‘Nigeria has loads of fashion talents, but most creatives survive’

Ismael Adeleke Kalejaiye, a university-trained social worker, is now an internationally renowned fashion stylist carving mastery in vogue industry in the country. In this interview with ADEKUNLE SULAIMON, he shares his struggles and rise to stardom in the fashion world, explaining the difficulties that come with starting and keeping up SMEs in Nigeria. Excerpts:


Tell us about your journey into becoming a fashion designer

The journey is simply of grace. In 2008 when I made the decision to learn a fashion skill, the aim was to avoid being idle after my WAEC. However, I started not in the corporate way, but the passion to be better drove me into learning how to make suits, blazers, and other bespoke dresses from a friend. I shared a shop with him then and there; my dream to become a worldwide fashion designer grew bigger. At the time, I was also learning the business aspect of fashion while understanding the craft. In the quest of this, I was able to match personality with dresses because the uniqueness of fashion can only be told when the stylist makes it more appealing and exceptionally different from the usual.


How did you learn sewing and start your own brand, Laykay apparel?

I learnt it in secondary school while I was preparing for my Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (SSCE) because of the scepticism most of us have been fed with, especially that we are likely not to be admitted with our first jamb examination, I learned it not to be sitting at home idle, it became a hobby for me and I started building a fashion empire. I maintained Laykay clothing because my friends already know my name and because I wanted to get my CAC registration done easily.


What do you love about being a fashion designer?

I like it when I sew for people and they wear my outfit with style. It feels like an accomplishment. It makes me more creative because at every point, I want to do things that my fellow stylists are not doing. It also brings more associates and connections for me. It also helped me to be open-minded, especially in human relationship.


When did you start Laykay clothing and what birthed the idea?

I started Laykay clothing in 2019 after registering it. And the idea was birthed as a result of providing pocket-friendly quality clothes for everybody. The quest to involve everybody irrespective of status gave birth to the large customer base we now enjoy today.


What do you think are the skills necessary for becoming a successful fashion designer or entrepreneur?

Firstly, one needs to be research prolific; making research on fashion trends will help a stylist to be updated. Another is listening to details, some clients always like to do something new even in a trend, so being attentive to them while explaining gives them a sense of belonging. Also, communication skill is key, this will aid understanding of both parties. Being time bound is also a skill that should not be downplayed as a fashion designer. And lastly is being familiar with colors of fabrics because in fashion, colors go beyond the primary and secondary as they exist examples are ‘burnt orange’, ‘crying onions’ etc.


How do you stay updated with the fashion trends in the industry?

Technology plays an important role in this aspect, there’s virtually no business that does not require being technology-savvy these days. With it, information is at finger tips, getting to see peoples’ blend of styles at fashion events on social media and websites. Sometimes, I also draw some patterns at my leisure to throw light on some non-existence designs to see if they will come out good and likeable. Many a time, they work and some others, they are pummeled because they appear to be non-conforming.


What are the most important facets of the fashion industry?

Equipment, location, clients, publicity and pricing are most important. In the yesteryears, when one has a manual sewing machine, one is a fashion designer. But in this modern day, just having that does not bring one to the forefront, in fact, it’s like being sidelined. There is need for more investment for one to be noticed. Location also plays a key aspect in growing the business, setting out in a local environment distils locality to one’s job. Publicity also is an integral aspect of this business.


How do you define your personal style?

My style is unique to me. As part of my own core objective, I’m meant to distil a unique outfit at agreed delivery time. It is what I have used as a basis, and this has led to tremendous supports from clients, family and friends. Of course, fashion is more of rebranding, restyling and remodelling but I try as much as possible to be creative in giving someone even a style that has already existed.


How do ‘bespoke’ fashion appeal to you while working?

I pay attention to details, trying as much as much as possible to iron every part while the process is ongoing to make it factory-like produced. I also take precautions on how I handle clients’ fabrics as this will bring the best of such material when they are completely sewn.


Have you ever gotten the federal government or other schemes’ loans, grants to support your business?

I attended different seminars on securing loans and its benefits me before venturing into one, notwithstanding, government loans and grants help businesses to survive especially SMEs. This is one of the things that led me into it, applying for most ones available. Interestingly, I was shortlisted for one recently organised by the Kwara State Government. Although, I haven’t gotten that of the Federal Government, but I am hopeful that I will, bearing in mind that grants are also my focus to grow my business.


Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

I see myself as an international brand. I have already set a goal to be among the top five in the country with a focus on contributing my quota to the growth of the Nigerian fashion industry. I want to raise the bar to provide affordable clothing with excellent quality for Nigerians.


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