Her name has become synonymous with fashion, not necessarily for being a fashion forward lady, but as a fashion entrepreneur. Ronke Ademiluyi, a trained lawyer turned fashion entrepreneur, founder of the African Fashion Week London and Nigeria, established the platform as a way to support and promote emerging designers in the African fashion industry, and that she’s done in the last 6 years. No doubt, many designers have leveraged on the AFW platform to launch fully into the fashion world. In this interview with G n E’s Jombo Uche, she shares her Journey with AFW (London and Nigeria).
How did you come up with the concept of African Fashion Week London and Nigeria?
I came up with the concept because there was no platform at the time to promote African fashion and cultural heritage and that is how it all started. Initially, I had my boutiques called Rukkies around Lagos, where I was selling western clothing from 2001 till 2011. We were in Ikeja, Surulere and Lagos Island and somehow, I got fed up of promoting other people’s culture and clothing, so I said to myself, ‘why don’t I start like an African Fashion week?’ That was how it all started and we had our first event in London in 2011 and it has been growing since then. This is our 6th year in London and our 3rd year in Nigeria.
With the African Fashion Week platform, what are the innovations you have brought to the Nigerian fashion industry?
A lot of designers now use our platform as a springboard to the fashion industry. Our platform supports a lot of emerging talents and we have helped discover, nurture and promote emerging talents in the fashion industry. A lot of designers now see our platform as a go to place if you want to go into the fashion industry.
What is the future of African Fashion Week in Nigeria and in London?
Well, the future of African fashion will be the globalization of African fashion to be available the way you have western clothing for everyone. Our dream is to see African fashion available everywhere in Europe, America, London, Brazil, Australia and around the world. Our goal is to keep on promoting our designers till we achieve that goal.
What are the lapses you have noticed in African fashion as against what is in the western fashion that can be corrected?
The number one thing will be lack of support and I think that is being corrected now. If you look at the British economy for instance, fashion contributes a lot to the growth of their economy. However, the government also supports the emerging designers and they put a lot into it, because they know what they will get in return at the end of the day. South Africa is the only country in Africa that supports the creative industries. Right now in Nigeria, with the Bank of Industry, it will be a lot easier because we are working with the Bank of Industry. They have created a fund for the fashion industry, which they are using to support the Nigerian designers as well, thereby promoting the fashion industry. By so doing, we are promoting the Naira and we are promoting made in Nigeria outfits and we are promoting export as well. There is no way we will not contribute to the growth of the economy.
Do you wear made in Nigeria as well?
Well, I will say that about 90 percent of what I wear are made in Nigeria by my Nigerian designers.
Your platform AFW is all about fashion, so how fashionable is Ronke?
My style is very simple (smiles). I am more on the business side of fashion as I promote fashion, but I am not a fashion designer or a fashionista, I just promote the business side of fashion. So, I am a fashion entrepreneur.
You can’t be in the Fashion business and not be fashionable?
I try as much as possible to be fashionable, I don’t go over board. I will define my fashion as predominately African because I wear a lot of African brands. I wear a lot of Adire, Ankara and barbie dresses. I will say mainly African.
Growing the AFW brand in the last 6 years,what are the challenges,you have encountered in the process?
Getting the right team, getting people to believe in your dream, getting people to work for you, not just people who are there for the money, but who are passionate as well and getting investors etc, these are the challenges. It has been a successful Journey in the last 6 years that we have been doing it. We do it every year and no year has passed without us doing the show. It has been a success, despite all the challenges.
Which of the challenges that you faced is easier, London or Nigeria?
I will not say the one that is easier because the two countries have their good sides and bad sides. But the thing my team and I do is that, we try as much as possible to live up to the task, have a good show and continue to do what we are doing.
How does your upbringing play a role in what you are doing now?
I was born in London, and I did my primary school in London. I came back to Nigeria to finish my primary and secondary schools. I went back to London for my A-levels. I studied law at Thames Valley University in London, and I moved back to Nigeria in 2001.
Where are you based now?
I consider both London and Nigeria home, but I am here most of the time because I love Nigeria.
Nigerians born abroad tend to assimilate the foreign culture faster than ours. Is that your story?
I think I have been able to balance that, because I have lived in Nigeria and in London.
What else do you do aside from AFW?
At the moment, this is what I do. Managing the two events is really a huge task on its own and hopefully soon, we want to go into manufacturing and production. We want to have a manufacturing hub for our designers, where they can produce their clothing items.
What is your beauty secret?
I try to stay as calm as possible even under stress. A lot of people who work with me like my staff tell me that even under stress, that I am still smiling. The truth is when things go wrong and you stress too much, it is not going to make any difference. The best thing is to look for a way to make things work. Thinking right, being innovative, always trying to come up with something good also works.
Away from work, how do you relax?
I love sleeping. I can go to bed as early as 8:30 or 9pm until the next morning.
What other creative activities do you engage in?
I love philanthropic activities and I am very passionate about giving back. I like to always help in whichever way I can, especially the less privileged ones in the society. It is what I love doing and I will always do.