots and jungle jacks which might have been considered out of place in a country where the average temperature undulates between 26 and 30 degrees Celsius. If my University days were mostly spent in denim law school was the complete antithesis of that with lots of dresses, skirts, shirts and my new discovery - cotton dresses designed and made at the time from Ankara by my dear friend Boye – the dresses made my days in Nigerian Law School Bwari with temperature in the highs (at 31 degrees Celsius on average) a bearable experience because they were comfortable, the fabrics were breathable and you never had to deal with the issue of the right hemlines with supervisors. Law school brought out the lady in me (not an overtly feminine lady). 

AB: Childhood dreams/heroes?

OA: My Dad.

For as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a lawyer and I wanted to change the world, work with international organizations like the UN, UNICEF etc and be part of policy formulation that can impact our world.

I don’t work in Law anymore but my work in fashion business development has brought me into close contact with agencies like the United Nations, United Nations Industrial Organization and International Trade Center. We have worked in some capacity with the organizations and still do.

AB: What made you want to get into the fashion industry?

OA: My career in fashion started about eleven years ago with an understanding that some of the most important things in life are purpose and passion driven, combined with a deeper need to make a difference beyond myself and make an impact. I started work on the Nigerian fashion scene as a pioneer in fashion styling and image consulting, was the fashion editor of a lifestyle magazine and with my partner at the time Bola Balogun, revolutionized styling in Nigeria which has become a key role in the industry where there was previously none. Over the years, I realized that there was huge gap that needed to be filled. There was room for a platform to act as a catalyst on the scene, to spearhead change and work towards positioning fashion as business in Nigeria. I am inspired by a number of factors such as the awareness of the talent we have, sheer size of Nigeria’s population and an understanding of the potential that having clearly defined structure, infrastructure and a vision to position ‘fashion’ retail as a key contributor to Nigeria’s economy can have on the Nigerian economy.

AB: How has chartering rather unprecedented territory felt for you?

OA: At Style House, we work tirelessly to position Lagos and Nigeria on the global fashion map as well as grow, nurture, develop and act as catalysts for building a commercially sustainable industry out of Nigeria. The lack of infrastructure in place makes it a more tedious process not just for us in the production and execution of our initiatives but for the designers as well. It makes their creative process very expensive and in return, the accumulated cost is transferred to the end user.

Capacity building and skills development is fundamental to the whole process. We are currently working with the Nigerian Export Promotion Council to create opportunities for capacity building and skills development especially for the garmenting sector.

The sector is in dire need of apparel manufacturing companies and the required skills that can help cater not just to the fashion designers but create opportunities for creating retail brands in Nigeria. We see our role alongside other stakeholders in the industry as catalysts in fanning that flame and galvanizing the sector towards the implementation of the much needed facilities to make that happen.

AB: Tell us a bit more about Style House Files?

OA: Style House Files is a Fashion Business Development Agency that primarily focuses on the advancement of the Nigerian and African Fashion Industry.

The company has a five prong approach to contributing what we can to developing the sector and is centered on:

 - Access to Market

 - Talent Showcase

 - Talent Discovery

 - Capacity Building and Skills Development

 - Advocacy

We build platforms and facilitate a projects that are targeted at ensuring that our objectives as a company are met and solidifies our position as catalysts for the advancement of the African fashion industry.

For us it’s always been beyond fashion week. It’s not just an event. Style House has developed and executed strategic initiatives to support and strengthen the industry. Lagos Fashion Week is one of them.

Fashion Focus:

With Fashion Focus, previously known as Young Designer of the Year, a program that’s been launched since Lagos Fashion Week’s inception in 2011. We’ve dedicated this platform to the growth and promotion of creatives in the fashion industry. Fashion Focus presents unique opportunities for emerging talents to harness their skills through business development workshops, creative workshops and a mentorship/internship. Fashion Focus Alumni Include: Iamisigo, Orange Culture, Meena, Kenneth Ize, Sisiano, Gozel Green, Ejiro Amos Tafiri and many more. Post Fashion Focus, we further support emerging designers with business mentoring sessions. Last year we worked with Gozel Green, Sisiano, Onalaja, Titi Belo, and Deji Eniola, several of whom were selected to present their work at Tranoi Tradeshow Paris and Pitti Super, a tradeshow in  Milan. Gozel Green was invited back to Milan this season for Vogue Italia and YOOX’s Who’s Next

Fashion Business Series:

At Style House Files, we believe that by creating an agenda of the most pressing issues faced by the fashion industry, and then inviting thought leaders to share their perspectives, we can gradually begin to develop a semblance of structure for creating sustainable change in the industry. Our goal is to effectively capture, engage and connect with a diverse demographic of industry players, contributors, stakeholders, fashion cognoscenti, policy makers and potential investors. We achieve this through Fashion Business Series.

SHF Trains:

For a country of Nigeria’s size with such a huge youth and women population, providing demonstrable and employable skills has become critically important. The apparel and textile sector in Nigeria when combined, have the capacity to provide wage and self-employment to millions of people; as well as the ability to transform rural economies if properly linked. We have a partnership with Nigerian Export Promotion Council to manage the Human Capital Development Center where most of the training takes place. We also have an on-going engagement with stakeholders in both the public and private sectors such as the Industrial Training Fund (ITF), Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), Vlisco and more, partnerships that have contributed significantly to our vision for SHF Trains, to increase the number of skilled workers in the garment manufacturing sector, positively impact job creation and generate additional sources of income.

Access to Market: In partnership with the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), we organize a range of opportunities for access to market - from pop ups in Lagos for independent young brands such as Vathiswa by Keji, Zurizola Woman, and Beejay Busari - all produced through the Human Capital Development Center ( NEPC HCDC) - to ensuring Nigerian and other African brands are well presented in tradeshows that provide opportunities for them to interact with international buyers and the media, including WWD Vegas, Tranoi Paris and Pitti Super Milan. Our Access to Market initiatives have facilitated opportunities for designers across Selfridges, Moda Operandi,, Dolce and Gabbana etc.

AB: What are you hoping to achieve with it in the next decade?

OA: We are building a company with a holistic view of the industry and in a decade, Style House will still be leading the way with innovative projects and platforms that define the industry and propel it to commercial success.

AB: How would you like to see Lagos Fashion Week evolve?

OA: Lagos Fashion Week has to evolve even more beyond the showcase itself. Although the continent is diverse and dynamic in terms of culture, historical references and commercial viability, fashion relations within Africa is often met with uncertainty and a degree of fascination.

Despite the perception, Africa as a whole is fast evolving. The fashion scene in countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Angola, South Africa and Kenya is becoming increasingly vibrant with the potential to trigger commercial viability for African designers who can make a conscious effort to tap into expansion across Africa. We are not averse to exploring expansion into fashions’ most sought after fashion capitals of New York Paris, Milan and London; we simply believe that in the grand scheme of business of fashion on the global scene, demand has long been defined, which might not necessarily favor new talents on the scene with the current economic climate.

Increasingly therefore, at Style House Files (SHF), we have enlightened our designers to understand that the international fashion market with its bright lights, gloss and promise of a wider target audience should not necessarily be the primary target market for African designers. Why make the international fashion market a target when it is far simpler to serve the home market where both designers and consumers stand a better chance of being in sync?

The vision is to build, to make both the international fashion market and pan African fashion scene co-exist side by side. Designers must learn to straddle both markets with ease and understand that while one might be fantastic for building brand credibility and confidence in the minds of the consumer, the other is a fantastic tool for commerce and the business of fashion.  Africa is reputed to have the world’s fastest growing population and is projected to account for more than 40% of global population growth until 2030. The market is huge and potential for retail expansion is endless in a market where private consumption is estimated to be higher than in Russia or India. Economic analysts have predicted that between 2012 and 2020, consumer facing industries will grow by $410 billion and apparel, consumer goods and food are expected to account for $185 billion of that.

AB: Can you name some of the brands that you are particularly proud of coming out of Nigeria and Africa at large?

OA: I’m proud of all the designers that show on the Lagos Fashion Week platform.

AB: What do these success stories mean for you?

OA: Success goes beyond token lip service and press mentions. It’s important that some of these African designers’ collections are available for sale in stores across Africa and globally.

AB: If you hadn't ventured into the fashion industry, what else would you have possibly done?

OA: Teach

AB: Share with us some of the most monumental advice anyone ever gave you?

OA: Don’t be afraid

AB: Walk us through a typical day for you?

OA: I try to start my day at 5am with praise, worship and prayers to God, followed by supervising my household as they get our daughters ready for school. A 6:50am school run is followed in quick succession by a 2-5km run depending on my mood. My work day typically starts at 9am sometimes with back to back meetings, project planning, research and mentoring and I almost always break at 3pm for school runs. I get back into the swing of things at 4:30 pm and this usually takes me to 8pm or possibly longer depending on what project we're working on at the time.

I usually split my days into "creative meeting days" where most of my interactions are with colleagues in the industry and I'm a bit more relaxed with how I’m dressed or "business meeting days" which predominantly involves meetings with our partners in private sector companies or the public sector and this mostly requires my basic business uniform which is predominantly tailored shift dresses, my favorite shirt and skirt combo with a blazer. I must confess though separates are the back bone of my closet - it creates endless opportunities for mixing and matching which in turn helps to vary my dressing up choices.

AB: Vices?

OA: Sleep!

AB: What's next for you?

OA: The year’s gone by so fast...

A few speaking engagements left, prep for our Tommy Hilfiger Challenge finale and setting up our co working space for young fashion creatives. 

AB: A fun fact about you no one knows.

OA: That no one knows? That’s tough :)

Well, I love dancing!

Check Out More Stories Here...

Share On