Tayo Shonekan:Why I Left Engineering for Clothes Designing-Punch

I love this interview on Tayo Shonekan published in the Punch and thought i should share. Tayo Shonekan is a stylist, designer and Chief Executive Officer of AIMAS, a fashion label. She talks about why she decided to focus on designing
Q: Why did you make the switch from styling to designing?
A: I have always done the two side by side; one did not precede the other. Now, I do less of styling and more of designing because I am trying to build my brand. I no longer style as often as I used to.
Q: How did you delve into designing?
A: As a newly-wed expecting my first baby in the United Kingdom, I was home and not working. I wondered what I could do, but I had always been interested in fashion, even though it was not my course of study at the university. I studied manufacturing engineering. I started by designing T-shirts and it became a success.
Q: Why did you move back to Nigeria?
A: Every city has its advantages and disadvantages. People always think the grass is greener on the other side. If you are young, single and want to explore life, you might want to live there. But when you get married and start having children, it is preferable to relocate home. Over there, childcare services are expensive but here in Nigeria, you can have your family around while you manipulate your time. Also, there are more opportunities in Nigeria, even though it is tough. Because the UK and other countries are more developed, start-ups find it difficult to flourish.
Q: What does it require to be a designer?
A: Fashion is not an easy industry. A lot of people just wake up and think they can do fashion. People try it and fall by the way side. Only people who have the passion and talent survive.
Q: Your designs are a fusion of African and western styles…
A: We started by making T-shirts and we added a bit of ankara to it which made it different from what every other person was doing at that time. But for our ready-to-wear line, we do not use ankara. We create our own prints and it has African aesthetics. That is the aesthetics behind the brand. It is modern, fresh, contemporary and we still want people to know that it has an African flair and content to it.
Q: Do your designs convey any particular message?
A: My designs try to show the beauty of the African continent and at the same time pass the message that you do not really have to dress in a traditional mode to show you are African. Anyone in the world can wear our pieces regardless of where they come from.
Q: But people still consider you to be more of a stylist than a designer…
A: That is quite true, because we do not take part in any of the major fashion
shows. There is no reason for it, but I am just focused on building the brand. Participating is also a strategy to build the business, but we are considering doing it in the areas that would be relevant, so that the brand can grow and people will know what we really do.
Q: What knowledge gained abroad did you apply to your business in Nigeria?
A: I did lots of trainings in the UK, not just in terms of designing clothes, but also in the business aspect. Those countries are well structured and have certain arrangements in place that help businesses grow. I enrolled on some courses and I was mentored on how to run a fashion business. Also, I had the opportunity to explore how the business works there in terms of retail and merchandising. Every city is unique and if you run a business, you have to understand the mind of the people you want to target. In that regard, you will know how to reach them.
Q: Was it difficult starting up in Nigeria?
A: The brand was well received and people loved the pieces. The challenges we face are the normal challenges people face such as power and lack of structures or support from the government.
Q: Do you face any competition in this business?
A: Interestingly, we are in a different category because we create the everyday wear. Also, we have a kids' line and just recently launched a teens' line. We simply look for a market that has yet to be saturated or is virtually untapped. There are lots of kids' wear, but they do not come in African prints. We have competition, but at a minimal level.
Q: You could have concentrated on a particular line.
A: It works for us because when people come into our shops, they buy for every member of their family, including themselves. All the lines complement one another, because we also have an accessories line. They are all in sync.
Q: As a mother, stylist, wife and designer, does any area of your life suffer?
A: In everything you do, you cannot have it all. If you are able to find something that works for you, create a unique balance for yourself. I have competent staff, both at work and at home. When I am not there, I know that things will still go on smoothly even if it means working late into the night. The key is being organised or else, nothing will work.
Q: What makes your brand unique?
A: Our signature pieces are our T-shirts that have the ankara designs on them. It is something we have been known for. We tend to do something that not a lot of people do. We do it in a contemporary and modern style; it is the same as the style you would see on a western cloth, the only difference is that it is made with African prints.
Q: How should people dress?
A: It depends on where they are going. Different occasions call for different attire.
Q: How do you like to dress?
A: I am a creative dresser. I love to mix my pieces and tell a story. It is not about buying expensive clothes, but about how you put them together. I love accessories, they can make or mar an outfit or convert it from bland to glam.

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