Saheed Fawehinmi, son of late fiery lawyer and human rights activist, Gani Fawehinmi, the brain behind, FAW Couture has unveiled his 2017 collection. In a chat with ENCOMIUM Weekly on Monday, May 16, 2016, he talked about what inspired the collection and challenges facing the fashion industry…
How has business been generally in 2016?
Business is tough for everybody. The government is still trying to find its feet to put the economy on a sound footing. Everyone is complaining of lack of funds. So, I am in the same boat with everybody else.
How have you been coping with these challenges?
We just keep going, that is all. You know, you do what you do because you like what you do, I speak for myself. I like the profession of fashion. It is a very creative endeavour that is very easy for me to do and that is why I keep going on with it even with private equity. There is no support from anywhere. It is just my funds that keeps driving the business. But then, patronage is very minute. It is really not where we want to be to drive the business.
Let us go to the collection for 2017. Can you tell us what actually inspired them?
They are inspired by architecture. I derive inspiration from different shapes of buildings, most of the shapes like columns of buildings. I try to incorporate it in an apparel. A lot of ergonomic designs and shapes, you can see a lot of dresses, a lot of crystals and crevices. It is really my most ambitious work. It is a very experimental collection. I have never suffered like this before to make something of this nature. And when the public see, then they will know exactly what I have made. I wanted to do something that hasn’t been done. So, I thank God it came out very well. We had to destroy a lot of things to be able to come up with what we want.
The language we want the garments to project with silhouette, there are a lot of new silhouettes out there, and a lot of surface interest on the garments. I am happy that I am the one that will do it. So, to see the next frontier in fashion is what I strive, for not just to make clothing for making sake. You have to look into the future and bring out new and interesting things. That is why we are designers. We are taught to think at fashion school. I project new things so, it has been very challenging and very expensive.
How expensive has it been for you?
The fabrics are very expensive. We have to do a sample before we actually cut off in real fabrics so we don’t waste expensive materials. The samples are not really expensive materials but when you are doing it for every single thing, then it becomes expensive. Then we have to fabricate it and bring it out before we now dismantle it and cut it in original expensive fabrics.
Sometimes each fabric reacts differently. You might get the shape you want on a fabric and when you do it on a silky material, it won’t create the shape you want. So, you have to go back and rethink what is going wrong and also support the material with interfacing or canvass or something to give it the stiff. So, you have to be dynamic in doing it.
Do you mean if a client wants one of these designs, does that mean the person has to reach a deep part of his/her pocket?
Yes, because this is couture. Ready to wear is different. For ready to wear, you can use less expensive materials. You can do many of the styles in a day because it is not complicated. A lot of workmanship is put in couture. The fabrications are expensive. Some of the dresses took three days to finish, some took seven days because it was hand work on the clothes and it takes time to put together. Then we cut it out. So, it is challenging. That is the difference between couture and ready to wear.
Do you think your clients will not complain about the prices?
The models that shot the campaign were very excited about it. They asked us to give them some of the samples which we couldn’t because if you see then, you will really appreciate the workmanship that went into it. If we tell you the price, you won’t hesitate. So, I don’t think anybody should complain because if you are going into a Rolls Royce showroom to buy, you will know that the Rolls Royce is made by hand. They sprayed the body 22 times by hand.
If you are going to buy a Toyota, you will know that they sprayed it five times by machine. So, you have it in your head the kind of price you will pay for both of them. That’s just the difference.
So, when do you want to unveil these designs?
I am unveiling them now with ENCOMIUM Weekly. That is why we are here. You are the first to get it. I must say. We did the photoshoot about two weeks back and we did the editing and compilation of everything and put it on the disc and we brought it to ENCOMIUM Weekly being one of the supporters of our industry and entertainment as a whole. So, this is how we are unveiling it. We do not want to go to a fashion show this time. The first two collections were done via a fashion runway format. But this one, we went to a location that gave an aesthetic rendition to what we are doing. We did a five minutes film and we also did still photography of the collections. We shot each model in all the three dimension. The models really did a fantastic job. They brought out the essence of what we were trying to convey.
What kind of materials did you use, are they basically the African prints?
In this collection, we did not use any African print. We used a lot of laces and there was a lot of colouration. So, we used a lot of silk, chiffon and a lot of netting materials, a lot of sparkle on them. Also, we were able to combine a lot of colours like putting seven colours together and they still looked good. It is not harsh. It looks nice and very simple.
Who are your target audience?
Our target audience is from age 22 to funky 60s and all, because the colours are very young and the ideas flatter them all. It is sexy without being provocative. It really uplifts the image of the person on the garment and they are the type that if a person steps into a room, they cannot go unnoticed. People will be turned on by the sleeves of the clothes and the holes on the dress. People will keep asking questions like I have never seen a sleeve like this, how did you do this, where did you get this, how and where was this dress made? So, the dresses are conversation pieces that will arouse questions when the person wearing it comes into a room. People will pay attention.
How challenging was it really putting up these designs?
Like I said, the conception was really the easiest part as a designer. As a designer or an artiste, you dream every day. That’s the easiest part. So, making sure what you have in sketch comes out in paper, that’s the difficult part for most people. A lot of designers can’t make what they sketch.
Why do you think it is so?
Part of it is laziness, some are not dedicated. In every profession, to stay afloat and be the best, you have to be disciplined. You need to have courage to think outside the box. You need to have a vision, you have to take risks. There has to be something that will draw people to you. So, it is very challenging and very expensive. It is a capital intensive industry and you need to have the capital to keep doing it year in year out. And after finishing the project, you have to document it. You have to work with photographers, directors, makeup artistes, hairstylists, and even up to the styling. I styled everything on my collections, even up to the hair. How the make-up should be, what the jewelry should work with each outfit. So I really don’t need a stylist. I can’t do everything myself. All these people have to be paid, so it really doesn’t come easy.
What is your observation about the fashion industry in general?
In Nigeria, there is a lot of work yet to be done. When you compare us to what you see overseas, they are right now ahead of us. We don’t even have what I will call a real industry yet, everything is still scattered. There is no structure for it yet. Some of the people that have the platform to do fashion shows are not fashion designers. In fact, all of them in Nigeria that have the platform to do fashion shows, none of them is a fashion designer. So, they don’t know what you are going through as a designer. They just take money and say come and do it at Eko Hotel, come and show this under this umbrella and if you check the organizers, they are not fashion designers. In America, Council of Federation of Designers of America (CFDA), Calvin Klein is a board member, Yo Lee is a board member, Vera Wang is a member, all of them are designers. So, they know the challenges that each of them is facing, they know what to charge designers that want to come up to show on the platform. Here in Nigeria, all they want is to make money.
What do you think can provide solutions to some of these issues?
People who have the knowledge should be the ones controlling things. For example, I cannot come into publishing and seat on the chair of the publisher because I have money and then set up a publishing outfit and buy the machines. I won’t even know what machines to buy because I am not trained as journalist and then I sit and say I am a publisher. For that business to grow, I have to get a publisher with a journalism background. I can be the financier and let them do what they know how to do. So, people who have the training are few because there are a lot of designers in the industry who do not have the training.
But some of them are okay. It is vital that the industry organized itself. We are not even a textile producing country. So, we still have a lot to do because most of the materials we use are imported. Even the good Ankara materials are imported. So, why should we say we have an industry? Sometimes most of these materials are leftover that were used overseas. You go to Tejuosho to buy them and once you buy them and you need the same material next time to make the same for another customer, you won’t even find it anymore. Sometimes you have to tell the customer to make do with substitutes which cannot happen abroad. If a big designer uses a fabric and he wants more of that fabric, they will make large quantity of it for him depending on what he wants and it doesn’t cost so much. But over here, the materials are expensive.
We have to provide power which is expensive, the technician is expensive, the generator is expensive and the customer will still complain about the price. Even the showroom, you have to power it with generator. It happens in every industry, not just in fashion.
How old is your outfit?
I opened the boutique in 2013 but I have been working in the industry for 16 years, not in Nigeria though. I trained in the US. I have worked with several companies and then I had my own company on the side over there making customized clothes for me. It is expensive to set up over there. Most of the design houses are not privately owned. There are lots of big money behind the labour. Some of them are even publicly traded companies. They are on the stock exchange. Some of them even offer shares.
So, most of the big companies are corporations. For them abroad, it is a big industry, but here, we are basically scratching the surface.
In few years, where do you see your outfit?
I pray we go international. But like I said, that takes a lot of money. But all is in God’s hands. I really don’t know what the future holds. All I can control is what I can do here. The big man upstairs has plans for everybody. So, we can wish and design our plans, but eventually what makes it work is the grace of God.