With almost 20 years’ experience in the fashion, Mai Atafo was the perfect choice to be on the Judge panel of the Arise Fashion Week 30 under 30 competition. A major name in the Nigerian Fashion industry, he exudes a sartorial elegance that makes him a model for upcoming fashion brands in the country.
You have unarguably made a huge success of your brand, what do you think a young designer needs to do to achieve this?
I think they need to realize that fashion is business. Even though it gets you excited, and you want to do your design, always think about the business aspect. That’s the only thing that will guarantee you longevity. Also, put your customers at the core. It’s not just about your creativity all the time. It’s also about what customers say is your creativity because they are the ones that actually show you who you are.
So, what did you look out for during the judging process?
Part of the criteria included craftsmanship and cohesiveness of the collection. In addition to that, we had design elements and presentation. I also looked for what I just generally call a vibe…it’s that thing that you actually just can’t rate based on objectivity but is quite subjective. I also looked for people that I know that in another 5 years from now I will look back and say YES, we made the right decision. The ones who are market ready and not just Instagram ready.
Which of the designers were you familiar with prior to the competition?
Quite a few of them! From Kenneth Ize to Tzar to Ziva Lagos to Onalaja to Weizdhurm Franklyn. I’m in the industry so I always have my eyes on new young talents.
What do you think this opportunity will do for these young talents?
Arise is obviously the most remarkable fashion show on the continent. For you to get a chance to be pushed by that platform is a big deal. The spotlight is on them. And to also get like monetary rewards? In dollars? It’s amazing! I wish I was 30, even though I just turned 31 yesterday. It’s quite painful. And to be honest, I didn’t have this during my time. I think this platform is huge and I hope they respect it for what it is and take their brands to the next level.
Who is your favourite Nigerian designer? and don’t say Mai Atafo.
Of course, I’m going to say Mai Atafo. Favourite Nigerian brand that is not Mai Atafo? Okay…I’m going to call a few. Definitely Lanre DaSilva Ajayi, Tiffany Amber…great brand, Deola Sagoe— premium luxury brand, Jewel by Lisa. Who else? April by Kunbi for Bridals, Toju Foyeh. For the guys…I always look at the suit guys first of all so, Tayo Gabriel, Okunoren. Then people that make kaftans. I appreciate Hakbal. I’m the worst person to ask who I look out for because I don’t just make fashion, I consume fashion.
A few weeks ago, I saw an Instagram post where you were being measured by another Nigerian brand. Now that goes against the myth which says Nigerian designers don’t support each other What do you have to say about this?
I think that people should be a bit more open-minded because I don’t think that is what it is in all totality. I think the ones that have crossed that line don’t see it as a competition. Folake (Tiffany Amber) just said to me “Mai I’m coming to you in January because I want you to cut me a bad ass suit on a corset”. Do you understand? We have gotten to that level. it’s probably the younger ones that do that. There is no competition. Competition is for the people out there that want to buy your stuff not against yourselves. I can actually count people in the industry that I have pulled their hands and helped through tough times From Style Temple, April by Kunbi. I mean I’m not trying to call names, but I think I wear designer stuff that I do not make, and I think people should be like that. Lanre Da Silva has helped me several times. We call ourselves and we are friends. Its same with a few of the people I call my colleagues in the industry, so I don’t think it’s a big deal.
The fashion industry was hit by Covid 19, do you see it recovering, and how well do you see new entrants doing, in the face of a pandemic and at a time where the economy is shaky and the whole world is still trying to recover from the many surprises 2020 threw at it ?
I think it affected everyone. Definitely, revenue will go down. I would say for Nigeria, we use fashion as a form of escapism. We just want to dress up for the gram. We just want to dress up and feel good. Obviously, things are opening up. There’s a bit of normalcy beginning to come back. I hope with the vaccine it only takes off from here to where we used to be. I think it’s the right time. They always say, during bad times, it’s the best time to best time to showcase who you are. So, when the times get better, you’re already have a step up. I tell people just drive on and push hard. It will definitely get better. It is actually getting better. If I look at my numbers from few months ago and look at them now, you can tell the difference.