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10 Nigerian entrepreneurs who made a fortune in fashion

Meet the visionaries redefining African fashion and entrepreneurship

by Ikeoluwa Ogungbangbe
Dumebi Andreah Iyamah

The tapestry of African style and global fashion entrepreneurship is being reimagined by a group of Nigerian fashion multimillionaires. From the streets of Lagos to international catwalks, these ten pioneers are not only influencing but rewriting the future history of innovation, culture and limitless ambition. This is how they managed to transform ordinary fabrics and patterns into high couture sought worldwide.

Find out about 10 of some of Nigeria’s most successful fashion designers whose stories will inspire you. It was a long way from beginner designers to world famous trendsetters.

Duro Olowu is a Nigerian-born British fashion designer. He is best known for his innovative combinations of patterns and textiles that draw inspiration from his international background.

Olowu enjoyed early support from American First Lady Michelle Obama, who frequently wore his designs. In 2015, Mrs. Obama also commissioned Olowu to decorate the Vermeil Room in the White House. The designer said, “My idea [was] to create a beautiful feast for the eyes reminiscent of a warm and joyful season filled with international treasures and signature fabrics.” Olowu was included in the 2019, 2020, and 2021 edition’s of the Powerlist, ranking the 100 most influential Black Britons. His designs are held in the collections of the Texas Fashion Collection and the FIT Museum.

In recent years, Olowu also began curating contemporary art exhibitions in galleries and museums beginning with his highly praised exhibitions, “Material” (2012) and “More Material (2014) at Salon94 gallery in New York. His first museum exhibition was 2016, the critically acclaimed, “Making & Unmaking” at the Camden Arts Centre in London.

Duro Olowu’s love for textiles is at the heart of everything he does, feeding not only into his decadent womenswear collections but his curatorial eye for visual arts. As an instinctive collector of beautiful objects, and having displayed his global treasures in his own London store for years, he now presents his first major exhibition Making & Unmaking. Camden Arts Centre’s on-going artist-selected exhibition series aims to offer an insight into the inspirations and obsessions of each show’s author. In Olowu’s case, the hugely varied selection of works from over 70 artists are sewn together as much by his admiration for the process and ritual of making as by the vision and end result.

  • Dumebi Andrea Iyamah

Dumebi Andrea Iyamah is a Nigerian-Canadian fashion designer born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. She is the founder and CEO of the fashion label Andrea Iyamah that caters to bridal, swimwear and ready-to-wear lines. She is known for her take on women’s fashion and swimwear, which has been worn by celebrities such as Michelle Obama, Kate Hudson, Gabrielle Union, Ciara, and Issa Rae. Iyamah started building her fashion brand Andrea Iyamah at the age of 17.

The headquarters of “Andrea Iyamah” is in Toronto, with a flagship store in Lagos which was launched in 2017. In her early days of blogging, she shared her works of art including fashion sketches, portrait drawings, and photography with the digital audience. One of her designs was featured in a popular blog post in 2011 which inspired the creation of “Andrea Iyamah.” She worked on her business while pursuing undergraduate studies, starting out with designing custom couture from clients. She refined the brand to diversify into three main streams, custom bridal, ready-to-wear and swim/resort wear. Officially launching a full swim collection in 2013, her work has garnered attention from press such as Vogue, Elle, Essence, Refinery29, HuffPost, Cosmopolitan and much more.

She has staged several fashion shows in Africa, Europe, France, and the United States with major celebrities such as Michelle Obama, Kate Hudson, Ciara, Gabrielle Union, Genevieve Nnaji among others wearing her designs. She showed her Spring/Summer 2020 line at Lagos Fashion Week 2019.

Each season, Iyamah looks to different African nations for design cues, often fusing these influences with the cut-out, sculptural swim shapes she is known for. Classic yet decidedly modern, her creations are known for their high-waisted cuts and ultra-feminine fits, qualities that lend each piece an understated, retro quality. “The brand’s aesthetic is to always give a hint of edge while using cuts and patterns that embrace the feminine figure,” Iyamah told StyleCaster.

  • Deola Sagoe

Deola Ade-Ojo is a Nigerian born fashion designer who is popularly known by her design name, Deola Sagoe. She began designing in 1988 when she joined her mother’s business with a view of expanding the label’s repertoire to encompass more contemporary designs for the ever-developing, cosmopolitan high-brow society. Using African hand-woven materials in which she brought to life a range of distinct cultures; and contemporizing almost-lost traditional African techniques, Deola quickly became an icon in her field. She is well known for her uncanny attention to detail, her expert handling of a diverse range of fabrics as well as her exemplary grasp of a wide range of female body types. She is celebrated back home for her patriotism and zeal in Nigerian culture at large. Her ingenuity and innovativeness combined with strong business acumen and vision has seen her win various accolades, awards, and recognition over the years.

She was the first black woman to ever present a collection at AltaRoma, Rome’s celebrated fashion week in 2004 and the first Nigerian to have her stand-alone show at the New York Fashion Week in September 2014, Deola Sagoe has earned her right to every accolade she is described with, in the global fashion industry. Her attention to detail, ability to handle a diverse range of fabrics and ingenuity are only a tip of the larger picture of Nigeria’s foremost ‘fashionpreneur’.

With humble beginnings from MNET Face of Africa 1998, her fashion design credentials took a huge leap forward when she subsequently won the MNET Anglo Gold African Design Award (New York) in the year 2000; upon nomination by influential US Vogue Editor Andre Leon Tally. In 2001, Deola was rated number 37 on the African Almanac scale of 100 most influential Africans in the world. In 2004, Deola marked an important milestone of pioneering the introduction of authentic African infused clothing to the Alta Roma Alta Moda Fashion week.

She was appointed Nigeria’s representative to the United Nations World Food Program ‘Catwalk the World: Fashion for Food’ with the goal of raising money towards halving the number of hungry people in the world, particularly children, by 2015. Deola frequently exhibits her couture collection at Cape Town Fashion Week and has been an invited guest of New York Fashion Week in the past.

Today, Deola Sagoe has a glamorous flagship store and headquarters on Victoria Island, Nigeria which was completed in 2008 and which houses the brand’s offices, production facilities and showrooms. Around 20 people are employed here, working on unique runway collections and bespoke haute couture pieces for individual clients. Her attention to detail, her reputation for excellence in production and design, and her understanding of each client’s unique garment needs for every occasion, have led to a fiercely loyal clientele.

The woman entrepreneurship dynasty in the fashion business continues through Deola’s three daughters who in 2011 together with Deola founded their own Clan label, producing meticulously designed casual wear and dresses for the younger, more price conscious consumer.

Folake Coker is an award-winning fashion designer and entrepreneur. Folake Coker was born on the 28th of February, 1974 to the family of Chief Bode Akindele, the Parakoyi of Ibadan land. She is the founder and creative director of a notable fashion and lifestyle brand, Tiffany Amber. Folake Coker is the pioneer of ready-to-wear outfits in Nigeria and has risen to a respected height in the fashion industry.

With over 20 years of hard work, she has and is still giving African Fashion the recognition it deserves internationally. She is the first African fashion designer to showcase her collection at the New York Mercedes Fashion Week two years in a row.

Ohimai Atafo professionally known as Mai Atafo born November 15th, 1977 in Ile-Ife, Osun state. He is a Nigerian bespoke fashion tailor.

He attended University staff school in Benin and Federal Government College Ido-Ano in Ondo state. He is an alumnus of Edo State University, Epkoma where he graduated with a 2nd Class upper in Agricultural Economics and Extension. He obtained his postgraduate in the UK, Masters degree in Information Systems and Technology from City University, London.

Between 2007 and 2010, Mai established and ran his clothing line Mai Atafo Inspired (MAI) which he ran as he worked in a full time job. With designs that are versatile, timeless, notably classicist, but notwithstanding contemporary, clean-cut and urban, it didn’t take long for Mai Atafo to become a recognized name in the fashion world.

Arise Magazine Fashion Week, Lagos Fashion and Design Week, Glitz African Fashion Week Ghana, Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa, and the J Spring Fashion Show Paris are just a few of the shows where the brand has appeared.

Fisayo Longe is the owner and creative director of Kai Collective; a womenswear brand described by ELLE UK as ‘transcending trends’. After three years as an accountant at KPMG, she set out to focus on building her personal brand as a fashion, travel and lifestyle content creator through which she has collaborated with brands such as Nike, Google, Lancome, Facebook and Aldo. She now teaches aspiring creative entrepreneurs how to transition from content creators to profitable entrepreneurs through her initiative, the Clan of Creatives and has shared her insight on panels at Cambridge University, Warwick University, and the Ernst & Young foundation.

Kai Collective is a London-based brand of attainable clothing with luxury aesthetics, founded by Fisayo Longe. As an OG fashion and travel blogger since 2012, Fisayo would go fabric shopping during her trips and share the outfits that she made with the fabric, leading to questions from her community about where she got her outfits from. This is how Kai was born.

The brand’s attainable luxury aesthetic has made it a hit amongst many, especially young Black women, but it is the distinct designs of the dresses that truly set it apart from other brands. The brand has several designs that are known by their names because of how distinct they are. But Kai Collective’s most famous piece is the Gaia dress, a sheer colorful print dress which has been dubbed the print as well as item of the year by many.

Segun Adelaja is that rare thing: a menswear designer with a passion for both style and quality. His atelier in the Prince’s Arcade, London offers a range of suits, shirts and accessories sourced from the very best makers around Europe, but each with a touch of Segun’s distinctive taste.

The best regimental English ties are available alongside flyaway Italian seven-folds highlighting the best of both styles in unique colours. The shoes achieve a lightness of both construction and style that only the finest manufacture in Italy can produce. And as the only stockist of Gallo socks in London, Segun brings out their superb quality with his own curated collection, typified by bright banding combinations.

Suits and shirts are available off the peg, or can be made to measure. The latter is particularly popular with customers looking for the perfect shirt, given the range of collar and cuff styles, and the handsewn collars, sleeves and buttonholes. Segun’s style is evident in the prominent chambray shirtings and other unusual cottons.

You won’t find such a range of knitted ties – both in terms of colour and knit – anywhere in London. You won’t find Lorenzo Villoresi’s instantly identifiable Florentine fragrances either. Even the designs of Segun’s English, bridle-leather bags are unique to the store. Now firmly at home in one of Mayfair’s finest arcades, Segun Adelaja is a small boutique bursting with possibilities.

Victoria James who is popularly known as Veekee James is a popular Nigerian fashion designer, entrepreneur, professional makeup artist, content creator, social media influencer, internet personality, and public figure. Veekee was born on 26th June 1996 in Ajegunle, Lagos State, Nigeria. She hails from Akwa-Ibom State.

Victoria James is the CEO of VEEKEE JAMES, a popular fashion brand in Nigeria. She is well-known for her beautiful dresses which have been rocked by brides as well as many celebrities on several red carpets. The serial entrepreneur grew up alongside her two brothers, her father and mother. Her mother was a tailor who made great designs, she learnt the craft from her mother.

The fashionista completed her primary and secondary school in Lagos state. She went to the University of Uyo to pursue a degree in Biochemistry, but she dropped out of the school in order to focus on her fashion business. She is known for making custom dresses for brides and celebrities for red-carpet events. She is very popular in the Nigeria entertainment industry as many rely on her to make gorgeous dresses for their events.

She has made a name for herself in the fashion industry while attracting many high profile client. Her clientele cuts across various industries in Nigeria and she is not to be joked with, from a tender age she has always had an eye for fashion. Some of her clients includes; the likes of Mercy Chinwo, Osas Ighodaro and many more personalities/celebrities.

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