Allure Cover Interview: Uju Nwokediuko – On research and the creative process
Based in Lagos, Ujuestelo is a Nigerian female fashion brand owned by Uju Nwokediuko, a brand that offers both couture designs and ready-to-wear with unique and classy fashion designs that appeal to women with a sense of style and taste.
Launched in 2015 with its SS15 debut collection, Ujuestelo has quickly developed into one of the top fashion brands in the industry. The brand has earned its place in the hearts of fashion lovers and clients with its artistic flair and exquisite style that gives classics pieces modern and innovative twists with each piece made with quality, love and passion, meticulous attention to details and in small runs to preserve quality and authenticity.
This authenticity informs her client base which includes high society women, celebrities and other professionals. The brand was recognized for its work at Eloy Awards’ 2016 nomination as the Fashion Designer of the Year.
Speaking to ‘Allure’ about her ride into the fashion industry, the designer opened up about some of the challenges faced as a Nigerian designer and how that has shaped her brand. In 2017, Ujuestelo launched its diffusion line ‘4evayoung by Ujuestelo’ which showcased stylish, edgy and unique ready-to-wear pieces with corporate, cocktails, casuals and tasteful urban design.
Over the years you’ve been a designer, do you think what you’ve created your brand to be is what people perceive it to be?
Yes, we think it is and we have been able to create it to be that. Over the years, we have carefully built our brand to offer best-in-class couture designs with excellent quality finishing and superior customer service. So far, we have received a significant amount of positive feedback. Naturally, we have had challenges. Notwithstanding, at Ujuestelo, we apply the process of continuous improvement and constantly seek new ways to meet and exceed client expectations in this fluid industry.
Who’s an ideal Ujuestelo woman?
The Ujuestelo woman is one who values the art of dress making and design. She is strong, fearless, elegant and classy. She is bold enough to stand out to whatever life throws at her and set the pace yet she is stylish and remains on the fashion edge. She will not settle for less than she deserves but is willing to offer much more in return. She is beautiful and we love her just the way she is.
What’s your creative process like?
At Ujuestelo, our creative process is designed to produce results that are useful and unique. It’s in 2 parts – the idea and the work. Instinctively, the idea can come – at any time and place. My notebook and pen are always close to me for moments like this. At other times, we actively research to produce our work. We review feedback from clients as well as personal experiences, events or places we have been to.
Others include reviewing international and local runway shows, art shows, fashion magazines, blogs and emerging and past trends. At the work phase, we would typically create a mood board for the various images generated at the ideas phase. We go over them again and again until a concept is strong enough. Then, we make the sketches which may be many before deciding on which one to bring to life.
Fabric selection and sourcing is also critical because you need the right fabric to accentuate a particular design and effectively project the style. Next, we draft the pattern, tailoring, embellishment, quality control checks and fitting.
How long this process takes may vary; sometimes, days, weeks or months. We don’t always get 100% of the outcome. That is why we actively seek and appreciate feedback to achieve continuous improvement.
How has the couture market been for you in Lagos?
The couture market is fluid and moves with the needs and expectations of our clients. So far, the market has been good in this environment. We have a large number of clients who want unique and classic designs made for them. They are stylish and are able and ready to place a good value on these couture pieces.
What’s your greatest challenge in creating couture pieces for clients and challenges, generally, as a designer operating in Lagos, Nigeria?
One of the greatest challenges in couture is getting the right fabric and other materials to achieve the desired design. To overcome this, we maintain a wide network of suppliers – local and international. We reinforce these relationships and actively build new ones. Another challenge is getting the right people with the right attitude and skills into the organization. Also, the high cost of power or lack of it and generally the high cost of doing business in Nigeria.
What works better for you more – couture pieces or ready-to-wear?
Well, because I love detailing, I’ll go for couture pieces; mainly because of the detailing.
Which of your collections would you say is most dear to you and why?
From my first collection in 2015 to my latest collection – Memoirs of the Fearless, all are dear to me. My first collection helped me to scale some barriers. Subsequent collections helped me to consolidate and build momentum. My SS19 collection – Memoirs of the Fearless – has been receiving high ratings and this makes me very pleased.
When you pour so much energy into a collection, it is always gratifying to see it well received.
Being in the Nigerian fashion industry, what would you say is the greatest lesson you’ve learned and why?
One of the greatest lessons learned is the fluidity of the industry. Hence, the need to constantly research, continuously improve and reinforce your brand to meet client needs.
How supportive can you say the Nigerian fashion industry is of young designers?
It is my opinion that the Nigerian fashion industry is quite supportive of young designers. Every season, emerging designers are afforded a plethora of platforms to showcase their designs. Some established brands also offer advice, training and mentorship to some of the young designers.
How do you balance work, family and life considering how busy you are?
From experience, this can be quite challenging. As much as possible, I try not to take work home but actively spend quality time with family. Sometimes, clients can be very demanding even eating your family time. You really need the support and understanding of your family to make it easier and I have been getting a lot of that.
What do you do to relax after all the work?
I enjoy playing with my children, watching a movie at home with my husband and play some games. I also try to get as much sleep as I can.
How’s your eating habit like?
I eat well without particularly being on a diet. I eat, at least, twice a day. However, when there is a lot of pressure, my eating pattern may become quite irregular.
What makes you happy as a woman?
As a woman, I’m happy when I achieve the goals I set for myself, when I see others happy and when I am in a good relationship with my God and loved ones.
What can you never have enough of: bag, shoes, make-up or clothes and why?
I actually love having shoes but I’m not too attached to any of these. I tend to get such things only when I need them.
Do you have a skin care regimen and what’s it like?
Nothing particular. I simply identify a soap that is good for me, use it regularly, drink plenty of water, exercise when I can and try to avoid too much direct contact with sunlight.
What’s one thing you can’t do without?
The one thing I can currently not do without is my phone. I have so much going on with it to do without it for now.
Who’s your female role model and why?
It’s really difficult to pick only one person because there are several amazing women I look up to as role models in various areas. Some include Betty Irabor, Ibukun Awosika, Nkechi Ngonadi Harry, Ejiro Amos Tafiri, Linda Ikeji, Mo Abudu, Ogugua Okonkwo and several other notable women. I admire their commitment and desire, their creativity and passion as well as their willingness to help build others.
If you can turn back the hands of time and start all over again, what’s that one thing you’ll change and do differently?
Wow! I will definitely have started my brand and business much earlier than I did. That one is for sure.