Lexy Mojo-Eyes: I started fashion promotion with only my dream
In 1997, Lexy Mojo-Eyes, took on a project he described as “suicide mission” to promote African fashion by encouraging Nigerians to dress Nigerian.
It was a daunting task at a time when as a nation, our appetite for foreign fabric and designs was huge. For him, it wasn’t an insurmountable task. The rest they say is now history.
From a humble beginning with the Nigerian Fashion Show, which became an annual event, and a channel to give international exposure to many designers, Lexy’s company, Legendary Gold grew to become a sought-after bride by the international fashion community; especially, the World Fashion Organization.
The WFO commissioned him to replicate the Nigeria success story in other African Countries, a situation that gave birth to the African Fashion Reception that holds twice a year.
In and outside the country, Lexy is out promoting African fashion. In this interview, he speaks candidly on this journey he took many years ago, x-raying the intricacies of international fashion and how more African designers can play.
You started fashion promotion at a time when many didn’t give you a chance. How was that beginning like in 1997?
It was like a suicide mission. The whole creative industry was very conservative then. The music, film, comedy to the fashion industry were almost non-existent or rather, not well defined. The fashion industry was worse because, no one saw it as a business but entertainment and waste of time.
We had to package and present it as serious business. To make matters even worse, the idea behind the Nigeria Fashion Show (NFS) was not an easy sell. It was a dress Nigerian initiative. That is to re-orientate Nigerian designers, to change the narratives by looking inwards to local fabrics, accessories and designs. NFS was also a campaign at encouraging Nigerians to patronize the local fashion industry, by wearing Nigerian clothing items and accessories. In those days, you hardly would find Nigerians wearing Ankara and the rest. People’s attitudes started changing to locally made clothes when they started attending the NFS. Dress code was strictly Nigerian and 70% of guests attending the NFS were usually from the diplomatic community. They loved and adhered strictly to the dress code.
Being that NFS was heavily a media event, those that were not at the event saw foreigners wearing and appreciating Nigerian clothes. This made many Nigerians to start thinking about wearing locally made clothing.
Most importantly, after each NFS event, participating designers would define the next fashion trends with their creative designs. The NFS brand was greatly supported and attended by our influencers then like Sen. Oluremi Tinubu, Nike Osinowo, Angela Onyeador (God bless her soul), Erelu Abiola Dosunmu, Sen. Ita Giwa, Folorunsho Alakija, Aunty Abba Folawiyo, Chief Alex Akinyele, Opral Benson and Biola Okoya.
What were the challenges?
The major challenge then was sponsorship and support. The entertainment industry was still in its infancy. So the corporate organizations didn’t come close at all. We were sponsoring the events ourselves. The very little support we were getting was from foreigners like the embassies, KLM, Air France etc. Many thanks to people like Senator Oluremi Tinubu.
What kept you going?
What kept us going was because I saw over 50 years ahead. I was a young man that left Benin City for Lagos, with the goal of taking Nigerian designers to the fashion capital of the world – Paris, Milan, London and New York even though I had never been to an airport before. All I had was that dream. There is nothing like ‘No’ in my dictionary.
Some of the challenges faced trying to promote African fashion hinged largely on poor finishing of our garments. What is it like now?
We experienced the problem of perfect finishing in the first two years of the event, after which our focus shifted to quality control issues. One thing we did then was, each time we took selected designers to the NFS international events in Paris and Milan, we took them through highly reputable fashion schools where they see the production cycle side of fashion. This helped the quality of their outputs when they got back. And also, from time to time, we organized workshops for designers in this regard. Today, the work of African designers has greatly improved and can compete in the global market place.
How were you able to break into the international market with Nigerian designers?
Breaking into the international fashion market is still on going. What you see today globally on African fashion started with us. Yes, we have been able to achieve something. But we have only just got started. We look forward to someday in the future, when you will see African designers’ collection side by side international designers in shops around the world. That’s where we are heading.
Would you say the number of designers making it internationally is impressive?
I won’t say the number of African designers in the international eco-system is impressive. We should and we will have far more. We must get them on the main stream.
How best can our designers be helped to earn foreign exchange?
One of the ways to do that, apart from aligning with existing global structures is to create ours. Just like one of my Italian consultants told me about 18 years ago ‘the fashion business is mafia business’. We must create our own platforms as Africans.
From Nigeria Fashion Show to Africa Fashion Reception, you have tried promoting African fashion. What’s next for you?
My work in promoting Nigeria Fashion globally, got noticed by the World Fashion Organization about 12 years ago, and got me appointed on its board of governors. This took me away from Nigeria in the last 8 years. During this period, I was made to replicate the Nigerian success in the whole of our continent. That gave birth to Africa Fashion Reception which has two editions annually since 2013. The African edition is usually hosted by the African Union in Addis Ababa, while the global edition is hosted by UNESCO in Paris.
What is next for me is looking at the business side of the fashion and creative industry, to help support young and upcoming talents. Most importantly, we are coming out to play in the whole of the creative and cultural economy across the continent. We are presently consulting for the African Union for Expo 2020 Dubai, and UNESCO for the Coalition of Artists for the General History of Africa. We are also involved in the Creative African Exchange (CAX) which is being set up to be the AMAZON of Africa’s Creative and Cultural Economy amongst other international projects.
Do you think government will ever show serious commitment to fashion beside the little from Bank of Industry (BOI)?
They will not have a choice when the time comes.
With your experience in international fashion, don’t you think Nigeria is due for a fashion council?
Of course, we need even more than a fashion council. We need a Ministry of Fashion, Garment and Textile.
Who should be pressuring government to set up this ministry?
Practitioners in the industry, but more of the times, it should be government realizing the importance of the sector following its GDP contribution to the economy.
By Jemi Ekunkunbor