It takes real guts to pursue a fashion career in Nigeria considering the imperialism and dominance already established by international brands.
Only a courageous few venture into the trade and succeed.
Multi-talented designer and celebrity stylist, Tayo Nathan is one of those special few that has made a mark in the industry.
Starting out his career as a stylist in 2012, he has braved challenges, great and small, to arrive at where he is now.
He launched his brand, TiNathan in 2013 in a tiny community in Maryland, Lagos, and has since worked with international and established faces such as Nigerian actor, Richard Mofe Damijo, singing sensation, Dice Ailes, Akah, among others. He now has about six collections, each with a different theme.
He has also been featured at prestigious fashion shows: the Lagos Fashion and Design Week 2013, Heineken Lagos Fashion and Design Week 2013, Lagos Fashion and Design Week 2014, The London fashion Week Soho 2015, Heineken Lagos Fashion and Design Week 2015, and Heineken Lagos Fashion and Design Week 2016.
InsideMainland recently droped by his studio at Maryland for a tête-à-tête where he talked about his journey so far; his challenges, successes and failures, and plans for the future.
A few months after he debuted his first collection in 2014, he was shortlisted to participate in the *Fayrouz competition – and he won. “We were lucky to have won the Fayrouz competition just after we started the brand. So that’s how we started” he said.
Winning the competition was a major boost for his brand, however, going down, the road has not been so rosy. He has had battle his way through the ever-competitive fashion industry to remain relevant.
He said, “it has been very challenging, but I think the key thing would be consistency because the moment you just die down your buzz a bit, five other upcoming designers are already coming up. And the rate at which new designers come out now is just alarming, you can just wake up and there are five new other men’s wear designers doing almost the same thing you can do, the same thing you boast of doing better than every other person. So, I think consistency is key.”
When asked what his greatest moment in fashion and design was, he replied, “I think my greatest moment would be showing at the London Fashion Week Soho cos’ I got to show alongside international designers that I don’t think I would ever have met, and I met a lot of fashion influencers. I got to meet the chief editor of Vogue Italia, the creative director of the London fashion week, and others. So I think that was my defining moment.”
Maintaining relevance in the face paced world of fashion, unarguably, requires a stead flow of brilliant and innovative ideas. These ideas have not been scare for Nathan as he draws inspiration for his designs from his personal life experiences.
“My designs are inspired by personal life stories. If you go through my collection, you can tell. You can see one talks about love and heartbreak, one inspired by my sister, and my last collection which told a story of my growing from a being a boy to being a man” he said.
Considering the myriad of local brand struggling to keep abuzz, he also had to carve out a unique selling point for his brand. While it is believed that fashion has to be sophisticated and exaggerated, Nathan chose to go in the opposite direction.
Speaking on what makes his brand unique, he said, “I think it would be our aesthetics, our penchant for clean tailoring. Our brand is not so dramatic, our strong points lie in our tailoring and a bit of our attitude towards everything we do.”
“In the brand we don’t do a lot, we try to make it as minimal as possible. If we are doing embroidery on this space, it’s just going to be embroidery on this space. If we are doing hand painting on this space, it’s just going to be hand painting. So, we try not to do so much on a particular piece,” he explained further.
Although working with celebrities comes with its benefits, it can also be very challenging. From trying to meet up with their high demands to having to deal with some unpleasant characters, Nathan has seen it all.
“I just try to make my relationship with celebrities as official as possible, that’s the best way to keep thing with them cos sometimes they’re just rude and want to ride on the fact that they’re celebrities and they’ll want to just ride you of your stuff, maybe want to get outfits free from you. So I try to keep the relationship as official as possible in the process of making the suit and payment, afterward we can proceed to laughing and cracking jokes. I think just being straight forward is the best,” he commented.
Concluding, he talked about country-specific challenges faced by designers in Nigeria.
“One of the main issues in designing in Nigeria is production, the light is not consistent, fuel is expensive, and also manpower, having a lot of tailors to actually work as fast as you want them to work, so production is the main problem in designing.”
On another problem being Nigerians who still tend to tilt towards international brands, neglecting the local ones, he commented that the onus is on the local designers to make their products so good that Nigerians no longer have to go look beyond our shore for their fashion needs.
“I’ve met a lot of clients that just say “I’m trying you out because I don’t have time to travel to go get my stuff,” but I think if your stuff is good, then you don’t have a problem. Like some cases when someone has told me, ‘I’m just patronizing you because I don’t have time to travel’, in the same light the person has tried on the suit or maybe the shirt I made for the person and go “oh! I think there’s no point traveling to get stuff.” So I believe once your stuff is good and you can prove yourself, you have no challenge facing foreign buyers and the rest. Once your stuff is good and you can deliver, you don’t have any problem.”
Going forward, he said he hope to expand his business and make it more accessible to every class.
“I’m looking to open stores in other parts of Lagos, maybe on the Island. We’re trying to branch out in as many places as possible so we’ll have a brand that’s as public as possible, a household brand, a brand that’s not cheap but affordable for everyone, so that’s what we’re trying to do. Let’s see where the Lord takes us.”