“Why I left a career job for Fashion design”
Fashion Entrepreneur, Ms. Olivia Dafeta, CEO Elvida Clothings in this interview with Victor Dim-Oba speaks on why she left her plum job in civil service to follow her passion in the fashion industry. Excerpts.
You already had a pensionable job after your youth service, apart from passion what else informed your choice of moving from being a political scientist to a fashion designer?
Basically, right from school, I have always been an entrepreneur. While in school, I owned a saloon and banquet, I was running but that didn’t stop me from getting a job after school. Naturally, I am an active person and instead of sitting in the office every day, I need to do something to improve my life and also be a mentor, tutor to other young girls. That is the more reason resigned my civil service job and pursued my passion.
First, I sought for a fashion and design school outside Nigeria. I travelled to Milan, where I did a one-year course and came back to Nigeria and did another six months course in a fashion School in Lagos before coming down to Bayelsa State to start my brand.
Why the choice of Bayelsa when you could easily establish your brand in Lagos especially with the large fashion market there?
I decided to come to Bayelsa State because I wanted to come back and give back to my people, that’s the major reason. Again, to rebrand the mindset of the fashion lovers in the town as well as bring contemporary fashion using our African Prints, then, also change a whole lot of stuffs going around in Bayelsa State. I also want to use my knowledge to empower young women, and create job opportunities as well. These are the reasons why after my training, I came back straight to Bayelsa State.
Tell us about the journey and the dollars you are making from the industry in Bayelsa?
[Laughs] Oh my God… First things first, in business you learn before your earn. For now, I am still learning, but the last three years has been amazing; filled with so many beautiful experiences, especially you get to meet so many women from different backgrounds, homes, town both married and single, tribes and that’s a enough. It is exciting, fun and stressful. This has always been my dream and passion.
While awaiting the dollars, the experiences are great because I have had the opportunity of training about 40 women from SPDC in 2018 as part of my skills acquisition program. It was fun especially when I had to present certificate to those women, it was huge stepping down for me at the second year of my business. Again, that was when our academy kicked off in September, 2018, the Elvida Fashion and Design Academy.
Tell us about the ‘turning-back’ moments for you since then
For me, there is no turning back, in fact, we have trained over an hundred students.
Elvida Clothings, what does your design represent?
Hmmm… Like my slogan, it is simple. Elvida Clothings is for women with active lifestyle. I do contemporary dresses, the day-to-day kind of dresses and the kind of dress that enhances the totality of being a woman that is my area and focus when it comes to designing dresses for women.
You trained in two fashion schools. One in Milan, which some people consider as home of the world’s fashion and in Lagos, the hub of the Nigerian fashion industry. How were you able to combine these experiences to build your own brand and design?
The training in Lagos enlightened me the more because the Milan course is a big fashion world. You can’t bring a Milan runway dress to sew for a Bayelsan, it is not possible. You can’t bring contour dress from the street of Milan and design here because our weather is real hot. So, coming back to Nigeria, I had to go to a Nigeria Fashion school to learn, how to make a proper Nigerian dress blending it with a touch of my knowledge of what I got in Milan. This is the reason why my dresses are contemporary because everybody can wear it. I transform our normal Africa dresses to an English design and that is basically the dresses I do.
With your understanding in the market now, what can you say about the Bayelsa State fashion industry?
I think we are improving because from when I started till now, I have seen and heard people open standard brands like this as well as academy to teach. Though, we are still low behind but I think this year and the coming years we are hoping to see better ideas.
What gives you inspiration for your design?
My inspiration comes from mother-earth, respect to mother-earth. I pick inspiration from the environment and the flowers. Flowers have this kind of illuminating power that when you see so many flowers and you know how to play with colours, you should be able to think of what to do that moment and come up with something.
Where do you see your business in the next five years?
The next five years is going to be awesome. We are trusting God in the next five years we should have owed our permanent place, where everything will be well structured as envisaged for the brand. We are hoping for big things in the next five years.
Do you think government has a role to play in expanding the fashion industry in Bayelsa State?
Yes, they have a big role to play because I have not seen a major event sponsored by the government to improve the fashion and design industry. I looking forward to work with the government when it comes to training people because it will take a lot of young men and women off the streets by giving them these skills. Fashion is really broad, it is not about making dresses; you can learn how to make fascinators, shoes, bags, just as I did.
Right now, I have challenges of space and machine because you need funds for them. If I am opportune to have a partnership or collaboration with government, it will really improve the business and the lives of other people in society where we can have a fashion hub. People can walk in and sew. As a tailor if you don’t have a sewing shop, there are machine and a whole lot of stuffs, you just walk in, pay a token for the power supply and use the equipment then you go.