True that! This picture just gives a snapshot of the different areas a designer can choose to focus on without necessarily engaging in bespoke wear. These are the different areas I have dabbled in in the past and some of these pictures are samples of my work (though I only provided the clothes for the shoot in the last picture). But yes I have even done a bit of fashion styling, photography and hair & make-up even though they fall outside my area of expertise. But really, a designer should really be an all-rounder since we are responsible for creating the vision. We are the catalysts that set the ball rolling for the other areas of the industry and seeing we cannot be a jack of all trades, we have to outsource certain parts of the design process to other professionals in the field.
Now why do I feel so strongly about this topic? Because I’ve been getting an earful from people on how I am “wasting my skills” simply because I decided to stop sewing for people. Sometimes I wonder if “not sewing for people” translates to “not providing clothing to my target market” or worse, makes me any less of a designer. Ok, perhaps I should say this here. I do plan to provide clothing to people but I have chosen to focus on a retail market rather than a bespoke market. And no I am not totally abandoning bespoke, it will just constitute a tiny part of my portfolio.
I recall a conversation I was having with a friend 2 nights ago. We were catching up on each other’s businesses when she says “Oh I need you to make something for me”. And my response was: “No sorry I can’t. I don’t make clothes for people”. Then there came the all-too-familiar pause I get from people when I make this statement and then the all-too-familiar question… Ok… so if you are not sewing, then what are you using your fashion skills for?
And that is the same question I get asked over and over again.
Truth is there is so much more to the Fashion Industry than the usual “cut and sew” we do in Nigeria and I mean this in no disrespectful way whatsoever. When I tell people that most design students I engaged with in South Africa actually wanted to be buyers than designers, I get a blank look. But oh, how can they understand what I’m talking about when no such job description exists in this environment. Well except for the owner of a boutique who goes abroad to buy her stock…which is a form of “buying” in its own way.
BUT my point is too many people in Nigeria view fashion strictly from a “bespoke” or “made to measure” perspective. They believe you MUST sew if you claim you are a fashion designer. In fact, too many designers in Nigeria have been led to believe, either from pressure or circumstances, that the only way to survive in the Nigerian Fashion Industry is to necessarily make clothes for people but I beg to differ! What about boutiques and stockists? Would one say they are not part of the Industry simply because they do not create the clothes they sell? Does that make them any less successful than people who sew?
Take me for example. When I came back from Fashion School, I knew the areas of fashion I wanted to focus on. I knew it had to be Fashion Retail rather than Bespoke Clothing simply because I did not have the patience for bespoke. But of course, people felt I had to operate in the “ankara” and “aso-ebi” market, which necessarily meant bespoke clothing. Of course there was a lot of money to be made in that segment of the market but I knew that was so not what I wanted to do. I just wanted to create my designs in standard sizes and produce them for the mass market.
But just so I was not regarded as one who never listened to advice, I got involved in that area for a bit all in a bid to make money and satisfy people but got severely burnt! Staying up till 4am at the sewing machine was not my cup of tea and I decided in July this year it had to stop even if it meant not earning revenue for a while so I could properly plan my business and strategies. I tell you this people, there is nothing worse than loving what you do and not enjoying it.
Now should a designer sew his/her garments or run their own production unit? Well what I say is if there is a business case for it and you can get someone with high quality control standards, then sure why not?! But really, the task of a designer is really to create a concept and get people that can help her realize her vision. A designer needs to work with a design team to assist with the concept and a marketing team who can ensure that these products get to the target market. Of course, she needs to create the clothes and that is where production is. But she does not necessarily have to produce the clothes. This can be outsourced to a competent production factory, which, unfortunately in our environment, is comprised mostly by the local tailors, and ensure the clothes are produced to her satisfaction.
Look at the major players in the global fashion industry vis-a-vis why China is a force to be reckoned with in the world today. When I speak to people, I ask them how many global designers actually produce their own clothes. I challenge you to pick up one of your shirts right now and take a look at the label. More often than not, you will find “Made in Bangladesh” or “Made in China” or made in some other Asian company. I believe designers over here need to collaborate more with each other to get this Industry to where it should be.
When people tell me there is mass unemployment, I tell them well people just don’t want to work. If people really needed jobs, all they had to do was target a designer and collaborate with her and she will be smiling to the bank. The typical designer is overworked in this environment. In fact, people can earn a living while in school as designers are constantly looking for assistance. There are so many areas particularly with production such as pattern making, that people can make money from. Just look at companies like Butterick and McCalls who have made so much money simply from creating patterns.
I think our environment needs a complete reorientation and designers need to take themselves more seriously if we want other industries to take us seriously. Fashion Design is an art and it really is no different from Architecture. We, designers, need to let people realize that and the sooner we start to put certain structures in place and make people realize than we are a whole lot more than mere machinists, the more respect we will get and the easier life will be for all of us.