By Jemi Ekunkunbor
Lanre and Patricia Faleye, first met on tour of duty as models in Lagos. For several seasons, they worked together under Modela’s agency where they were signed. Then they became friends and took their relationship a notch higher by getting married.
Their beautiful partnership was also extended to work. The models turned designers with bias for bridal outfits, set up Yagee their label and have been designing for about 16 years now.
Their label which offers a beautiful collection of bespoke and ready-to-wear gowns as well as magnificently crafted gowns with beautiful hand detailing, are synonymous with sophistication and glamour. But having created wedding gowns that have graced both local and international runways and adorned brides from UK, US and back, this amazing couple, just realised that their interest and commitment to brides goes beyond creating stunning wedding dresses. Theirs was a divine call to meet brides at their point of needs. They share their amazing journey and their encounters, sometimes unbelievable, with different kinds of brides.
His grandmother was a seamstress. His mother, an accountant became one as well. While working as PR officer at a Law firm after obtaining a degree in International Relations from Lagos State University, he found out he was making more money making clothes than doing a 9/5 job. He quit his job and went into designing full time. The rest they say is history. Lanre is a graduate member, Nigerian Institute of Marketing and member, Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN).
Why did you start with bridal outfits?
We actually didn’t start with making bridal outfits. We started with casuals. But at some point, we realised that we wanted to do something that was different from what everybody else was doing. So we made a wedding gown for a friend who was getting married. It was a gift and everybody liked it so much. Somehow after that, we started doing wedding stuff; then we realised that there weren’t many designers who were making wedding clothes here in Nigeria. So we decided to go deep into it and just strengthened what we had. We’ve been doing this now since 2001.
What happened after that initial wedding dress that you designed for your friend?
Well, during the wedding, we took pictures which we posted on social media. Before you know it, we began to have referrals. We don’t do so much of adverts. Our strength has been referrals from one person to the other. So we strengthened quality. Every outfit you see here is as good as what you get from Kenfields or what any designer abroad can do. Anyway, that was how people began to come. And being a member of FADAN, we were exposed to a lot of trade shows and exhibitions.
How as it been especially as a guy doing bridals?
It’s been very good. We have expanded the market. The initial challenge was that a lot of people did not believe in made in Nigeria goods. At some point, people felt that our gowns were imported and for that reason, they wouldn’t want to buy. Having to convince them that the gowns were made by us was a bit difficult. But what has been most gratifying for us, are the customers from abroad who come to buy their gowns from us. We get orders from the US and UK and it’s amazing that people here are skeptical about made in Nigeria goods. We had this American, Ghanaian lady who saw the wedding dress we made for Lolo the radio presenter and said she wanted something like that. Somehow, she got across to us through Facebook. Her mother is American and her father is Ghanaian. She wanted a dress that would represent the two cultures. We did something for her and that became really big. Through her, we got other orders from the US. Now why would anyone leave the US to buy a dress here if not for the quality?
So initially it was difficult to convince people, but we wanted to build a brand. Now they believe us and they embrace our brand and that was what led us to include doing other things that the bride would want to wear beside the gown itself.
How do you cope with the different kinds of bride that you encounter especially, the undecided ones and those who come with attitudes?
We meet different kinds of customers and we have to deal with them all. We have nice people, not so nice people, arrogant people and humble people. But we have learnt to be focused on what we do. At the beginning, we decided that even though it was a business, we wanted to create a homely environment where a bride can feel comfortable. So we paid a lot of attention to the fitting room.
From the moment a person walks in, we try to make her comfortable. I’ll give you an example. A bride had come in here. Then after some time, she called that we should forget about the gown that she is calling off the wedding. I asked her why and invited her to come over for a talk. She did. I found out that the mother-in-law was insisting that she wore her sister in laws wedding gown hence they were not going to pay for the dress that she had picked. We just couldn’t let her call off her wedding. We talked with her and asked her to use our dress which she liked and return it after the wedding. Till date we are still friends but this is what I found out. There is more to a wedding than the wedding gown. People have different temperament. So I remind my staff always that we are not just selling clothes, what we are selling is a lifestyle, friendship and relationship. Consequently, we have friends whom we met through this job, people who were former brides who have come to be our friends for about 8-9 years now. We have families that we have become their official family wedding dress makers. So we have reached a point where we realise it’s not just a business but an assignment for us. Some brides have jokingly told us that we are not designers but counsellors.
What is the most challenging aspect of this job for you?
Apart from the regular challenges which every designer has which is power, skilled tailors, materials, funding, lack of up-to-date machines, some brides are a real challenge. Some brides know what they want and you cannot convince them otherwise. There are some that make you wonder if they had the intention of paying in the first place; because they come, give you a design, you make it, they come to fit, everything is fine. And then, when it is time to pay, they start giving you all kinds of excuses and problems that they have. I remember this particular bride that came after the dress was made, she then said that was not what she wanted. I asked her if she wanted us to make another one for her or if she wanted us to refund her money. She said she wanted a refund.
We did and she left. Then she came again another day and said she wanted the dress. The amazing thing was that the day she came, somebody else who had paid for that same dress was there to pick it up. I told her sorry that the dress you rejected has been paid for. Unfortunately, considering the time she came, we couldn’t make her another one. We asked her to pick any from the ready to wear line.
Another challenging customer who has also become our friend now, was a lady who didn’t have an idea of what she wanted. She belongs to another category of customers who come, choose a style, come for fitting and once somebody makes a comment on the dress, they say they don’t want it again. Once there is a comment, it becomes an issue. So we’ve learnt over time that not everybody who comes with the bride will be admitted into the fitting room.
What shape or cut do you like for brides?
I like the Mermaid style because of the silhouette. I think it’s really nice because it brings out the curve of the woman. It makes a woman look very sexy and very appealing.
Which sells more?
It depends on the season, once a celebrity wears a dress, everybody wants that design. We actually designed something close to what Kate Middleton wore 3-4 years before her wedding. In fact, it was the Moslem brides that were buying that design not the Christian brides. But immediately Princess Middleton wore it, everybody wanted it.
There is so much depletion in the value system in marriages why is this so?
Well, a lot of young people think that they have earned the right to think for themselves and act for themselves. Parents are beginning to lose the right on children so they grow up having their way. The teacher cannot punish them in school because if he does, the parents are coming to trouble them. Everybody is pampering them, then he goes into the real world and realises his boss is not going to do the same for him. He can no longer have what he wants.
If he takes this kind of attitude where he is being fed, everything is being done for him or her into the marriage, there will definitely be a problem. That’s why now, you have a groom who does not know how to be a man or a bride who does not know how to be a wife and they come together as husband and wife, mummy did not teach her the fundamentals of being a home maker, because mummy was too busy.
And we lie against our careers instead of spending time to invest in what is most important which is family. So they go into marriage empty and realise there is a problem.
Talking with these brides and counselling them, has become a calling for us. What we usually do, from the moment they come, we start praying for them and sometimes, we do follow up. We are working on a case right now where this lady just walked out of the marriage because she couldn’t submit to her husband. So the value system is changing.
So your role here goes beyond designing the wedding gown?
Yes, of course. For us, it’s beyond the wedding gown. We are building relationship not just selling gowns. We believe that if the country must be good, we have to start from the home.
Now that you pray and counsel brides, what happens if the bride is of another faith?
Well, we understand the fact that love and marriage has its own language, and the issues that affect marriages are the same. So, we start off the counselling from there and allow it move according to the ideas and expectations of the couple.
Do I smell a ministry birthing?
Well, I feel the job itself is a ministry. However, what brings me satisfaction is to see a happy home and knowing that I’m part of the story.
What advice do you have for brides?
An ideal partner or home is nothing but fantasy; it takes hard work to transform your house into a home.
Marriage is a very old and traditional institution whose laws never change. Consequently, the bride has no choice but to submit to her husband, while he has no choice but to love her; regardless.
Patricia Faleye holds a degree in Industrial Relations and Personnel Management from the University of Lagos. She also ran a business course at the Lagos Business School. She horned her skill in bridal dress making at Mac Bridals in Lagos.
What has it been like working side by side with your husband?
It’s been fun all the way. Some brides prefer him and I will just back off. Some others prefer me because they are not comfortable dressing up before a guy. Some brides come with their mother and when they see my husband, they go, “ don’t you have a woman here?”. Doing this requires a lot of trust because it involves the bride fitting her dress with my husband.
What do you like about the brides that appeal to you?
I like two kinds of brides; the one that is gentle, knows what she wants and doesn’t give you any stress. Everybody loves such persons. Then, I also love the bride that is a little bit difficult because she makes you come out with your best. She stretches your creativity. She can tell you, “I don’t like this beading or I want this other beading”. And when she does that, I also tell her that that beading will cost so much extra Naira because, it doesn’t make sense for you to be this choosy and not have money.
When the bride comes, what role does the groom play?
Well, in this part of the world, the guy likes to see what he is paying for. But we always advice the groom to choose the design but don’t see the actual dress until the wedding day; so that the surprise is not taken away. But some grooms are very difficult. We try to persuade them to as much as possible, allow the bride to choose her style. And we totally disagree for the groom to come see the bride when she is fitting her dress.
What has been your experience with the various cultures that come?
Christians and Moslems come to us as well as people of different tribes and cultures in this country. We have seen Christians that are conservative because of church. Ordinarily, they would have worn a tube dress to church and reception, but these days, the church is saying, “you need to cover up from church to reception and we don’t want you to wear a bolero”. The Moslem brides do not have this problem. They are covered up from the beginning to the end of the ceremony. Apart from the traditional wedding that has its rules dictated by tradition, when it comes to the white wedding, every Christian wants to do it the oyibo way. That’s why when they come here, we ask them where they want to have the wedding because, by the grace of God, through studies that we have done, we know the rules that apply in some of these places of worship: what is acceptable and what is not.
An example was a bride who goes to Deeper Life Church. She came here and we gave her a design suitable for her church. She refused and chose something else instead. What we found out was that she attends a singles fellowship in another church and she liked it there. So we did what she wanted and she ended up not using it because the church rejected it. So, she wore it to the registry. Eventually, we had to make their traditional type of wedding dress for her.
Tell me, have you enjoyed your life in bridals?
It’s my life now. I love it. It’s really exciting. I love making wedding gowns, the glam in it, and that is one aspect that every woman wants to experience and capture. On your wedding day, all eyes are on you. If you are not a celebrity that walks on the red carpet every now and then, your wedding day is your red carpet moment. You have to be glamorous for that day. Therefore, you can’t be cheap about it. So it’s been fun and very exciting.
What would you say about the marriage institution from the things that you see with the brides that come to you?
The wedding itself is so glamorous nowadays. What people never used to put into consideration are over blown now; make up, decor, outfit, food, ambience etc. All these, come to overshadow the marriage itself so much that sometimes, the woman is not sitting down to think and read between the lines when the guy is talking so that she can get to know him better and for who he really is. Instead, she is carried away by the glam; I saw this on Instagram, I want it. I want to outdo my friend.
Those are the things she is thinking about. She is not thinking about the marriage proper that she is about to go into. While you are going into marriage, you should be planning your home. From the beginning, put money aside for ante natal, have a trust fund for children etc. These things are not there. What I see most times, is about the glam which sometimes is over the top. What about after the wedding? Your life after, is the most important because marriage is for better for worse.
What would you say is responsible for this down turn of things compared to the bride of old?
Weddings used to be an emotional thing. These days, the brides don’t even shed a tear anymore. The western world to a great extent, has misled us; the Internet as well. Although Internet has helped improve businesses, it has helped destroyed homes. No more values, no more respect for things that God holds dear. The value system has depleted.
You talked about the value system that has broken down. What can be done?
While all the glamour of the wedding is very cool, we must go back to our traditional values. Parents and our religious organisations, must begin all over again to teach the youth how to play their roles in the home; from a young age, we must teach the female child how to be a woman, what her responsibilities are in the home, vis-a-vis cooking, taking care of the home regardless of whatever profession she chooses. This is what the popular “FATTING ROOM” in calabar is all about, grooming the woman.
The boy child must be thought how to be a man, his responsibilities in the home.
What things do you do to keep your relationship going?
We talk and talk, you don’t do anything on assumption. It’s been 14 years now and we still go out on dates.
As a woman, I understand that I have to submit to my husband in all things (and I assure you this is a very difficult thing to do) but, the question I ask myself always is, do I want to be right, or do I want to be blessed? I always choose to be blessed. In a marriage you cannot give room for self (me, myself, I) or attitude. Every woman must also know that before you met him, he belonged to a people, so he can’t just come and close the door against his family. You must learn to manage them for your own happiness.
If you were getting married today, what things would you do differently?
If i were getting married today, I’ll make sure my wedding dress is the talk of the town. It will definitely be a garden wedding and in the evening with live music from the sugar band. And this time, I will insist on my platinum ring.