I sold my house in Totteridge to finance Africa Fashion Week, London – Ademiluyi
Ronke Ademiluyi is a member of royalty born to a descendant of the royal family of Ile-Ife. She is the founder of Africa Fashion Week London (AFWL), now the UK’s largest annual fashion event that promotes and nurtures African and African-inspired design talent. In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE-KORIEOCHA, she shares success stories from the event and why she is dedicated to promoting African fashion.
Having studied law at university, why did you decide to get into fashion?
I studied law because back then you couldn’t tell your parents that you wanted to study fashion because it wasn’t seen as a lucrative profession at the time. But the desire to get into the fashion industry was always in my thought process, and eventually I was able to turn that thought into action when I set up a chain of retail boutiques called Rukkies in 2001.
What inspired you to start Africa Fashion Week London (AFWL)?
In 2011, there was almost no representation of African fashion in the mainstream global fashion industry, unlike now that African fashion influences global fashion and many Western designers take inspiration from African fashion, so African fashion week London was born out of this need. urgent and moral obligation to showcase African designers in the West.
Africa Fashion Week, an African event, is always held in London. Why London? Why not any other African country?
When I had the idea in 2011 to start an African fashion week in London, nobody believed in it, almost everyone I spoke to thought it was unattainable, but I kept my intuition to establish a platform that would promote and create awareness for African designers. I ended up selling my flat in Totteridge to finance and support it, and it has now become a household name in the UK, where hundreds of African brands participate every year. The success of our event has inspired the growth of African fashion weeks in many cities around the world who see us as the mother of African fashion.
AFWL is part of the success story of many designers who continue to use our platform and tell us how they managed to sustain their brands, through the visibility, awareness, media access, etc. that our platform continues to provide them.
Africa Fashion Week London showcased over 1,000 designers and exhibitors from Africa and the global diaspora to over 70,000 visitors and represented designers from 27 African countries and over 20 African-inspired designers from countries outside the African continent, including France, Netherlands, USA , Brazil, China, the Caribbean and of course the UK. How did you manage to reach these big milestones through this event?
Fashion has always been my passion which started with a thought that turned into action and evolved in different ways. First, I’m a hands-on person, as nothing beats seeing your boss at work; it serves as an energy booster, so when my team sees how hard I work to keep the brand alive, they do the same.
Also, I’m a very focused person and I know what I want, even when I was told in 2011 that an African fashion week in London would never be possible, it’s been going on for 12 years. So for me it’s hard work that life is not a bed of roses and the decision to pursue my dream and not sleep. Consistency and belief in the power of the can-do even when the doors are shut in your face. And most of all having a great team whose goals align with yours.
In 2014, you set up a sister platform in Nigeria, Africa Fashion Week Nigeria. What has been the success story of this since it was established?
A few years after the London event, there was an influx of emerging African designers who were very creative and wanted to be exposed in London but couldn’t get the financial backing, so we created a sister platform called Africa Fashion Week Nigeria. It is now in its 8th year and is a phenomenal platform for young Nigerian and emerging African creatives, supporting growth and development.
You’re gearing up for this year’s edition of AFWN, what’s different this year?
AFWN 2022 will take place September 7-9 at the Eko Hotel. And for the first time since our inception in 2014, we are partnering with another powerhouse brand, Lagos Fashion Fair owned by Atlantic Exhibition. Olufolake Abdulrazaq, the AFWN Matron, will hand out some special recognition awards. Also this year we are collaborating with FADAN to showcase a collective of Nigerian designers.
You’re currently doing a lot with Adire and obviously reviving the industry from what we see. What are some of the things you’ve done to make Adire’s designs unique?
I set up the Adire Oodua Textile hub in 2021 as a Covid bounce back facility for women and unemployed youth. Our sole benefactor is Ooni Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi Ojaja II of Ife Kingdom, the custodian of Yoruba cultures and traditions. Our vision was to set up an indigenous textile hub for training and working with women in the rural areas of Nigeria. Our mission is to use our heritage fabric as a wealth creation tool for rural women and unemployed youth to enable them to generate a sustainable living through the sustenance of our heritage fabric.
The Adire hub invests in human capacity building and we rely on human labor and not machines, this enables us to engage the services of 100s of the locals. Based on this, we have the capacity to produce 1000s of handmade Adire every month; we cater to retail markets, wholesale markets, and individual designer markets for those who want their customized designs.
You mentioned that there will be an Adire pavilion at Africa fashion London this year, tell us about that and what should we expect?
The Adire Pavilion is a collaboration between Eco Bank and AFWL. Eco Bank is supporting us to showcase Adire Artisan in London and our focus is on developing more markets outside Nigeria, especially with the diaspora. Our intention is to establish and direct Trade Centers in some major cities around the world starting with London. That’s why our theme for Africa Fashion Week Nigeria and London 2022 is Adire Culture, we start with an awareness showcase, discussions and workshops at AFWNigeria 2022 held in Lagos from 7th to 9th September and choose the best of Adire for export to present at London’s Africa Fashion Week in October during Black History Month. Our intention is to position Adire as one of Nigeria’s non-oil exports
Where do you see adire in the coming years?
I see Adire as the next shea butter. We have developed a TV series L’ADIRE which is being shown on Africa Magic. The series was created to promote the traditional Tie & Die (Adire) industry, our traditional fabric. This will allow us to involve more young people in the indigenous textile industry, as well as promote trade and tie & die (Adire) skills. A visit to the center will educate you about the women and youth we are working with at Adire in a very fascinating way.
Our free Adire training programs train women and youth for free with the support of our training partners such as Chestrad Global, which is led by Lola Dare. Partnerships like these allow us to empower students with creative skills and work with women in rural areas to ensure the craft of Adire is passed on to the next generation and allow them to come up with innovative and digital skills to enhance old methodologies.
In 2021, you produced the AFWL Business Fashion Forum in collaboration with the London Mayor’s Office, the South African Department of Commerce and the V&A Museum. What is this forum trying to achieve?
The Business of African fashion forum that we started in 2019 was to educate people about the potential of the multibillion dollar African fashion industry, how it can change the game for unemployed youth, how it can eradicate poverty, how it can increase GDP. We explore the entire value chain of the fashion industry, which not only involves designers, but also fashion photographers, models, stylists, hairdressers and make-up artists, fashion journalists, models, textile and design students, etc.
How many students were you able to mentor through the AFWL Mentoring scheme for Black Fashion Students in the UK that you created in partnership with Northampton University in the UK, and which countries are these students from?
The aim of the mentorship scheme in partnership with the University of Northampton is to help bring equality to black fashion students in the UK. It also allows them to overcome the systemic barriers that cause leading black designers to be under-represented in the UK fashion industry. We’ve partnered with the UON to provide undergraduates with in-person training and masterclasses from some of the UK’s leading professionals of color in the fashion industry. The theme was ‘Enough talk, let’s act.’ According to research, black designers in the UK have to work twice as hard to break into the industry.
Our pilot project started with some fashion students matching them with the UK’s leading color stylists such as Adebayo Jones, Yemi Koshiba and Samson Soboye.
You seem to have a lot of fashion-related businesses that you run successfully in the UK? How easy was it for you to gain traction as a Nigerian in the UK?
This is possible because I remain focused on my mission which is to promote African fashion culture, following my passion and turning it into profit. I also share my vision with others and am always open to collaborations. I’ve also been very consistent.