HOW MY PIECES MADE IT TO DOLCE AND GABBANA STORE – LANRE DA SILVA AJAYI
The brand sure rings a bell in the Nigerian Fashion scene. Lanre Da Silva Ajayi is an eponymous fashion brand based in Lagos, Nigeria, and known for its unique Victorian styles which are well loved by its clients including celebrities.
The Creative Director of the fashion line was on the cover of The Nation Newspaper’s Flair Magazine recently and below is a copy of her interview with Yetunde Oladeinde.
You are one of the top designers in the country. How would you describe your journey and what does it mean to you?
I give God the glory for all my success and achievement thus far. I must say that it has been a very interesting journey. It’s been 14 years in the fashion industry, and it certainly has not been a walk in the park, or bed of roses for me either. Through the years, I have mastered my craft, and become more experienced, which is incomparable to when I started. I remember vividly when I started that my passion for the fashion industry was my key driving force. It stirred me up to be creative, innovative, different, and unique with my designs. Back in 2005, when I started, I was into the Victorian era and style of dressing which was not popular at the time in Lagos. My love for the vintage era started whilst I was studying in the UK. I would often visit shopping spots like Portobello Market, London Vintage Fashion, Textile and Accessories Fair at Hammersmith Town Hall. So, also coming back to Lagos, and incorporating my sense of style was different, strange, and new at first to the industry. But gradually the consumers did not mind being different, and they embraced the boldness of my designs. I have learnt from my journey thus far to be patient, dedicated, consistent, passionate and have self belief, amongst other things, to achieve one’s desired goal. The LDA brand till date continues to stay relevant and be a force to reckon with in the fashion industry year in year out; by being innovative, dynamic, unique, timeless, and classy.
What was it like at the beginning?
There were definitely a number of challenges as a beginner in the fashion industry in Nigeria. For instance today, there are haberdashery stores all around importing good zips and trimmings. At the time I started, I went through the use of local zips and would panic and pray nothing happened to the client’s zip. Zips are so important to a finished garment, I am very happy to see changes today. Another challenge for me would be the training the tailors, which is crucial to me as a designer. Looking around today, you find that pattern makers are hard to come by; a lot of the tailors around were machinists that needed so much training and supervision and a trailer load of patience. All these experience made me wise up quickly and learn faster as I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me.
When was the turning point for you?
In 2010, I took time out and started creating proper seasonal collections and launched the Labour of love at the Arise Magazine Fashion Week Lagos (March 2011). The collection got a standing ovation and was very well received by fashion lovers, my clients, and prospective clienteles. This was indeed a turning point in my career.
Tell us about the things that inspire your designs.
Inspiration comes to me naturally when I am in my creative zone. I get inspired by virtually everything around me – from watching fashion shows, movies, looking through magazines, journals – everyday life gives me the urge to create something new and different.I am greatly inspired by real women, women who want to look good and stand out. So, I try to get into their heads and figure out their needs.
What are the other things that occupy your time?
When I am on a break from work, I tend to relax by listening to music, catching up on my favourite TV shows, visiting the spa, spending quality time with my family, and getting adequate rest by sleeping.
It would be interesting to talk about some memorable moments in your life and career.
I am thankful to God for beautiful fond memories that have brought joy and happiness to me. The birth of my children is priceless. Also, when I showcased my Autumn/Winter Collection 2012 at Pitti Imagine in Italy. Dolce & Gabbana’s representative was present, and liked my collection. This was certainly a dream come true for me. They ordered pieces from my collection and I made my debut in the Dolce and Gabbana Spiga 2 concept store in Milan for four consecutive seasons. I was absolutely delighted.
What are some of the challenges encountered?
Some of the main challenges of the fashion industry in Nigeria are lack of power, capital to stay afloat and continue in business, as well as lack of infrastructure. This makes working conditions unbearable sometimes, with overhead costs on the high.
Tell us about your experience as a mentor.
From my wealth of experience in the fashion industry, it makes the process of mentoring a designer starting off easy. I just re-live my own experience for them to learn from, and give them valuable advice to be focused, dedicated, patient, persistent, and hard-working to achieve their desired goal.
Who or what do you consider as the greatest influence in your life and career?
My family is my support system and they have a great deal of influence on me.
Let’s compare when you started and now, what has changed?
Fashion in Nigeria has definitely undergone a fundamental change in the last 10 years. Fashion in Nigeria is booming. We are a society that embraces fashion, as we love to look good and dress up for every occasion. In Nigeria today, there are many new designers now to attest to the growth of the fashion industry which makes the industry lucrative and competitive.
What are you looking forward to in the next few years?
The LDA brand is looking forward to expanding soon and some interesting collaborations are in the works.
What are some of the changes that you would like to see in the sector?
The Nigerian fashion industry is growing rapidly; hence, investments from the government will help heighten the growth and development of the fashion industry significantly. We also need more fashion schools where aspiring designers can learn and grow their craft.
What are some of the lessons that you have learnt?
Over the years, I have designed clothes for various clients, and now have a solid understanding of people’s body shapes and sizes. Experience, as they say, is the best teacher. I exercise a great deal of patience, communication, and endurance in dealing with my clients and staff and this makes my job easier and worthwhile.Possibly the biggest lesson that I have learnt is that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to with determination, persistence, zeal, and hard-work.
What is your definition of style?
Style to me is personal, distinctive and a lifestyle. I like to be comfortable, chic, and classy with my style.
How would you assess female designers in Nigeria today?
The women in the Nigerian fashion industry are a force to reckon with, hence making the industry competitive and lucrative. It feels good to be one of the women shaping the fashion industry for the future. The fashion industry in Nigeria is booming.
What are some of the things that you treasure most in life?
Our life is a gift. I am thankful to God each day for the gift of life, my family, friends, and relationships through the years.
How do you relax?
I unwind and chill out by going to the Spa, catching up with my favourite TV shows, reading books, and spending quality time with my family.
What are the things that you won’t do in the name of fashion?
I am not keen on over accessorising. I like to keep accessorises to a bare minimum.
Let’s talk about the people you admire and role models.
Whilst growing up, my mom had a huge influence on me. She was extremely hard working, and instilled good morals in me, which I uphold today. I also have great admiration and respect for Oprah. I grew up watching her talk shows and it impacted on me positively.
Did you ever feel like quitting at any point?
I have come to realise that nothing good in life ever comes easy. One has to keep being persistent, putting in the work, be patient, and steadfast, and things will eventually work out. That said, there were times in the past I was truly fed-up, when things were not going as smoothly as I envisaged it to, and the thought to pack it all in came. When this happened to me, I endured a little more, and behold, there was light at the end of the tunnel that gave me some sort of hope, to pick myself up and carry on.
If you could change something in the industry with a magic wand, what would it be?
A magic wand can come in handy for me, when we have deadlines to be met with little or no time to spare, casting a magic spell for the finished garment to appear at once won’t be a bad idea. In reality, however, you have to put in work to achieve result. There is no shortcut to success; only way is hard work.
What has been your experience working with Nigerian models?
It’s being smooth sailing working with Nigerian models. They are dedicated, hard working, and committed to their craft.
What advice do you have for young people who want to be like you?
I normally advise up and coming designers to exercise a great deal of patience, be very persistent, extremely hardworking, never give up on their passion or dream as success is not achieved in a day but over time.