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An exclusive interview with design fashion Africa season 2, Ohlanna Bu Zikora

The world of fashion in Nigeria has transcended into an era of experimentation and exhibition. It has over time developed into cultural celebration and personality indoctrination. Platforms like Design Fashion Africa, DFA, are offering themselves as an opportunity to younger designers who are looking to level up their brands. Just recently, they crowned their Season 2 winner, Ohlanna Bu Zikora.
Zikoranachukwuebuka Ikebuaku is the self-taught designer and founder of contemporary womenswear luxury brand, Ohlanna Bu Zikora. He is a 2013 graduate from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, with a degree in English and Literature studies, majoring in contemporary African literature.

How would you describe your brand?
*Laughs* Umm… Ohlanna Bu Zikora is the love of my life. *laughs again* It’s a brand that is heavily built on thoughtfulness, you know? I’m building a brand that people would see the intricate work, intelligence and amount of details that’s gone into it. It’s a demi-couture brand on its way to being a full blown old-couture brand that would someday make it to Paris Couture Fashion Week. It is heavily inspired by architecture, literature and traditional Nigerian costumes. Were inspired by soulfulness and the concepts of being. It’s for women who are not scared of stepping into a room for being so different, so outstanding, so poignant. For a woman who is clear and so sure about who she is. Intricate pattern cutting and textile manipulation.

What makes your brand interesting?
I think it is the work that goes into it. When I started, I used to be worried about cutting because I thought it was the hardest part. I was also very fascinated about the complex and detailed cuts, and intelligence that goes into designers I used to be
Kindly tell us about who you are.
I am just Zikora *laughs*. Okay, I’m not just Zikora. I am someone who likes laughter. I am almost shy but also confident. It’s like a combination of both of them. I am a funny and easy person; I love, love and I like happiness around me. My appearance of rigidity comes with building walls and barricades around me, and it comes with existing in a country like Nigeria that frowns at effeminate men like me. I love to watch theatre performances and I enjoy reading contemporary African literature. I like clubbing because I really like to dance. I like small lonely walks with music in my ear, and I enjoy playing monopolies.

How are you infusing your personality into building your brand?
I officially started my brand this March, and I am still discovering myself as a designer – my point of view, and how I want to approach Ohlanna Bu Zikora. The interesting thing is that I refer to it as my alter ego; as in if I were a woman in today’s world, how would I dress? How would I want to be referred to? For me, the brand is everything I am ascribing to be as a person. I’ve also infused the part of me where I’m very particular about research and intentionality. From the cuts to how the garments are constructed, how the brand chooses to be seen, packaging, etc. The fact that I love stories, architecture, colours, history, plants, flowers, referencing old pictures, etc.

Read also: How Afrikrea uses tech to push Africa’s fashion industry globally

How did you learn about DFA?
A friend sent me the post of entry, but I didn’t want to do it for varying reasons. For example, there was my 9-5 job, I was working on my newest collection, I was deciding what I wanted to do and where I was heading with the brand, and I just thought that a reality TV show was not something I wanted to do because the pressure of designing clothes in front of the camera is crazy. Also, most importantly, I didn’t know that I wanted to be that vulnerable with myself on TV, especially because of how boys and men like me are perceived. Thankfully, I had close people who pushed me and saw my potential. So, I submitted my entry about 30 minutes before the deadline.

How was your time during the show?
It was exhausting, it was emotional. It was physically draining and it was fun. It was a lot of learning because working with other creatives can sort of open your eyes and make you realise that designing is a beautiful medium for expression and interpretation. Getting to see the humane part of other designers, learning about them and their fears was also beautiful to see.

What are the major takes home through out your time there?
Working with other designers made me respect other people’s point of view. It made me see the potential in peoples aesthetics, and find a way to make it work even when there were disagreements. I learned about patience, my God, patience and tolerance. I also learnt about honing your craft, and how it gives you some level of advantage over others. I learnt about how great talent is, but how important skills are to interpret talents. I learnt about planning, and how it helps with dealing with fears.

I really just wanted to win the competition because although it doesn’t entirely validate my career trajectory, it still gave me some level. It was some kind of assurance for me to move. Validation? Maybe not entirely, but I would say that it began the process for me; but I don’t think that I feel entirely validated because I have barely scratched the surface.

What would you say are your best moments in the show?
Firstly, winning the first challenge. Secondly, winning the swimwear challenge because swimwear is not something I’m interested in doing. Stretch fabrics are one bulk of fabrics that I really hate. I do very structured stuff and I do not work with fabrics that I find it difficult to control the fit, and that includes swimwears because they contain characteristics that include elasticity. Thirdly, that’ll of course be winning the entire competition.
What are some of the major challenges you’ve faced while building your brand?
Umm… I think finance? Because I am trying to enter a market that is difficult to thrive. The luxury market is pretty difficult to position and that’s the reality. The clients already sort of subscribe to some kind of experience, and it takes money to give them that level of experience. There’s also the struggle of believing in my work. The competition and what’s out there is quite different, making you ask relevant questions like whether or not people would buy what your produce.

If you had the power to change three things in the fashion industry, what would they be?
To be honest, there’s a lot. Can I say four? *laughs*. Okay, first off, I wish there were more fashion schools; and when I say fashion schools, I don’t mean dressmaking schools. I wish there was like a proper fashion design curriculum in Nigerian universities and polytechnics. I wish that the Nigerian education board would do something about introducing a proper degree, just like people go to schools to study Theatre Arts.
I also wish we were more together. I know there’s FADAN, but I wish it was more inclusive and everybody was really a part of it. With that way, we’d be able to have a well developed system, and have the voice to push for certain things to be done. I wish the government could pay attention to the fact that fashion can be a huge source of income to the country. Restoring factories in places like Kaduna, Kano, Katsina and other places that allows the growth of cotton and other plants that are environmentally friendly.
Lastly, I wish that younger designers could be more willing to go work with older designers, and gather that much experience from them too. It enables learning, and grants access to that space where you know that you can be refined and taught.

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