Designer Series: Ones to Watch
- What was the story behind your collection this season?
The story behind my SS17 collection is the fact that I was very obsessed with Japanese culture and the 2005 film Memoirs of a Geisha which of course came from the novel which I read years ago. I was intrigued by the process of a young Japanese girl becoming a master of the arts who spent her time entertaining high society men. Not only that, but they dressed in beautiful Kimonos worth thousands of dollars. These garments reminded of me of the wraps of my traditional homeland Nigeria. I decided to subtlety blend the influences of both cultures, African and Japanese, into my collection. I also named each piece after a Japanese flower to resemble the process of a girl becoming a woman and then becoming a Geisha.
- How did you feel showcasing for the first time during AMCONYC Fashion Week?
I was surprisingly more calm than usual. AMCONYC did an amazing job organizing the event from the casting, to hair and makeup, to invitations, EVERYTHING was done so well. I just had to show up with my work. It was actually the very first time I was ever able to view my collection sitting down with the audience. That meant a great deal to me.
- What pushed you to become a designer?
I became a designer by force! In 2003, my husband who was the primary bread winner lost his job. After depleting our savings, we were in the process of losing everything. After numerous failed job interviews I was lying in bed praying to God asking Him what I should do, He showed me a wrap skirt. I quickly ran to my garage where a girlfriend of mine left her sewing machine and took fabric also in my garage from endless trips to Nigeria, ran to my dining room table and sewed my first wrap skirt exactly the way I saw it in my head. I posted the skirt on Etsy and then the rest was history. I had a desire to get better and better, so I did.
- What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far in starting your own fashion label?
The biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that you can be extremely talented and still sell not one piece of your collection. I have to operate my fashion business as a small business with the goal of scaling. I have to study trends and figure out what consumers (my target market) is buying then cater and market directly to them. I have to make sure my price points are good, as well as make sure customer service is on point. One of the biggest lessons for me right now is managing the costs. I could sell $1MM skirts today, but if the COGS are at 99%, I’m broke. The second is be patient to find the right people to be a part of the team. I can’t force a square peg into a round whole. Onyii & Co. is a very unique brand and requires unique people to be a part of its growing vision.
- I think it’s safe to say this is one of, if not the most, competitive industries to get into. Did you have to overcome any barriers getting into the fashion industry? If so, what were they and how did you overcome them?
Very true! There are actually many times that I wanted to quite due to the level of completion in the industry. Then I realized there is only one Onyii and only one Onyii & Co. Our job is to stay true to our vision which is to reach women all around the world with the message of being more, doing more, and having more through this platform. And being more doesn’t mean you have to do things the way they have been done traditionally. 3 years ago, I started this business on my kitchen table with only $125. I didn’t go to a well-known design school. No, I took a few classes from my local community college. It was there I learned about industry sewing, French seams vs surging a garment. I learned pattern maker and found a couple really good pattern makers who do my patterns for me now. I learned about digitizing my patterns and how to go into production. Competition is a good thing. It pushes me to work harder and hard work pays!
- How have you managed to balance building the brand and the rest of your life?
I’ve learned to ask for help. There is no such thing as a super woman, but a woman who asks for help creates a super community. I could not do what I do without my support system and the hands of those on my team. I also had to stop saying it’s so hard or I can’t balance all of this. I remembering training for a half marathon years ago and struggling with one mile. The entire time I was wondering when I would see that .25-mile mark, then the .5-mile mark, but eventually I was at 10 miles and I didn’t think about it. I built up my resistance and took one step at a time. That is how it has been for me during this journey. I also learned that I have to make time for my life friends, family, church, and me. The work will always be there.
- Are there any designers or fashion mavens that have inspired you in becoming a designer or developing your collections?
There a few designers I love: Valentino of course, Delpozo, Temperly London, DVF
I love these designers because all of their collections are all very feminine. They love to accentuate or exaggerate how beautiful women are. I want to always highlight the beauty and femininity of a woman.
- What’s next for the brand now that you’ve done AMCONYC Fashion Week?
We want to focus on growing our brand and creating more beautiful wearable garments. We hope to begin a children’s collection soon. We will see…