It is impossible, if not something of an abomination, to talk about African women without touching on fashion and beauty. Colourful dyes and intricate embroidery with chunky accessories and beads have been as much a part of African women’s culture and history as has industry and entrepreneurship.
Today, many men and women, young and old, earn a living and provide for their families as tailors and seamstresses. Some take this a step further and debut as designers and stylists. This week’s Ventures Woman spotlight rests on Omoyemi Akerele, an acclaimed Fashion entrepreneur and consultant, who represents a woman near the peak of achievement in the industry. The Executive Director of the soon to hold Lagos Fashion and Design Week and Creative Director and Founder of Style House Files, Ms. Akerele combines style and business savvy and is a pioneer of Nigeria’s fashion and image consulting industry.
Like many of her African counterparts, Omoyemi did not venture directly into the creative field. She received her Bachelor of Law degree from University of Lagos and a Masters in International Economic Law from the University of Warwick, United Kingdom. She spent a number of years working at a prestigious Lagos firm, Olaniwun Ajayi & Co and rose to the level of Associate. Eventually, her passion for fashion won out and she pursued a career in image consulting, then little-known in Nigeria. Omoyemi qualified as an Image Consultant at Aston-Hayes, a prominent image consulting company in London. She forged a partnership with well-known stylist Bola Balogun, another vibrant image consultant who has styled the likes of Justin Timberlake and Destiny’s Child and consulted for top international media houses Marie Claire and E! The pair formed Exclusive Styling and Image Consultancy in 2005 and quickly became the most sought-after image consultants in the country. They collaborated regularly with some of Nigeria’s top fashion designers and were regular fashion-consultants for True Love West Africa magazine where Omoyemi was also the first senior fashion editor. News giant CNN, described Akerele as a ‘fashion pioneer’ in Nigeria.
Like a true trailblazer, Omoyemi started Style House Files in March 2010, an online fashion guide dedicated to providing style and beauty guidance from an African perspective. SHF also targets its efforts towards providing support for the growth and development of the fashion industry in Nigeria through initiatives that support emerging designers and encourage consumer purchase. One such initiative is the Lagos Fashion and Design Week (LFDW), a fashion event that brings the best in upcoming fashion talent together with media, industry experts and fashion consumers. With the support of the British Council, LFDW and telecoms giant, MTN, will be awarding 3 young entrants in Fashion with the Young Creative Entrepreneur of the Year, Young Designer of the Year and Young Model of the Year awards at this year’s event on October 24-27. Winners in these categories receive cash prizes and opportunities for development.
The impact of Omoyemi Akerele’s work on the fashion industry and economy is multi-faceted. She continues to develop as an entrepreneur and stylist while paving the way for entry of many more established and upcoming African designers into the international fashion scene. LFDW recently returned from the Pitti Immagine 2012 ‘Rhythms of Africa’ exhibit in Italy where she also hosted Jewel by Lisa, an established clothing and accessory designer in Nigeria. Jewel by Lisa was selected by Vogue Italia in their ‘Who is Next’ talent exhibition, bringing more visibility to owner, Lisa Folawiyo’s already beloved brand. Isoken Ogiemwonyi, the young creative director of fashion label Obsidian and co-founder of retail brands, Le Petit Marche and L’Espace, was selected as LFDW’s 2012 Young Creative Entrepreneur. In addition to a 2 million naira cash prize ($12, 718), Isoken won a tour of London Fashion Week and the exclusive opportunity to mingle with 30 other Young Creative Entrepreneurs from all over the world. Omoyemi Akerele’s work with LFDW is set to propel Nigeria’s fashion industry forward into the global spotlight.
Fashion has always been and continues to be an important aspect of African culture. Many now recognise its potential as a significant contributor to Africa’s economic development as more fashion entrepreneurs follow in Akerele’s footsteps.