Olori Aderonke Ademiluyi-Ogunwusi & Folashade Balogun: Championing African Fashion
Words By – Yemisi Suleiman
For the first time in the 13 years history of the Africa Fashion Week London, AFWL, Founder and wife of the Ooni of Ife, Olori Aderonke Ademiluyi-Ogunwusi, is collaborating with Black History and Lifestyle Awards, founded by Shade Balogun, to engage the global fashion community, to celebrate African fashion, culture and heritage as well as the indigenous craftsmanship from Africa and diaspora.
As preparation for the annual show billed for October 27-29 heightens, Allure speaks with both founders on the upcoming show, the need for collaboration and what to expect when the show kicks off.
Olori Aderonke Ademiluyi- Ogunwusi
With almost 25 years in the fashion industry, Olori Aderonke Ademiluyi Ogunwusi is Founder, African Fashion Week Nigeria, Co-founder of African Fashion Week Brazil, CEO of the Adire Odua textile training hub, and African Fashion Week London, which, since inception 12 years ago, has become the largest fashion event in Europe promoting African brands and largely impacting lives in the industry.
What inspired the collaboration between AFWL and Black History and Lifestyle Awards. Why is it necessary to come together at this point?
There is this African saying that when you want to walk fast, you walk alone but when you want to walk far, you walk with other people. That is what we decided to do this year. We were privileged to attend Mrs. Baloguns event last year, and that was where the conversation started from. She wanted to have the event to celebrate Black History Month, and we had an ongoing event already, and we both said, instead of doing things independently, why dont we come together and showcase Africa to the world?
Also, October is Black History Month in London and we are trying to change the narratives from slavery and all that. We will be showcasing our heritage, and our culture as well as, letting people know that black-owned businesses have come to stay. Here, we will be looking at the achievements of black people from the 1st of October to October 31st and our venue is the Institute of Directors in London.
Its the 13th edition of Africa Fashion Week London, what are you doing differently?
This year, we would be infusing a few more things into the show. Day one, we would be having a UK-Africa trade expo; It is beyond fashion trade expo, and it is going to highlight the value chain of the entire fashion industry. It will also go beyond just showcasing fashion on the runway. There will be speakers talking about cotton and textiles of Nigeria and Africa as a whole, and theres going to be a discussion on how hair and beauty influence the fashion scene, and the impact that the diaspora has on Africa. Theres going to be talk on commerce and culture as well.
The keynote speaker is the Ooni of Ife. Were going to have different delegates from different Nigerian states attending. Delegates from Trade and Investment, South Africa, and Nigeria, as well as some state governors. Its going to be a very enlightening event for everyone.
Then, Day 3 will be the Black History Award in collaboration with African Fashion Week London; so, that is another add-on as well. We are going to be giving special recognition to those who have contributed to the growth of the black and Africa Fashion industry. The list also includes some young talented fashion designers who we think are deserving of an award as well, just to inspire and encourage them for the good work that they are doing.
There is going to be a bit of life performances, as well as afrobeat music. So the AFWL has evolved beyond the normal catwalk and exhibitions that we used to do.
You have done this for 12 years and this is the 13th edition; what are the challenges you faced over the years, putting the AFWL together and how were you able to overcome them?
For me, I dont see them as challenges; I just see them as stepping stones; creative tension which after a while, eases as you grow gradually. I have been doing the fashion week for 13 years now, if you wake me up and tell me to let you know how the show will flow, from the technical production, to the flow of the designers on the run way, the casting, the makeup, the hair, the entire scope of the fashion event, I can tell you that.
Whats your big dream for Africa Fashion Week London?
My big dream is for us to have a trade centre in the UK where people can walk in and buy fabrics or the ready-to-wear designs, or place orders and also customise their orders. That is a big dream for me.
I am also looking at an African Fashion Training Academy, and an African Fashion Museum, because we dont have an African fashion museum, a place where we can showcase our indigenous fabrics and talk about the designs and the stories behind them.
What is your advice to young people who want to get into the industry?
Nothing in life is easy; there is always a due process. So, you have to just keep on following your dream. However, you must also realise that, if you have a dream, and if you are not able to sustain it, it does not return on investment and at some point, it will fizzle out and you will not be able to continue. That was what happened to me, the first few years when I started the African Fashion Week London, I was so driven by passion. I was giving out free slots, everything was almost free. At a point, I couldn’t sustain it. That was when I had to sell my flat in London to keep it going.
So, I will advise that whatever you are doing, no matter how passionate you are about it, make sure you always identify an ROI. It is that return on investment that an investor will want to see.
What legacy do you hope to live behind?
For me, it is being inspirational to the growth of many young designers. I work with so many young people and every year, we have over a hundred young people who come to do their internship with us at Africa Fashion Week London and Africa Fashion Week Nigeria. For me, it is being able to inspire them. Young women need role models that they can look up to because at a time, I was looking for funding in the UK. I learnt through statistics, that almost 80% or 90% of funding goes to men, especially the white men, and then, theres like a 5% that goes to black men.
Then, theres the other 4% that goes to women, and then black women are at the bottom of the ladder when it comes to sourcing for funding. Theres nothing really out there for us, so, we have to work extra hard, go the extra mile to make sure we are a success in anything we do.
What do you love about being a queen; and what are some of the things you used to do that you cant do anymore?
I do everything I used to do. I go to KFC, I buy boli along the road, and I still eat boli and epa (groundnut), but now in a refined and defined manner. Being a queen has its own perks and its disadvantages as well. There was one day, after a hard days work, I was hungry and I went to KFC. Normally, I would go there and eat my chicken and it wIll be fine. But but on this pleasant afternoon, I was just eating my chicken at KFC and they told me, Olori, you cant be eating chicken anyhow o, before they now put you on social media.
These days, any little thing, you are on social media. I make sure I dont bring any negative impact or negativity to the throne because I have to also bear in my mind that its also the throne of my own forefathers. My number one priority for now is to ensure that I protect the legacy of the throne.
Folashade Balogun is the CEO of House of Sota and Founder of the Black History and Lifestyle Awards, a platform created solely to address the need for better representation and support for black talent and life generally. The House of Sota brand has expanded from just being a fashion label, to being a globally recognised lifestyle brand.
What inspired the Black History and Lifestyle Awards?
Black History and Lifestyle Awards started two years ago. We have a store in Florida, USA, located in a big mall where we have some big designers. Three years ago around February, they sent an email to inform us about Black History in February. So, I imagined that there would be a lot of black people in the store for the event. But I didn’t see any activity that February to show,and I kept wondering what was going on. If the government said it is Back History Month, why are we not celebrating blacks? That, got into me, and I said, if no one celebrates us, we have to celebrate ourselves. That was when I decided to register the name and every February, we commemorate the event by celebrating ourselves, our culture, heritage, and black history.
What was the very first experience like?
The very first one, I got lots of questions, people were like you are black and why are you doing this, what do you mean by Black History Month?
But because I have a dream and vision, I said to myself; they would see what I am trying to do. So here we are.
For you, what informed the collaboration with AFWL, how does it align with your brand?
The AFWL has been in existence for 12 years and this is their 13th year, and it is going to be a huge event in London. For us at Black History and Lifestyle Awards, we started a couple of years ago, and we have done our own events in the US and Nigeria. AFWL is the biggest platform promoting African brands in the UK and over the years, they have proven to be credible. So, we decided to join forces with them, to bring the event to London, in celebration of the Black History Month which is celebrated in October in the UK.
The idea is to celebrate our own, our history, culture and life as black people. So, the two big brands are collaborating together to have a fantastic event in London. We will be giving out awards to individuals who have supported the black and creative industry, as well as a special recognition awards for excellence, including the best Designer awards. As part of the event also, we will have celebrities walk on the runway wearing collections form different designers, in order to promote their brands.
House of Sota, which is your fashion brand, will be on the runway for AFWL. What should we expect from the brand?
House of Sota is going to be on the runway and the collection for the show is called Igele. We have three names joined together for the collections, the South African name, Igbo and Yoruba names, which actually means the same thing for the collections that House of Sota will be showcasing.
How would you describe the fashion sector today in Nigeria?
The fashion sector in Nigeria has grown. What the fashion industry is today is not what it was ten years ago. Globally, we are getting recognised. Early this year, I met a Nigerian lady who tied gele for Beyonce in Los Angeles. So, you can see that Nigerian fashion has grown.
What advice have worked for you over the years, that you would like to share with young people who want to come into the industry?
These days, youths are so much in a hurry. But in fashion, you cannot be in a hurry. You have to take it one step at a time. Be patient and determined. Be original and excel in your craft.