FRONTLINE designer, Data Okorodudu has become a phenomenon in the fashion industry in Nigeria. She has been clothing fashionistas for over five years now. ENCOMIUM Weekly had an interview with the talented designer on Tuesday, January 24, 2012, in Ikoyi, Lagos. She told us her plans for 2012, her experience as a grandmother, how life has been after the demise of her husband and sundry issues.
What should we expect from the stable of JD7 this year?
After the celebration of our fifth anniversary last year, I wanted to start something new, but things have been held back. So, this year, I am going to bring out these things, one of them is the fun season launch, then all the things that will come with it. Part of that is the launching of JD7 ready-to-wear collection, we will take it one at a time.
You didn’t take a break for the festive period?
We decided to reach out to widows in my hometown. I am from Opobo. Opobo is an Island in River States. I reached out to the widows and orphans during the festive period.
When you were starting years back, what master plan did you draw for JD7?
Like a normal business plan, you make your annual plan which can be divided into weekly, monthly, quarterly. A lot of things inform what master plan is going to be, but for every season, there must be a master plan inside each of the bigger plan. A lot of these are informed by the reaction of people and how far things change, you have to re-invent yourself because things keep on changing, people’s attitude towards style keep changing. So, for each change, you have to make your own plan within the change. We made a plan to expand the business and internationally we have achieved that. We have organized international shows every year, we invite people abroad, we have had shows in Washington DC, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Europe, Ghana. So, the brand is already established all over the world.
Looking back now, would you say you have accomplished most of these plans?
No, absolutely not. I have not even done one tenth of what I plan to do. I am not the type of person that wants to remain stagnant, I like to grow, I like to do new things. I am a very adventurous person both in life and in business. If I start one thing, I nurture it, see it grow, then I branch into another thing. So, you can’t say you have reached your apex, no.
Would you say the journey has been a bed of roses?
Absolutely not, it’s been exciting. It has its ups and downs. You know Nigeria, the environment is difficult to do business, you don’t have electricity and some other factors are there working against you. But as for me, it is something I really love doing, so I just charge ahead. The challenge of looking for accessories, looking for colours to match what you want to do and you can’t find, all these make you even more innovative. When it is too easy, you become laid back. I take advantage of shortcomings, I capitalize on them and expand and grow with it.
What are the greatest challenges you are facing as an entrepreneur in Nigeria?
Mostly it will be environmental problem, so much is spent on diesel, it is a huge problem for me. There was a period that there was a ban on fabrics and accessories, so you just have to make do with what you have, then there was a period that zips were just ripping off, they weren’t good quality, it was so annoying. You have a very good design that can go international and you put a zipper that just keeps ripping off. It is very annoying. The people I work with, my clients were wonderful people, they are always happy, that gives me enough courage and drive.
How do you cope with all these challenges?
You just manage, the way you manage to get to work even though transport workers are on strike, but you still go to work. It’s difficult but you do it. In spite of all these difficulties, you still find a way to forge ahead and survive. I wish the environment is friendlier, but that is just wishful thinking.
How will you describe your style and how do you originate it?
I don’t have a particular way I can describe it. Some people said they can identify it if it is JD7, but I bet it there are some JD7 creations they wouldn’t be able to identify. What inspire me are people, fabrics, colours, my mood. Sometimes, things just come to me from nowhere. I might just get up in the middle of the night or early in the morning and start sketching. Then, mere looking at people, their skin tone, expression on their face, their personality, I am already sketching something for them. If I spend more than one hour with you, I will be able to tell you exactly who you are. I have that gift, I can tell what they will like to wear, I know the colour that will suit their skin tone. I also like nature, all these inspire me. I can take a plain fabric and bring out something from it. I do tell bride mother’s that I can make their fabric for them, I will get a plain material, punch it here and there and they will have their clothe ready. That way, they will be the only person wearing such lace, that is what couture is all about though.
Is it hard being a designer?
Yes, I think so. Most times, people see a lot of designs on paper and copy them. Sometimes, when you go out, people see you and think they know you. It’s all good but sometimes you wouldn’t have your privacy. I am a very private person, it is because I do fashion, that is why people see me, otherwise, you wouldn’t find me in the pages of newspapers.
What styles are in vogue?
There are a lot of athletic collections, for me. This year has been the year I have seen the best design ever, in terms of colours, people are going agog with their styles, I like that. I try not to do winter and summer collection in Africa. We don’t have those seasons in Nigeria. Africans are colourful people.
What are the qualities of a good designer?
Designing is something you can’t be taught anywhere, it is a gift from God. You can be taught how to sew, but nobody will teach you how to be creative. Creativity is the first landmark of a good designer. You can enhance and strengthen that creativity by learning. Designing is not just creating the thing, you have to learn how to apply it. There are specialized machines you can use to sew velvet that stretch on four sides, there are machines you use to make collar of T-shirts. Then you have to learn about body parts, shapes differ from person to person. You have to study temperature as well, so it is all encompassing. Fashion is a lifestyle, it includes what you have in your home, your bedroom, your kitchen, it is all encompassing.
Which is the best part of it, is it when the idea comes or when the product has been finished?
Both of them. I love it when the idea comes because it can only come from God, that, I respect most. You just don’t sit down and expect something to come, it is a gift that God has given to you. Sometimes, I even see the colours that can match, then we sit down to work on it. That is the difference between couture and normal sewing. When you go to a tailoring school, they will teach you how to do straight cut, at times when I start, my tailors will be asking questions. I use to tell them to wait until we get to the end. I give them impossible tasks. So for me, I respect creativity, it comes from God.
If you have gotten to this height now, what more should we expect from you in few years?
One of the challenges I have here is that there are no department stores where designers can sell their outfits. The fashion industry is a million dollar industry, when I went for fashion show abroad, I was photographed by people who needed the designs, when they see your designs, they take pictures of the ones they want to have in their departmental stores and they discuss with you the quantities they want, the colours and when you can deliver. That is what fashion shows are all about. Here, fashion show is entertainment. We are growing though, we will get there one day.
If you have an opportunity to change something in the fashion industry, what will it be?
The way we are running right now, we don’t have a unified voice, we don’t have department chains where designers can stock their products. We don’t have support of the federal government, everybody is depending on oil when the fashion industry is one of the biggest in the world. Here, everybody is on his own. Nigeria really is not part of the world fashion week.
How does it feel to be a grandmother?
(Laughs) It’s another milestone and I thank God. God has been gracious to me, I thank God for the family I have. I also thank God for His grace as well.
How have you been coping since your husband’s demise?
There are certain things we don’t understand, what we don’t understand we ask God to help. I have consecrated my life to Him. He leads me where He wants me to be. God has been gracious to me and my family.
What will you say you miss about him?
I don’t want to talk about it, it is too much of an emotional thing for me.
- SHADE WESLEY-METIBOGUN
This story was first published in ENCOMIUM Weekly on Tuesday, January 31, 2012