Allure Cover Interview: Lola Agbaje – From ICT to dressmaking
Self-taught creative director of one of Nigeria’s contemporary female brand, Lola Agbaje is a designer who focuses on ensuring that the classy woman flaunts the edgy side of style.
With two degrees from Babcock University in Ogun State, Nigeria and Keele University, Staffordshire in the United Kingdom, Agbaje left a career of software testing to pursue her passion in dress making in 2014, creating edgy occasional pieces, casual bridal wears and ready-to-wear pieces for every African woman.
She has designed dresses for top personalities such as Nigerian musicians, Yemi Alade and Waje; Nigerian activist and writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; South African TV personality, Bonang Matheba; Nollywood actress Omotola Jalade Ekeinde and, many others.
In this interview with ‘Allure’, Lola Agbaje revealed how she transformed her feeling of unfulfillment into successful a la mode brand that is ideal for every confident woman who seeks comfort in her true self.
How was switching to fashion like considering that you had no former training…?
My switch to fashion happened with a lot of ups and downs; although fashion, which is dressing good in my opinion, has always been a way of life for me. Right from playing dress up as a kid and during the time I spent at Babcock University. Let’s just say that I have always secretly had a burning desire to do something out of the ordinary in fashion.
My love for creating designs started in 2010. I always knew that I had a passion for creating edgy and feminine clothing but was unsure of how to turn my passion into something more. So, I took the first step by getting a Blackhead sewing machine (a local one) with the key intention of teaching myself how to sew but I hardly had time for that because I also had a 9-5 job. Then, I decided to create a team to bring my designs and ideas to life which was a little challenging because, I had to balance it with the 9-5 job.
Following that, I had to leave the country to study for my Master’s degree in the UK and during that period, my passion for fashion almost died. Two years later, I was back in Lagos working as a software tester. I enjoyed my job and what it entailed but it wasn’t fashion! I just didn’t feel fulfilled so I followed my heart even with opposition from my parents who are quite traditional in how they see things.
I am pleased to say that since 2014 when I made the bold decision to go full time into what I love doing (fashion), I have never looked.
What were some of the challenges you faced trying to make people believe in your brand?
The first challenge was actually believing in myself! I was one leg in, one leg out. Making the decision to become an entrepreneur wasn’t easy because you are deciding to end the flow of a steady income. And as a business owner, the flow isn’t steady; some days are good and some are bad.
So, I always had the fear of: “Will I succeed in this? Will people appreciate my designs? Am I making the right decisions?” And when you don’t believe in yourself, it’s hard for people to believe in you. But even with that, I got the strength to work even harder, prove myself and people started seeing what I had to offer.
How’s the experience, so far, being a designer in Nigeria?
My experience as a designer has been very challenging but also very interesting. Although most of the fashion events that happen in Nigeria don’t create enough platform for emerging designers to showcase their talents, it’s usually the same designers; mostly top known designers that showcase every year.
I also see that a lot of Nigerians have embraced the “buy Nigerian” movement which is very encouraging as a Nigerian designer.
What are some of the challenges you face?
My favourite saying is: there are no challenges, just obstacles which we have to navigate through. The major challenge I faced was getting working capital. A lot of equipment and materials are required in the fashion industry and, sometimes, the cash flow isn’t enough to market your business to its full potential.
What’s your creative process like?
I’m most creative in the middle of the night (laughs). It’s a lot quiet so I have time to myself and to my thoughts. Even in my sleep, I sometimes get ideas. I have several sketch books that I sketch my ideas on once they come. When I want to create a collection, I pull out all my sketch books and draw several ideas or details from different sketches to make one final look. So, the process goes from sketching the design to fabric and colour selection and then, bringing out the design to life.
Who was your first celebrity client and how did that happen?
My first celebrity client was Yemi Alade. I met her through my friend Dolapo (@deebeautybydolly). She’s a UK-based make-up artist. Back in London, we had talked about doing something together so when she finally came to Nigeria in 2014, she called me and asked if I could style her friend, Yemi Alade. Of course, I was excited because that was the same period I decided to go into fashion fully. Of course, I love the song ‘Johnny’ by Yemi Alade!
What’s your greatest achievement, so far, as a designer?
My greatest achievement, so far, is relishing the moments when a Lola Baej design is acknowledged for its uniqueness and creativity by customers. I want to continue bringing the WOW factor to each Lola Baej design.
A personal highlight of mine is having Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Adichie, wear my designs; not one but several of them! She is a big supporter of creative Nigerian brands and up-coming designers. She has been a driving force in supporting what Lola Baej stands for and has encouraged me like a big sister. The feedback from her has been amazing with comments from the likes of Christian Dior on one of the Lola Baej outfits she wore.
What’s was your most embarrassing moment as a designer and how were you able to handle it?
I have had a few and I’m sure most designers do too. Most people know me from Instagram, a medium where our best works are displayed; where we give the impression that we are perfect. But I assure you, every designer has made mistakes and I am no different. I am learning from them. And I’m on an endless mission to be the best I can be.
Who do you usually have in mind while creating your pieces?
When I create, I am thinking of a contemporary woman. I am thinking of strenuous feminism, individuality, edginess and a fashion-forward woman.
Words by Linda Orajekwe