Evans Akere: Innovating African Traditional Wear
Words By – Yemisi Suleiman
Since launching his fashion line, Creative Director and CEO of Vanskere, Evans Akere, has become one of the major brands saddled with the responsibility of making African traditional wear acceptable worldwide.
A lawyer by training, his passion and love for fashion, has made his home-grown brand a premium lifestyle brand for men. Renowned for its obsession with craftsmanship, the basic goal Evans says has always been to make stylish and comfortable clothes, a major factor for the brand’s success so far.
With a clientele list that boasts of politicians, corporate executives and A-list celebrities, Vanskere continues to bridge the market gap for classic, yet, in-trend occasion wear garments tailored for today’s man. Here, he talks about switching from law to the needle profession, the birth of his latest Afro-Athleisure collection- Signore Fusion by Vanskere, (a collection inspired by the COVID19 lockdown) that is now a brand on its own, challenges in the industry and the Nigeria of his dreams.
You read law in the university, at what point did you embrace fashion?
That was when I was studying law. I found out that something was not right. I found it difficult to fit in as a law student because I was too elaborate in my dressing. Back then, as a law student, you had to dress corporate in black and white but I like to express myself in my dressing. I like colours.
I remember when I was in law school during my compulsory court attachments, I was actually walked out of court by a Senior Advocate because of the way I was dressed. I wore a purple shirt and a purple tie to court. The judge wanted to take it up that I will not graduate from Law School. I never practiced law or went to court.
I finally made up my mind to do fashion after my call to the Bar. I did not practice.
How did the VANSKERE brand come to be and how has the brand evolved over the years?
The VANSKERE brand came to be as a result of my love for fashion. Although I was trained as a lawyer, my passion for fashion supersedes that of law, which made me abandon law. VANSKERE is an abbreviation of my first and last name. It was my nickname from my teenage days. So when it was time for me to set up, it was only logical that I registered the name as the brand name.
The brand has evolved over the years from a basic fashion brand, to a Luxury fashion brand, with emphasis on modern African traditional wear.
What have been your weirdest sources of inspiration for your brand and design direction?
Like I have always said, inspiration is divine, it’s indescribable, and it comes naturally. For an artist, anything can be a source of inspiration. For me, my weirdest source of inspiration has been from lines, curves, and angles.
The Vanskere brand is fun, but there is also a classic appeal to your apparel. How do you strike an appropriate balance between classic and contemporary?
It has been easy striking a balance between classic and contemporary fashion because we understand the brand, its core value, and target market. We know it’s imperative that we maintain and sustain our conservative nature, while also meeting the needs of our fashionable customers.
What would you consider the biggest challenge as a fashion entrepreneur?
My biggest challenge from day one has always been how to manage my tailors. In Nigeria, there is a lack of efficient tailors, the few available ones are either not loyal or are badly behaved.
How have you managed this problem over the years?
Managing tailors is a big challenge like I said, the majority of them are not loyal. If you are lucky, you might have one or two who are, but majority of them are not. It’s more challenging when you have a big factory with many of them; you’ll need to be strong mentally and physically to survive each day. Even when you have a factory manager, majority of the issues still end up on your table.
To stay above board, I see it as a business hazard that I have to endure daily. So, I’m prepared and ready to face them when I come to work each day.
You have worked in the fashion industry for quite some years now, what is the best lesson you have learned along the way?
My best lesson so far would be never to design clothes that suit only my personal style.
How would you describe the fashion industry in Nigeria today? What would you say are the challenges and way forward?
The industry has definitely grown over the years, more Nigerians are beginning to appreciate locally made clothes and this has increased the level of patronage. The majority of Nigerian designers have stepped up their game, creating beautiful designs with impeccable finishing. But, there is still a lot of work to be done for our clothes to get that global recognition like we see in the music and movie industry.
There are lots of challenges in the industry, one of the major one, is lack of a steady power supply; without electricity we can’t produce. A lot of the money we make is spent on buying generators and maintaining them, funds that should have been ploughed back into the business. We don’t even have the enabling environment for business growth and expansion. Basic infrastructures are not available. We do not have textile industries, everything we use including the fabrics are imported. There are no colleges of fashion, only a few institutions offer fashion designing as a course. I could go on and on, but I think the way forward would be for our government to invest in the industry and create an enabling environment.
The fashion industry was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. How has the pandemic impacted the Vanskere brand? What was your strategy for staying afloat during the lockdown?
The pandemic did hit hard on almost every business, but we thank God that the impact wasn’t so hard on the Vanskere brand. We realised that it wasn’t business as usual; we were in an unusual time, so we needed to do the business in an unusual manner. We started off by making face masks for individuals and later scaled up to companies. The sales from the face masks were unbelievable, we couldn’t believe how much we made from it. Then came the easing of lockdown measures; we discovered that most companies were working remotely, while the majority of their staff were working from home. There were no parties and events. Based on this, there was a decline in the purchase of clothes. Then the idea came from our PR team to create comfortable and more casual clothes that could be worn indoors while working and outdoors when socialising. This idea gave birth to the Afro-Athleisure collection under the auspices of our diffusion line – Signore Fusion by Vanskere. The collection became a huge success and this has become one of our best business decisions in a while. As a result, Signore Fusion is now a brand on its own.
What do you love most about what you do?
Everything, I love everything about fashion. I like to study and predict trends; I love to sketch designs and shop for fabrics. I also like to play a major role in the production aspect of the designs.
What do you think makes one a successful fashion designer?
I think what makes one a successful fashion designer is the ability to manage change. As a designer, you must have the ability to envisage change, dictate and move with trends.
Tell us a bit about your growing up years and what informed your choice of career as a teenager?
I was born in Edo State. I had my primary and secondary education in Benin-City. My Dad was a successful lawyer, so I wanted to be like him, this made me study law at the university. He indirectly influenced me to study Law. As a young boy growing up, there was this tendency to be like him. But along the line, I realised I was destined to be a designer, but that didn’t make me drop out of school. I completed my law programme before pursuing my passion for fashion. I came to Lagos for my Law school programme, after which, I stayed behind to establish the Vanskere brand. A few years later, I felt the need to have a formal education in fashion, so I went to London to study at the London College of fashion.
Describe a day in the life of Evans Akere
I start my day with prayers, then go to the gym if its my workout day. I go back home to freshen up and have breakfast, after which I get to work. I work long hours so I get home quite late. I usually look forward to going home to my family after a long day at work. My routine is quite seamless – I wind down by watching some news channels. If I am inspired, I create new designs, if not, it lights out.
Men do not always pay attention to the way they dress. Give some advice on how to be stylish?
My advice will be to wear clothes that fit. Men should not shy away from bright colours, the era of wearing only dull colours is long gone. Dress for the occasion and keep accessories to a minimum.
What are some of your biggest dreams that you are yet to fulfill?
That would be making Vanskere a complete African fashion and lifestyle brand.
What are your hobbies and interests outside work?
I am a huge football fan, I enjoy watching and analyzing the game. I like listening to music. I also like to watch good movies and read books.
What is next for Vanskere?
The next phase is to make the brand more accessible worldwide.
Are you looking to design for ladies in the future?
Sure, it is something we are looking into.
When you are not working, how do you take time out to relax?
I stay indoors and watch good movies and work out. I am what some would term an “introvert”, but I cherish my time out with my family. I work really hard, so I don’t joke with family vacations. I take out time every year to go on holiday.
Best holiday destination?
That would be Dubai. It’s an ideal holiday destination, with luxury hotels, theme parks, and loads of activities.
Nigeria will be celebrating her independence anniversary soon, with all that is going on, do you think there’s a reason to celebrate?
I don’t think there is any reason to celebrate, but we have every reason to be grateful. At least, we are not experiencing a civil war, despite the challenges. Nigeria is still better than Syria and Afghanistan.
What is the Nigeria of your dreams?
The Nigeria of my dreams is a country where you’re free to be the very best and productive that you can be, irrespective of your tribe and religion. A country where hard work is rewarded and people do not steal from each other to get rich. Lastly, a prosperous nation where every Nigerian will live in dignity.