Esosa Ogedegbe: Passion for Bespoke
Esosa Ogedegbe is the founder and Creative Director of the proudly Nigerian menswear clothing brand; Caesar Couture, established in 2000.
Starting a fashion business with a background in Chemical Engineering from Igbinedion University, Edo State, can be daunting for many; but for Esosa, fashion is a passion that comes naturally to him. With this passion comes a knack for excellent finishing and unique designs, which has grown the brand to include both accessory and shoe line- Caesar 169.
He admits however, that operating a fashion business in Nigeria comes with certain challenges. In this interview, he shares his experience in the fashion industry, the challenges, and how he supports young talents finding their way.
Let’s talk about your fashion journey. How did you start?
It all started with the belief that I could create whatever it is I wanted to wear. I got a lot of positive feedback for the things I wore; ranging from well-tailored pants, African native attires, shirts etc. For me, it was a thing of pride to let the world know I designed them. I never bought ready-made pants because it was somewhat challenging to get the perfect fit. Then, work started with a tailor called Ralph. While I sorted fabrics, sketched designs, Ralph cut and put the pieces together.
Like every other growing business, the ride to the top was not without hitches here and there. Firstly, measurements posed an issue. I would give physical descriptions of my clients instead of a proper measurement which of course, led to a few bad jobs. Time and people management was also a foundational issue. It was particularly tasking when bulk orders came at the same time.
It went on until I took it upon myself to learn how to accurately measure for pants, suits, and natives as they all have variations in the way we take the measurements. Error rates reduced drastically bringing a feeling of relief and fulfilment to the growing brand. More skilled and diligent hands were employed to deal with the ever-increasing clientele.
This present day, Caesar Couture has grown to be one of the best male fashion brands out of the continent, known for impeccable bespoke suits and natives. The brand also stretched its designs to Men’s shoes. It is rolling out ‘one of a kind’ type season to season designs that sell out fast.
As a graduate of chemical engineering, what area in your background prepared you for a life as a designer?
Nothing prepared me from my engineering background, aside from looking for solutions to problems as an engineer. The driving force is my passion for fashion.
What were some of the challenges you faced trying to make people believe in your brand?
With all humility, I never had that challenge of having people believe in my brand because I started fashion very early in life.
How’s the experience so far being a luxury designer in Nigeria?
My experience so far has been a great one, though not a ride in the park. It has had its highs and lows, but we have pulled through.
What are some of the challenges you still face as a designer?
There is a mirage of problems every Nigerian designer faces. Top on the list is the lack of local production of textiles and other raw materials. Though we have textile mills across Nigeria, the output is rather low, and we have to rely on imported materials that are entirely on the high side. Lack of power supply, continues to pose a threat to business in Nigeria. Other challenges include; funding for SMEs, high tariffs on imported goods, poor quality of most local materials, and quality human resources amongst others.
What’s your creative process?
I am the creative director, and I oversee 100% of the designs that go out to clients, from the different stages of production up to delivery. However, due to the dedicated team on the ground, putting plans to fruition is seamless.
What informed your decision to go into accessory making?
Demand from clients. I noticed a gap in the market for quality items. I realised that clients don’t pick the right accessories to compliment what they wear. Also, I had a desire to be a total menswear brand, making Caesar Couture a one-stop-shop for every classy man.
Who was your first celebrity client, and how did that happen?
My first celebrity client in 2008 was Uti Nwachukwu of Big Brother and Jara fame. He was a friend at the time so it didn’t seem like working for a client. it was more like sorting out a friend’s fashion need.
What would you say is your greatest achievement so far as a designer?
My greatest achievement as a designer is seeing a vision I had, come into fruition many years after. The feeling is priceless.
What is your most embarrassing moment as a designer, and how were you able to handle it?
That’ll be when a client couldn’t get his suit delivered to him till the morning of his wedding, due to poor logistics. I had to refund his money and let him have the suit for free.
How supportive do you think the Nigerian fashion industry is to growing brands?
It is quite supportive because there are a lot of platforms were upcoming brands are showcased and presented. In the last decade, I have seen a good number of designers spring up great brands for themselves. So, I believe the industry is supportive.
Why is quality Nigerian garment usually too expensive?
The cost of putting each piece together is expensive as compared to mass production. It stems from the quality/cost of fabric and other premium materials used for finishing. Also, the fact that most raw materials aren’t locally sourced, adds to the price of the finished product.
What’s that signature that distinguishes your pieces from all the clothes in the market?
That’ll be “The cut”. It stands out as well as the quality fabrics used in the production of every Caesar Couture piece.
Considering your background, how important would you say having a formal fashion education is to the success of a designer, especially at the beginning phase of their career?
Fashion is a craft-based business and just like any other craft business, creativity of the individual is vital. On the business end, formal education can give you an edge. In all, creativity and experience is the best form of education.
Let’s talk about your shoe line, what inspired the name ‘Caesar169’ and how easy has it been running these different fashion arms?
Caesar169 was born out of my moniker and date of birth which is September 16th. So far, it’s an exciting journey, especially seeing your shoes with different great minds around the globe. It gives a sense of satisfaction.
Who are some of the people that inspire you in the Nigerian fashion industry and why?
I admire everyone who has been able to run a fashion business over time; however, every fashion item I see on the street inspires me.
Running a fashion business can be very daunting with every part needing your full attention, how do you find time for yourself?
I am considering that I equally work offshore as an engineer. The best thing I did was to get the right team who could bring out my vision. I have a very sound team that has made my business run smoothly without my physical presence most times. I always say if your company hasn’t gotten to a stage where it runs on its own; there is still work to do.
Who’s the ideal Caesar man?
An ideal Caesar man is everyman who pays attention to details and has an undying love for class, quality, and fashion.
How would you say being a designer has shaped who you are and how you think?
As a fashion designer, I have been able to understand that fashion trends come and go. However, some body types are more suited for some fashion trends.
What do you love about being a designer (aside from being able to make your clothes. Lol)
Getting paid for what I enjoy doing
If you’ll do it all over again, what is that one thing you’ll change and what’s that one thing you’ll keep?
I will start the business earlier in life, and I will keep tenacity.
Let’s talk about how friends have affected your business, positively or negatively?
Friends have been supportive, but it’s easier to keep it professional working with outsiders.
What’s the best advice you’ve received as a designer?
Some of the best bits of advice I have received that stuck over time are; always accept part payment from debtors, because there is a chance you lose it all. Consistently deliver your goods yourself to clients if available, and be honest with clients.
What are some of the things you’ve learned over the years as a designer?
As a designer over the years, I have learned to take responsibility, accountability, be patient, and always to tell the client the sound stage of his/her order.
What’s the grand plan for Caesar Couture?
The plan for the Caesar Couture brand is to be a household name in many major cities of the world, dealing in all types of products.
By Linda Orajekwe