There are a lot of reasons we love Saturdays. Saturday offers comfort and peace to virtually almost everybody. It’s almost the unofficial day for the most spectacular of weddings, filled with the whitest of gowns on gorgeous women and the crispest of suits adorned by handsome, smiling men.
A lot of memories of past lifetimes are created on Saturdays and Feyi Agbaje helps create these moments with her high end, elegant bridal couture. We sit across from each other in her bridal store. A woman is currently trying on a flamboyant dress that would make any spinster green with envy.
Feyi Agbaje Humble Beginnings
Tell me about yourself and your vision for your brand as a Nigerian bridal designer?
First of all, it’s very nice to meet you. I love the colour of your shirt (it’s white). My name is Femi Agbaje and I would like to refer to myself as a bridal architect. It’s funny because I have strong roots in law, but I didn’t take that route in the very end. I grew up in Ile-Ife, Osun State.
Why did you choose this particular path – Bridal couture?
I didn’t exactly choose this at first. I started learning how to sew in 2014 by making Ankara outfits like ‘iro and buba’, kaftans, and the likes. I was also involved in some event management and catering. I had to learn fashion designing out of necessity and I eventually abandoned my training at some point because it was becoming really stressful.
Fast forward to 2017, I went for an upgrade fashion designing class on dinner dresses. Feyi Agbaje inclination was always that I would create bespoke dresses for people and that’s all. But along the line in 2019, actively following and engaging with Fashion Creatives on Instagram opened my mind to all sorts of possibilities in the Fashion Industry.
I enrolled in classes where I was taught all the various niches in the fashion industry I could diversify into. The very one that caught my attention the most was Nigerian bridals. Before I made that decision, I sought direction from God, because I am a Believer. Bridals always stood out for me amongst all the various niches so it wasn’t a hard decision to make. I could imagine brides looking stunning and dreamy in their dresses and that drew me in.
I enrolled in classes where I was taught all the various niches in the fashion industry I could diversify into. The very one that caught my attention the most was bridals. Before I made that decision, I sought direction from God, because I am a Believer.
Bridals always stood out for me amongst all the various niches so it wasn’t a hard decision to make.
I could imagine brides looking stunning and dreamy in their dresses and that drew me in.
Also, I see a lot of designers abroad pull off very bulky and voluminous dresses and I’ve always wondered how they did it. And if they could, why can’t I, as a Nigerian, learn the know-how and compete with them globally. I wanted to fill in that gap in the Nigerian space and create magic for people.
What do you love about being a fashion creative?
The fact that an ordinary piece of fabric or something random in my room can become a masterpiece. I could have a fabric sitting in my workshop for years and not know what to do with it and all of a sudden, one day I wake up and bring it to life myself or communicate with people to bring it to life for me exactly how I want it. It is the fact that I make people happy through the value they get for their money and I can put my dreams and ideas to work.
The Path To Originality As A Nigerian bridal designer
Who or what inspires you while creating a design?
I always want to stand out and do something unique that fits and speaks to the particular person I’m creating for, in a way that it represents the ideals and standards that my brand is known for. I don’t like when people replicate the work of others verbatim, it is unfair to the original owner of the design.
Of course, I go online to check for inspiration and get a feel of trends, but for every design I create, I ensure that I include elements that are unique and completely mine such that you can trace it back to me as the original designer always.
Define fashion in 2021
Fashion is a trend, it evolves and changes. It is not constant, it goes and flows with the tide. Fashion is everlasting and can change your mood. Working with brighter colours or working with a client that has good vibes has a way of elevating your mood. Fashion is life, it’s everything good, everything beautiful and everything nice.
We have weddings almost every Saturday. So basically you barely have off days even on a weekday. What does a day in your life look like?
I think entrepreneurship gives you the flexibility to determine the rules of how you work and determine your schedule.
Sometimes I’m on my bed, doing nothing. And there are some days where I’m working all through from nine to six or from 7 a.m to 6 pm, rest for a while and then continue work from 10 pm until 4 am.
When I have deadlines to meet, I, first of all, try to calm down and not panic, then I create a schedule for it and break down the tasks into manageable bits. I ensure I do my fabric shopping beforehand and get my patterns ready. I also have a tailor who works with me while I focus on detailing, creative direction and management of the brand.
A typical day in my life is me working, sourcing for the next client, detailing and embellishing, trying to deal with and manage existing clients, meeting deadlines, correcting any errors I notice from my team and a whole lot more.
Sometimes when it gets really crazy and I’m burnt out or under a lot of pressure, I talk to people who help me feel better. I have people like that in my circle that I can call when I’m down and they can make me feel better.
I love what you got on. How would you define your personal style?
For my day-to-day activities, I love casual outfits. I love very, very free clothes such that I won’t have to bother about my tummy bulging or being super self-conscious. You’ll always find me in casual dresses, jeans and shorts. So yeah, my personal style is classy, artistic and comfortable. But on days when I have events that I need to go all out for, trust me, I’m going all out.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Creatives in Nigeria? How do you think this can be circumvented?
Speaking for myself, my brand and other startups I know, the very basic challenge that we face is funding. You need so many things to make your business function – equipment, machinery, you need a space and if you’re going to get a space in Lagos, the minimum is about #300,000, asides from agreement fees and commission.
You also need to take proper pictures, attend a good fashion school and all of these things cost money. Another issue is financial management. Sometimes you’re making very little profit compared to the amount that you invested and can be a bother.
Also, getting clients can sometimes be an uphill battle because people prefer to trust the bigger and more established designers in the industry. People tend to trust those who have a larger portfolio rather than startups. This means I have to style people for free in order to get my brand out there and to top it all up, people think they can offer you trash or peanuts for your work because you’re still a growing brand, while also disregarding your brand policies.
Lastly, intellectual property theft. I find it very unfair that other people, including those I look up to, replicate my designs in their own works without any form of acknowledgement. How will I take the time to create a design and then you go ahead to take from the little I’m doing?
If you find yourself in a position to make policies that could benefit Creatives, what would be the first policy you would implement?
My first policy will be that immediately you are chatting up a creative, you will have to pay a non-refundable commitment/consultation fee whether or not you eventually decide to go into the working relationship together. As a fashion designer, I’ll have prospective clients reaching out to me and saying they want to place orders. At that point, I’m already making sketches and putting together resources for the outfit then, all of a sudden, the person pulls out.
That’s just unfair because creatives invest their emotions and their time into these conversations/consultations and should be compensated for it. Another thing is that we see people drag creatives on social media. Instead of that, I believe there could be a community where it is settled before it goes to the public court of opinion. There are two sides to every story but, most often than not, the public is already blaming the vendor and tarnishing the vendor’s image.
What are the favourite projects you’ve worked on?
My favourite project so far is the ‘Obinrin’ collection which was my debut collection. I released it after I lost my mom; she inspired some of my designs. I loved the name and the fact that it gained traction so fast and really brought exposure to my brand and my avant-garde designs. Although I had to take it off my social media because it’s no longer in the path of what I’m doing right now, it will always hold a special spot in my heart.
What’s Feyi Agbaje dream project?
I want to create drama with ‘aso-oke’ pieces, something very unique and playful. Also, I want a showroom for just bridals where people can walk in and choose what they want.
What are your thoughts on the fashion space in Nigeria and how it positioned itself globally?
Nigerian designers are actually doing very well. We are doing very big things, we are doing great stuff and anyone who is playing a mediocre game at this point will not last in the industry. We are doing amazing and I know that very soon, you’ll hear of The Feyi Agbaje brand in all the big spaces, so watch out!
What key thing does anyone starting in this industry need to know?
Firstly, you need to know that you’re going into a battleground and giving up is not an option. You need to be prepared for war, you can’t go into a battleground just trying to sharpen your weapon, you need to be battle-ready. That means you need to hone your skills, get your branding and your business idea right.
You might not have the funding yet but you need to have the skills which is the foundation. If you need to enrol for classes before you launch out, do it. Because people don’t want to hear that you made errors or mistakes. People want to always see you make excellent stuff and immediately they put you on a high pedestal, you cannot afford to fall.
Secondly, you need to trust God. You can’t be doing anything and not have a supernatural backing. God has shown up for me in ways I could not have imagined. And lastly, never give up. Don’t let your emotions rule you. I used to be like but not anymore. I refuse to let others dictate how I feel.
Also, when you know that something is no longer working for you and you need a new path, don’t be scared to switch paths and start again. Know when you need to pause and when you need to move on to something else. And in working with people, it is not every job you should take; learn to discern.
When you notice that a client is stressing you, don’t be greedy, return their money. Don’t let money control your decisions because it will lead you to do the wrong things. Know when to say no and don’t let anyone look down on you.
Check out and follow Feyi’s creative journey on Instagram.
Interviewer: Adeola Adegbite
Editor: Bassey Eyo and Emmanuel Ibok
Graphic Producer: Harry Ugorji and Mu’azu Jiyah
Website Producer: Akuns Kingsley