Meet Ejiro Amos Tafiri: Foremost Nigerian Fashion Designer
Designer Ejiro Amos Tafiri was born in the vibrant city of Lagos. She hails from Delta state, Nigeria. Ejiro Amos Tafiri is a fast growing brand in the Nigerian fashion sector. A company based in Lagos, Nigeria and was officially launched in 2010; Ejiro Amos Tafiri is a fashion brand which completely represents the ideology of the modern woman’s taste in fashion that best represents her sensuality and her sense of style. Their services include a ready to wear line with superior quality, unique and carefully crafted garments and accessories to give a sense of modernity, modesty, functionality and a spark of funk that guarantees utmost satisfaction as well as a more affordable range of clothing from the diffusion line. Celebrity designer, Ejiro Amos Tafiri reminisces with Guardian Woman Reporter ‘’Kemi Amushan’’ on how her fashion brand grew from her bed room to creating styles for the runway.
How did the Ejiro Amos Tafiri Brand come to be?
As a child growing up my parents thought I would be a medical doctor. But when I was in SS1 I was a science student, but my Agric teacher was pregnant at that time and wasn’t teaching. At that time I just wanted a very easy vocational subject that will be fun to do, so I dropped agric and picked up clothing and textile, and my very first class, we went on an excursion to Yaba Tech that was how I discovered fashion. Though growing up I always loved clothes, as a child, my favourite outfit was iro and buba and I liked to wear matching outfitsIf for one reason my shoe didn’t match my bag I would have a bad day, and any day I wore a completely matching outfit that was a fantastic day.
That is why I considered clothing and textile. When I got to Yaba tech, I discovered that fashion designing has a combination of everything I loved subtracting, addition, I like to draw, it seemed like technical drawing is the same thing as pattern drafting, I just knew I has found my career, but I didn’t tell anyone at that time, because fashion design was not recognised career, because it was left for dropouts , those who did not attend university or those who did not have the mental capacity for formal education. I couldn’t share that passion with my parents, friends, nobody. So I found my way into Yabatech, I made sure I didn’t pass Jamb to get into medicine, I told my dad I wanted to take poly jamb, he thought I would study science lab and tech but I filled fashion and that was how I got to fashion school. My family and teachers could not understand it.
Were your parents supportive?
Of course! They paid my fees but they weren’t happy, my mum recently told me she was embarrassed when people asked her how is your daughter, what is she doing now? They expected to hear “she is studying medicine. It was more because I was a very bright child so they expected me to study medicine or engineering, but when they hear fashion at Yaba Tech, the first question they will ask her is polytechnic? Fashion? Tailor? What happened? It made my parents embarrassed and they didn’t like it. I also got grounded a couple of times. The only way to pay them back was to be successful at it. So immediately I got into Yaba Tech I made sure I was the best student from my first year to final year, it either succeeds or nothing. I don’t know how I saw those things as a sixteen-year-old girl.
Were you hesitant at a point?
What have been the changes between then and now?
My parents are now very happy, they gradually accepted, I was doing well in school so my lecturers always wanted to see them, I was the youngest in my department. They were proud, but that kind of pride only shows in the school environment but when you were in church or somewhere else, they just felt somehow about it. But when I won prizes, started showing on TV, newspapers, they felt proud. But my daddy always says, “I still want my doctor, though.” Eventually, once I started running my business, succeeding to the point where I can take care of myself and employing people, everyone is happy.
What has been the highest and lowest point of your career including raising the initial capital for the business?
For me, I don’t have a particular highest or lowest point, every day comes with its own challenges for the business, being able to overcome it is key.
Were you able to access funding for your business?
This business has been solely funded by me, I wasn’t born with a silver spoon, finishing school at one point was challenging, my dad had to stop at one point, so I had to start working as a student, I would sew after classes and deliver them. Even when I left where I was working to start up my own, all I had in my account was N40,000. I bought a sewing machine, remodelled my room, and started making dresses deliver to people. I also spoke with friends who had boutiques, and they were willing to stock my designs in their shop, and the business grew from there.
What inspires your design?
Culture, imagination, literature, travel, I study people and how they are upwardly mobile, there is a lot of African cultures infused in the brand.
Which of your achievements are you most proud of?
I am proud of all my achievements but my most recent one which I am also very proud of was winning the best fashion designer for fashion and retail last year at the LFDW, each year comes with its own experience, which is different.
The fashion industry is known to be notoriously fickle and populated with shallow people…I know you are not one of those people but how do you maintain balance and stay true to yourself and your work?
Yes, there are many of them in this industry, and there is little being done about copyright in Nigeria. Another challenge with fashion is that you can pirate a designer’s work, alter the style a little bit, and then pass it off as your own. But the film industry is doing better at fighting piracy. With Ejiro Amos Tafiri brand, staying true to work means it is so unique that like every other artwork, you have your personal signature. People just know the way we like to finish or present clothes, once you spot an Ejiro Amos Tafiri, you that is what it is.
Many fashion design businesses collapse once the owner dies, how do you intend to evolve?
Fashion is a “world” business, if I might put it that way, one needs to evolve to stay relevant. I want my business to grow to over a hundred years, so my children can inherit it or I can sell it off at one point, I don’t want a business that revolves around me, it takes a lot to build. Right now, I am formulating a lot of policies and also putting processes in place. I want my business to grow like a proper business, it takes time right now we are about 25, staff and we want to grow beyond that. So it is not revolving around me at the moment, on our tee shirt it says team Ejiro Amos Tafiri, I am here, those at the factory are working, I am here and the other shops are also working. I also intend to put more structure into the business.
What are the challenges you face in running a business like this especially in a country like Nigeria?
Lack of infrastructure, lack of skilled labour, and when you eventually find skilled labour it is expensive; they are paid above high industry standards, accessing finance, lack of constant power supply, these challenges have been there for years, and they are still here.
The textile industry in Nigeria is comatose, what are the challenges getting fabrics for your business?
We have challenges getting fabrics. Most of the fabrics we use in Nigeria are imported. The fashion industry all of a sudden grew faster than the textile industry. The textile industry was booming before, but after a while, it gave in to competition from neighbouring countries. Foreign fabrics that came in were cheaper, and Nigerians were not buying made in Nigeria fabrics, so it must have been difficult for textile industries in Nigeria to survive because they would rather buy ankara from Cote d’Ivoire than buy a made in Nigeria Ankara. Some of the textile companies had to ship their fabrics to neighbouring countries, and then ship it in as made from those countries to get patronage, the textile industries had to struggle with the way Nigerians think, and eventually the industry collapsed.
Now that Nigerians have evolved in their thinking and we now patronise Nigerian goods, I really hope the textile industry grow and catches up with us. Because now we are importing so much fabric from China, India, and all the foreign countries are cashing in on it. We do have our own local fabrics that are doing well, we just need more industrialisation so that we can produce in large quantities; produce more adire, aso-oke, tie and dye, batik and all and even if we want to retain them as handmade fabrics, we can also do oil based instead of shipping it in container load of fabrics every time. It would be nice to see the textile industry catch up with the fashion industry, supply our needs so they can relieve the Nigerian situation.
How would you measure the impact of the fashion week and the likes to the growth of the fashion industry?
Fashion week helps you position your brand. It also documents your history. We did not use to have records of works done. But today, it is being documented and people all around the world can see it. More people around the world are wearing African designs unlike before.
Should we expect something new from Ejiro Amos Tafiri?
We are starting an academy soon because I constantly get a lot of requests to train. My factory can only take so many. So the training school should start before the end of this month. We also have our regular new collections.
What would you say to aspiring young female entrepreneurs?
The perfect time to start is now.
Originally published at SME.