Ace Fashion designer, Mai Atafo was recently hosted in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. He spared quality time out of his busy schedule to anchor a mentorship session with budding fashion start up brands. The program was put together by Moradeun Balogun as part of the Fashion Insider series. Fashion insider has previously notably hosted fashion professionals as Ejiro Amos Tafiri, Seun Bolaji, Obi Somto, amongst others as part of efforts in promoting skill development, creativity, entrepreneurship and networking among the younger generation in fashion.

Mai’s session was a 4hour explosive one, focusing on his personal story, common mistakes early birds are trapped in fashion and the Business of Fashion.

Here are some of the questions he provided answers to, and other insights he had to share.

  1. What Inspires Your Design?

Life in general. Particularly other designs in fashion, art or related industry.

  1. How Do You Encourage Yourself When Your Body Is Willing to Work but Your Mind’s playing Tricks on You?

I take breaks. If my brain is not willing to adapt, I just chill, take a hiatus and keep my notepad close. I love spontaneity. My best collections are those that I came up with in just about 2weeks.

  1. How Did You Start Out As Designer?

“Pretty much like you likes” (pauses for a laugh). A friend of mine was getting married and the groom’s men couldn’t afford a suit. The bride was a designer, so the bridal train had sorted themselves by getting dazzling attires, and it was left to us to follow suite. So I suggested, we make something out of our traditionally woven fabric (aso-oke). So I went to yaba, got it done and I bought matching purple ties for the grooms men. I continued this for 5 more weddings, though I wasn’t get paid. Then luckily for me, a rich man’s daughter who was getting married came along, and for the first time I was asked how much I render my services. I didn’t know what to charge. The turning point was when I was appointed a designer at celebrity take 2. I made clothes for Otunba of Fuji music, Pasuma who came 3rd after 2months of exhilarating performance. And I did this working a 9-5 job.

  1. What’s Your Take on Trends and Uniqueness; How a Style Can Move from Fashion to Fad?

First all, Trend is a style that was created by someone, endorsed by a few, and then followed by many. A trend might become so popular that it irks you, but as a designer your focus should be on how you take this trend, reinvent it and make it pay off for you.

  1. What’s Your Take on People Copying Others Design?

It’s important to understand your society and observe what they feel about things like this. Nigerians will celebrate you if you copy a design and you do it well. Though people might highlight ethics issues. If a client comes to me, and asks me to copy a design he/she saw abroad, I will. However, if I’m putting out a collection of my own, I wouldn’t do such. If on the other hand, my works are copied, I don’t make a fuss about it. As a true creative I can create 3 more beautiful designs.

  1. How Do You Own Your Own Design (As an Up and Coming Designer)?

This is only possible if you are unique. The only way to own your design is to mass produce and be credited for it. For example in art, Laoulu Senbanjo popularised his art painting style has he applied it on several platform, and collaborated with many people on it. It was on fabrics, leather (footwear), faces etc. The true way to own your art is to commercialize it.

  1. How Do You Manage Customers, Who Have A Notion About What Your Standard Price Should Be For What They Intend To Purchase?

I still face this issue till tomorrow. But you have to stick to your guns. Nigerians like to bargain, so you must be in on the art. I always ensure I invoice as well, so the client knows the value of what they are paying for. Even when I give a discount, I put the original price alongside the discounted rate so that the customer can appreciate the value and in case the customer’s friend would like to return (smiles).

  1. How Do You Build Value Around A Brand Such That It Transcends To The Product?

No! You build value around a product, it in turn transcends to the brand. Someone somewhere once said, “Branding is your share of real estate in the mind of your client. The name of your brand matters as well. Let your name connote something relevant, such that people feel they are getting something from purchasing you. Packaging is key also, most often packaging beams on your brand value and how it is perceived.

  1. What’s Your Take on Fashion Internships?

Everyone should learn, but not necessarily under a fashion house. Nigerians don’t know how to learn (intern). Internship means you give up your freedom in other garner as much experience and skill as possible. As a prospective intern, you have to be as attractive as possible. For example you can say you will be the first to resume at the studio every day and be the last to leave, you can tender to work on weekends. You must demonstrate that you will be a valuable addition to the firm you intend to intern at. Lastly, you must pick a brand that is specific to your needs to intern at. .. Sometimes, google is the best internship place.

  1. What’s Your Take on Fashion Associations, and Are You a Part of Any?

They are amazing, depending on their agenda. In Nigeria, fashion associations don’t live up to what they are supposed to do.  I’m not a part of any currently, but I intend to join FADAN. Because you can’t initiate change from the outside, so I can as well join FADAN, run for office and try to correct some of the lapses. Fashion associations are supposed to give you resources, create opportunities for you, etc. that’s the way it’s done abroad.

  1. What Do You Look Out For, IF You Are To Invest In A Start Up?

Creative process and your design aesthetics! I have the skill to interpret design and to market, so if your creativity and design is game, I can invest. But then, that means I will own like 70% stake because I get to do all the work (smiles).

  1. What Keeps You Standing In Fashion When The Path Is Not Smooth?

I love what I do. Though I love other things too, like being an OAP (just that they don’t pay so much), I love marketing, and I love movies (I’m currently scripting my 2nd movie).

Generally I have my dream/goal, and I have my timeline to achieve it. The environment is not particularly encouraging. If I move my business to England, and I sell to Nigerians from there, I will make more money. But I’m here because I’m Nigerian and If  my daughter would have to live in Nigeria, I must to strive to make it a better place, by doing what I’m doing.



Six Tips from MAI

Today, you don’t create market, you tap into an existing one.

Don’t use only fashion ideas to run your business, use insight from other industries.

Do a contract with everyone you work with, from the tailor to the security man.

Nothing should affect your delivery except a natural disaster.

Financing: Do friends and family, since securing loans or grants is usually hard for people in fashion.

Have a tax consultant from day 1, so that they can help you with balancing your books.