Omobolaji Onaolapo, the CEO of Niiffe and a UK-trained chemical engineer, left her ‘juicy’ oil/gas job to pursue her passion- fashion. In this interview with Business Elites Africa, she speaks on her dreams and love for fashion.
What is your background like?
I was born into a working-class family living in Nigeria. I recognised my passion for the creative arts having been greatly influenced by my siblings who were either performing music at any and every opportunity or making pencil sketches, and from watching my mother on the sewing machine putting together window blinds, beddings or making ‘iro and buba’ outfit for an occasion. So while studying for my first degree and in between modeling gigs, I would make clothes for myself and some friends who dared to be courageous enough to look not like anyone else. The clothes weren’t always the best at the time, but they were always different. Resigning from my job in the oil and gas industry to focus solely on building what I now call my Golden Empire after having participated in fashion events within and outside Nigeria, provided clothing for celebrities ranging from musicians, TV presenters to international girl groups and lifestyle models and fitness instructors. Within my style and designs, my strong belief in the concept that clothes are meant to be made to fit our bodies no matter the size and shape is very apparent. The strong feminine but fun approach to putting styles together is definitely a signature of my independent design work. I take my inspiration from grandeur of nature, overlooked everyday objects combined with a very creative mind to make edgy, quintessential fashion pieces.
I never really thought of going fully commercial with the fashion designing, hence all the degrees in engineering and such, but I knew without a shadow of a doubt I would always end up expressing my creativity and love for fashion one way or the other. The commercial integration I guess just naturally came up once the creativity part started getting noticed. I guess it all depends on one’s interpretation of fulfillment. To me as I mentioned earlier, I’m fulfilled once I’m able to birth my ideas and bring them to reality. There’s a kind of high you get when you dare yourself to do something you have never done and somehow you pull it off. Being to make a living from that is simply just an added bonus.
Is fashion your first love in terms of passion?
Yes, definitely. I mean I do a host of other things such as interior decor, installation art and bits of carpentry. But fashion is definitely my one true love. My first job was not even in fashion, I had about three jobs while doing my masters. Fashion and designing was not one of them, it was just simply something I loved and I couldn’t part from it. I guess that was what primarily started drawing people’s attention to Niiffe and also possibly because I could turn it around for them in a really short time.
Why the soft spot for fashion?
It’s an incredible means of communication without having to say a word. I was brought on understanding the importance of first impressions. My parents used to tell us all the time that what you wear is usually what people notice about you first before you have the chance to speak and either prove them right or wrong. Beside creating outfits from conception to the end product is an incredible art form that requires the ability to see things in a different perspective.
Share your dream with us in terms of your vision for the business?
In five years time, Niiffe will be a global brand, your go to for effortlessly Chic, strong and sophisticated, artfully constructed pieces of clothing. Breaking grounds and touching lives, contributing to the community and the world at large in a positive way.
This is simply because for me, fashion is not only about where you come from, that’s a major influence yes, but it’s mainly about the story you tell of where you come from through your choice of fashion style. Life inspires my designs, I don’t allow myself to be boxed in by one singular concept or trend or mood. I try to explore all possibilities and just generally flow with it focusing entirely on amplifying the inherent beauty that we all have. Clothes are meant to accentuate one’s feature and not the other way around.
Your brand name appears very unique. What informed this and what does it stand for?
Niiffe means have love, it was chosen because every time someone asked me why I was happy to sit behind my sewing machine from 7am till 2am the following morning, my answer was always because I loved it and it never felt like work.
If you are not doing fashion right now, what else would you be comfortable doing?
Installation art, carpentry. But I really don’t see myself doing anything else.
Who is/are you mentor(s)?
Ooh there’s quite the list, a few of them are the late Mohammed Alli, my mum, Dr. Olaoye, Mr. Diekola Onaolapo, Mr. Anthoni Ogedengbe, and a crazy but incredible friend called Mr. Snow (That’s what he likes to be called by)
What has been the acceptance of your brand like thus far?
It’s been really great, we are very new in Nigeria but the feedback and reception has been incredible so I’m really grateful for all the love.
What has sustained your passion?
The fact that I know there’s nothing else I’d rather do. This is my gift. This is my purpose and I absolutely love it.
What are your words to many young people wanting to be like you?
know yourself, accept who you are, work hard, run your own race and believe it all comes together in the end.
What sort of support do you desire for your industry?
Education and support for those coming up behind us. Mentorship (which I have just recently started within Niiffe brand) and most importantly financial support to help set their feet on the ground at the start. If people would just take a step back and understand that fashion, African fashion is not just about the prints and the colours and all that, but that it’s the stories being told as a result of all our experiences, i think that will change the way we approach the industry, be it the manufacturing or retailing section. We’ll be able to shape it and mould it the way that tell our stories best and not just simply follow what everyone else is doing.
OMOBOLAJI ONAOLAPO, DESIGNER: BIOGRAPHY
Omobolaji Onaolapo was born on October 15, 1981, in Nigeria. She launched her own womenswear line in the United Kingdom after completing a Master’s Degree in Advanced Chemical Engineering in Manchester partly funded by her savvy business mind and unparalleled love of fashion and arts. Omobolaji currently runs her fashion business – Niiffe, from Lagos. A luxury clothing brand registered in the United Kingdom and Nigeria with local and global supply outreach.
“There’s no point in doing anything at all if you won’t give it your everything because what’s worth doing at all is worth doing well”.
MEET THE BRAND: NIIFFE
NIIFFE was started in 2010 solely as a bespoke brand catering mainly for weddings and special events (majorly red carpets), we then started the RTW arm in 2012 with the sole goal of providing the opportunity for people to be adequately represented through their fashion sense and style before finally, officially launching at the 2016 fashion week in Lagos, Nigeria with a 12-piece collection. It has always been our belief that clothes should be made to fit our bodies and not the other way round and as a result, our designs are magnificent, mysterious, fresh, radiant, elegant with an intensity that you will find desirable.
Niiffe’s designs features a happy mix of easy sophistication and individuality, very elegant, sexy but not vulgar, very confident with full awareness of self.
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