My mum, Princess Abbah Folawiyo, is a frontline fashion designer in Nigeria who has influenced my activities to uplift the Nigerian fashion industry. That’s a sentimental thing, and it has been in me for a long time.
I was born into fashion. My mum is a fashion designer as you know and that also has influenced my thinking towards the upliftment of the fashion industry, When I was young, she used to dress me up all the time. I still look at one picture of my 21st birthday, how she dressed me up. My children make fun of that picture till today. I had a jacket, I had a tie made of satin. It’s a very funny picture. When I look at the picture, I tell myself how the hell did I make this woman make me wear this outfit.
Growing up, I saw machines and tailors around me. Most of the time I was also in her shop at Adeniran Ogunsanya in Surulere, Lagos, Nigeria. She has industrial machines as much as 30 or even more than that. But I was too much in my own world. I didn’t want to be a mummy’s boy. That was why I didn’t learn how to sew. How I wish I learnt sewing, I would have been making serious money now. I would have been bigger than Dakova and the rest.
My mum made me appreciate Nigerian fashion. She was one of the first that started using Ankara as fabric to make dressy outfits. If you look back, you’ll notice that President Obasanjo was really a proud Nigerian. He likes to dress Nigerian. My mum made most of the Agbadas for him during his 8 years as president. She was always making the Agbadas he wore to functions.
I remembered when President Obasanjo wanted to meet with the designers, and he called all of them, my mum was there. I think it was Mrs Sasore that was heading the Nigeria Export Council Promotion (NEPC) at the time. Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN) team, which includes my mum, Mrs Alakija and few others were on that visit.
I have seen what my mum can do as a designer. I tell my mum she came at the wrong time because designers are now more exposed internationally, if they had this opportunity then, maybe Nigeria would have grown higher. That sentimental thing is there.
Nevertheless, we are looking at the future now. There’s a trillion-dollar business out there in fashion. Why is Nigeria not part of it? We need to up our game when it comes to the Nigeria fashion industry so that we can earn our foreign exchange. Oil is dropping. That is not the only thing we do. Our management in Nigerian Export Promotion Council is deliberating on our spill oil plan, speeding up production, agricultural production but we are not looking back on fashion because this is another huge foreign exchange for the country.
The Nigerian fashion industry is amazing. When you see what the young ones are doing, when you go for exhibitions abroad and you take some of our outfits, the kind of interest they generate is huge. People are waiting for Nigerian fashion in Africa. No other country can match us in Africa.
Segun Awolowo is a trained lawyer and currently the CEO, Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC).