Classics, Interviews

Mai Atafo reveals his success secrets


UPWARDLY mobile fashion designer, Ohimai Atafo is one of the forces to reckon with in the Nigerian fashion industry today.  The celebrity designer has taken his brand, Mai Atafo Inspired to remarkable heights.  ENCOMIUM Weekly met with the top designer at his Falomo, Ikoyi, Lagos office where he shared his success secrets.


Can you tell us your background?

My name is Ohimai Atafo. I am married, I went to Edo State University, Ekpoma and I had my Master’s from the University of London.  I am from Edo State.

How did it all begin for you in the fashion industry?

It all started from me just loving clothes.  Basically, that’s how the whole thing started and like you know I didn’t set out to be a fashion designer. I actually worked in corporate Nigeria for about nine years as a marketing person before I decided to go into full time fashion.

Weren’t you scared of switching job?

No. I just decided to do it and the switch was important because it was something I liked and wanted to do. I loved doing what I was doing in Guinness, but I wanted to do something else that I liked and I just thought there was no better time than to actually try it and see if it would work for me.

When did you know you wanted to do fashion?

I have always known I wanted to go into fashion.  It was just if I wanted to go into it full time or part time.  But I knew I was going to go into fashion, but I started doing my clothing line while I was still working.

How have you been able to build your brand successfully?

If you think I have built my brand successfully, that’s a good thing (laughs).  I don’t think of how I’m going to build my brand and what is the next step going to be.  All I focus on is providing clothes to meet functional purposes of people, and I think that has led to what you are seeing today. I didn’t set out to say at this point in time I would do this or at this point I would do that, it’s been more or less going with the flow.  Some things I did before I don’t do them again.  Some things I do, I do more now.

Where do you get inspirations for your designs from?

I get inspiration from everything around me, everywhere I go, everything and everybody I see, everywhere I travel.  I think I get my inspiration from people more than anything else.

What is your signature look?

I don’t necessarily think I have a signature look but people say I do. It’s either my crested blazer or me wearing some colours on my body, either the jackets, trousers or the socks.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

I am going to be doing my Dream Wedding Part 2, sometime this year.  I am working on a fashion show sometime this year too. It should be quite big, I’m also going to be showcasing at the Wed Magazine Expo in March.  Those are the three things I know of now, tings may spring up later.

What inspired the Dream Wedding Collection?

I wouldn’t really call it a collection, but that was the first time I was actually showing people that I do wedding dresses officially.  I’ve been making wedding dresses for a while so I showed everyone and I did a launch for it.  And what you see from what I showcased that day was actually just telling people that I can make a variety of things, so it wasn’t actually a collection.  A collection has to link someone to the Oga, there should be something that runs through the whole collection.  There wasn’t anything that ran through the whole collection for the dream wedding.  It was really just telling people I can do things for plus size, young, small people and people that want to wear long wedding gowns, short wedding gowns, chiffon, satin, lace, I just showed everything.

What inspired your business relationship with Omowunmi Akinnifesi?

We are very good friends, she’s like my younger sister.  She’s an intelligent, young, smart woman and the point where I actually ventured into making female clothings.  I’m not saying she actually inspired me into making female clothings, but at the point where I did, she was the one person that believed in what I was doing and kept pushing for me to do it.  And most of the things were shown on her body which she wore out regularly and we did that for about two years, till we had a lot of people wanting to wear some of my stuff too and obviously, I had to tend to other customers.  She was officially someone that wore Mai Atafo Inspired anywhere she went to for a very long time.

What do you think gives you an edge over other fashion designers?

I think I am a bit more daring than most people.  Drawing from my male collections, I think with the female collection, I try not to restrict myself in terms of trying to make things that have strong African influence, I do things that are more international than the average man does.  I think that sets me apart from other people.

Who are your A-list clients?

(Laughs) People that use me a lot are people that you wouldn’t know. If I call them today, people wouldn’t know them. But I think my celebrity clients, people would understand I have a long list of people that wear or have worn my stuff.  Either on the red carpet or for a photo shoot from D’Banj to 2Face, Banky W, Ramsey Nouah, MI, Ikechukwu, the list is endless.  For the women, Omowunmi Akinnifesi, Waje, Munachi Abii, Adaeze Igwe, Omawumi, Stephanie Okereke, it’s a long list.

What do you enjoy about your job?

Bringing to life, it’s like giving birth to a baby, it’s amazing.

What are the challenges?

Everything else, power supply, getting the right people to work for you to getting people to buy your stuff, getting people to appreciate your work. In Nigeria, people will not take you serious because fashion is not taken seriously, these are the challenges.

In your opinion, what is the difference between fashion and style?

Fashion is a trend set by somebody or a group of people followed by others.  While style is just an interpretation of what you think is right and what works for you.

What is in vogue for men now?

I think men are wearing colours of late. I am shocked that they are doing that.  Men are wearing purple, they are wearing Vivienne Washwood loafers and stuff, that’s in vogue for them. I don’t follow trends. I just do what I like to do.

What would you never be caught dead wearing?

Sagging jeans.

Who are your fashion icons?

Internationally, Tom Ford, Dolce and Gabbana are people I look up to and respect a lot.  Locally, it would be almost everybody, there’s one person for one thing, Deola Sagoe, Lanre Da Silva Ajayi, Tiffany Amber, Mudi, everybody I have mentioned I look at them for different reasons. I respect them for different reasons, the Okunnoren twins.

Looking back at the time you left Guinness, are you where you imagined you would be?

Oh no, I am not at all.  I still have a lot of work to do.


This story was first published in ENCOMIUM Weekly on Tuesday, January 10, 2012

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