Ronke Ademiluyi is royalty born to a scion of the royal family of Ile-Ife. She is the founder of Africa Fashion Week London (AFWL) now UK’S largest annual fashion event that promotes and nurtures African and African-inspired design talent. In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE-KORIEOCHA, she shares success stories of the event and why she’s dedicated to promoting African fashion.
Having studied Law in university, why did you decide to go into fashion?
I studied law because at that time you could not tell your parents that you wanted to study fashion as it was not seen as a lucrative profession back then. But the desire to go into the fashion industry had always been in my thought process and eventually I was able to turn that thought into action when I set up a chain of retail boutiques called Rukkies back in 2001.
What inspired you to begin the Africa Fashion Week London (AFWL)?
Back in 2011, there was hardly any representation of African fashion in the mainstream global fashion industry, unlike now that African fashion influences global fashion and many western designers take inspiration from African fashion, so Africa fashion week London was born out of that urgent need and moral obligation to showcase African designers in the west.
Africa Fashion Week, an African event, is always held in London. Why London? Why not any other African country?
When I came up with the idea in 2011, of starting an Africa fashion week in London no one believed in it, almost everyone i spoke to thought it was unachievable but i stuck with my gut feeling to establish a platform that will promote and create awareness for African designers. I ended up selling my flat in Totteridge to fund and sustain it, and now it has become a household name in the UK, where 100s of African brands participate every year. The success of our event has inspired the growth of African fashion weeks in many cities around the world who see us as the mother of African fashion.
AFWL is part of the success story of many designers who continue to use our platform and tell us how they have been able to sustain their brands, through visibility, awareness, access to media etc that our platform continues to provide for them.
Africa Fashion Week London has showcased over 1000 designers and exhibitors from Africa and the global diaspora to over 70,000 visitors and represented designers from 27 African countries and a further 20 African-inspired designers from countries outside the African Continent, including France, Holland, USA, Brazil, China, the Caribbean, and, of course, the United Kingdom. How were you able to achieve these huge milestones through this event?
Fashion has always been my passion that started with a thought which turned into action and it has evolved into different ways. First and foremost, I am a hands-on person as nothing beats seeing your boss working; it serves as an energy booster so when my team sees how hard I work to keep the brand alive they do the same too.
Also, I am a very focused person and I know what I want, even when I was told in 2011 that an Africa fashion week in London could never be achieved, it has been going on for 12 years now. So, for me it’s hard work that life is not a bed of roses and the decision to chase my dream and not sleep. Consistency and believing in the power of can do even when doors are shut in your face. And most of all having a great team whose goals align with yours.
In 2014, you set up a sister platform in Nigeria, Africa Fashion Week Nigeria. What has been the success story of this since it was established?
A few years after the London event, there was an influx of emerging African designers who were very creative and wanted to showcase in London but could not get the financial support, so we set up a sister platform called Africa Fashion Week Nigeria. It’s now in its 8th year and is a phenomenal platform for young emerging Nigerian and African creative, supporting growth and development.
You’re getting ready for this year’s edition of AFWN, what is different this year?
AFWN 2022 is taking place on the 7th to the 9th of September at the Eko Hotel. And for the first time since our inception in 2014 we are partnering with another powerful brand, Lagos Fashion Fair owned by Atlantic Exhibition. Olufolake Abdulrazaq the Matron of AFWN will be giving out some Special Recognition Awards. Also this year we are collaborating with FADAN to showcase a collective of Nigerian designers.
You are presently doing a lot with the Adire and obviously reviving the industry from what we see, what are some of the things you have done to make adire designs unique?
I set up the Adire Oodua Textile hub in 2021 as a Covid bounce back facility for women and unemployed youth. Our sole benefactor is Ooni Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi Ojaja II of Ife Kingdom, the custodian of Yoruba cultures and traditions. Our vision was to set up an indigenous textile hub for training and working with women in the rural areas of Nigeria. Our mission is to use our heritage fabric as a wealth creation tool for rural women and unemployed youth to enable them generate a sustainable living through the sustenance of our heritage fabric.
The Adire hub invests in human capacity building and we rely on human labour and not machines, this enables us to engage the services of 100s of the locals. Based on this, we have the capacity to produce 1000s of handmade Adire every month; we cater to retail markets, wholesale markets, and individual designer markets for those who want their customized designs.
You mentioned that there will be an Adire pavilion at the Africa fashion London this year, tell us about it and what should we expect?
The Adire Pavilion is a collaboration between Eco Bank and AFWL. Eco Bank is supporting us to exhibit Adire Artisan in London and our focus is developing more markets outside of Nigeria, especially with the diaspora. Our intention is to set up and Adire Trade Centers in a few major cities around the world starting with London. That is why our Theme of Africa Fashion Week Nigeria and London 2022 is the Adire Culture, we start with an awareness showcase, discussions and workshops at AFWNigeria 2022 holding in Lagos on the 7th to 9th of September and we pick the best of Adire for export to showcase at Africa Fashion Week London in October during Black History Month. Our intention is to position Adire as one of the non-oil exports of Nigeria
Where do you see adire in the next few years?
I see Adire as the next shea butter. We have developed a L’ADIRE TV Series which is currently showing on Africa Magic. The Series is coined to promote the traditional Tie & Die (Adire) industry, our heritage fabric. This will enable us to engage more youths in the indigenous textile industry alongside promoting the trade and skills of tie & die (Adire). A visit to the hub will educate you on how the women and youth we are working on Adire in a very fascinating way.
Our Adire free training programs train women and youth for free through the support of our training partners like Chestrad Global, which is under the leadership of Lola Dare. Partnerships like these enable us to empower students with creative skills and work with women in the rural areas to ensure that the craft of Adire is passed to the next generation and enable them to come with innovative and digital skills to enhance the old methodologies.
In 2021 you produced The AFWL Business Fashion Forum in collaboration with the Mayor of London’s Office, Department of Trade South Africa and The V&A Museum. What is this forum meant to achieve?
The Business of African fashion forum that we started in 2019 was to educate people about the potentials of the multibillion African fashion industry, how it can be a game changer for unemployed youth, how it can eradicate poverty, how it can grow the GDP. We explored the entire value chain of the fashion industry which is not just about designers, but also fashion photographers, models, stylists, hair and make-up stylists, fashion journalists, models, textile and design students etc.
How many students have you been able to mentor through the AFWL Mentoring scheme for Black fashion students in the UK that you set up in partnership with Northampton University in The UK and what countries are these students from?
The Aim of the mentoring scheme in partnership with University of Northampton is to assist in giving black fashion students in the UK equal footing. This is also to enable them overcome systemic barriers that cause the underrepresentation of leading black designers within the UK fashion industry. We teamed up with UON to offer undergraduates personal coaching and masterclasses from some of the UKs leading fashion industry professionals of colour. The theme was ‘Enough of the talk, let us take action.’ According to research, black designers in the UK have to work twice as hard to get on in the industry.
Our pilot project started with a few fashion students pairing them with leading top UK fashion designers of colour, like Adebayo Jones, Yemi Koshiba, Samson Soboye.
You seem to have a lot of fashion related businesses you run successfully in the UK? How easy was it for you to gain such traction as a Nigerian in the UK?
This is possible because I stay focused on my mission which is promoting the culture of African fashion, following my passion and turning it into profit. I also share my vision with others and I am always open to collaborations. I have also been very consistent.
|SOURCE : businessday.ng|