Kitch­ener fash­ion de­signer’s jour­ney be­gan in Nige­ria

Grand Magazine - - CONTENTS - LYNN HAD­DRALL

Satin, lace, chif­fon. Fine fab­rics fill the de­sign stu­dio where Amaka Obodo cre­ates bridal and evening gowns for her QueenDavis la­bel. This is where vi­sion be­comes re­al­ity. Cus­tomers ar­rive with pic­tures torn from mag­a­zines or de­signs they have seen on­line. They want some­thing cre­ated just for them.

“Some­one com­ing in for cus­tom knows what she wants. They see some­thing that they love, but they don’t know how to go about it,” Obodo says. “I do two fit­tings. I make sure it’s per­fect. Once it’s cus­tom, you’re not go­ing to have a prob­lem.”

This lo­cal en­tre­pre­neur cre­ates some­thing unique for each woman, to truly re­flect her per­son­al­ity. In­tri­cate de­tails in­clude em­broi­dery, se­quins, pearls and bead­work.

The Kitch­ener stu­dio is filled with brides­maids’ dresses, wed­ding gowns and evening wear in vary­ing stages of com­ple­tion. Two el­e­gant gowns on man­nequins show­case fin­ished works.

Obodo wears jeans with slight em­bel­lish­ment and a crisp white polo shirt. She adds a touch of bling with dan­gling sparkly ear­rings.

“My style is very sim­ple. Sim­ple with an edge,” she says. “To me, style is com­fort. When you wear some­thing, you have to be sure of what you are wear­ing. I’m very con­fi­dent in what­ever I put on.

“I wear high heels oc­ca­sion­ally, but I have to be go­ing some­where spe­cial.”

You may not know the QueenDavis brand. Obodo plans to change that. She has done this once al­ready. In 2008 she opened her

Oown store in La­gos, Nige­ria’s largest city and then re­lo­cated it to New Haven, Enugu, in 2014. Her mother and sis­ter man­age the Nige­rian store. Obodo vis­its reg­u­larly.

Now she wants to move out of her base­ment stu­dio and open a store in Kitch­ener, a larger space where she can sell her off-the-rack dresses and meet with cus­tomers who want be­spoke creations. Cus­tom brides­maids’ gowns range from $200 to $400. A bridal gown can cost $800 to $2,000 or more, de­pend­ing on the fab­ric and amount of de­tail work re­quired. bodo is Nige­rian-born and raised, grad­u­at­ing from the Univer­sity of Nige­ria in Nsukka with a Bach­e­lor of Sci­ence de­gree, ma­jor­ing in statis­tics.

“I loved to cal­cu­late. Peo­ple don’t know that there is a lot of cal­cu­la­tion in fash­ion. You have to do a lot of math­e­mat­ics,” she ex­plains. “But the (fash­ion) in­ter­est was from the creative mind. I have al­ways had a creative mind.”

Obodo helped univer­sity friends who asked for style ad­vice. This led to styling jobs for mod­els at fash­ion shoots and a de­sire to open her own store, spe­cial­iz­ing in bridal and evening wear.

“I didn’t want a bou­tique; I wanted some­thing where I could dress a bride, make her feel good. That’s when I opened the store in Nige­ria and branded it QueenDavis.”

She launched the Nige­rian store with brands from China and the United States. Now she only sells her cus­tom de­signs.

Obodo, now 33, left Nige­ria when she was 22, liv­ing first in the U.S. where her hus­band got his MBA, then set­tling in Kitch­ener.

She stud­ied fash­ion at the Toronto Film School, which of­fers cour­ses rang­ing from fash­ion and graphic de­sign to video games. Obodo liked be­ing sur­rounded by creative peo­ple from dif­fer­ent fields as she pur­sued her ma­jor in bridal de­sign.

“The school gives us a lot of (sup­port),” she says. “They know a lot of peo­ple in the in­dus­try. They have a lot of con­tacts.” Still, this was not an easy process. “I would go to Toronto from Kitch­ener ev­ery day by bus. That was how de­ter­mined I was,” Obodo re­calls. “I wanted this more than any­thing. It was long and drain­ing.”

She left on the 6 a.m. bus and re­turned on the 7 p.m. bus.

The school keeps in touch with grad­u­ates, of­fer­ing help with con­tacts for events such as the Toronto Women’s Fash­ion Week. Obodo has par­tic­i­pated in sev­eral Toronto shows; her first was in 2017. She started with an in­spi­ra­tion board, sketched de­signs, sourced fab­ric, cre­ated pat­terns and fit­ted the mod­els.

“When I did my first Toronto run­way

show, it felt so real. It was a proud mo­ment for me be­cause this is what I have been want­ing to do for a very long time. My in­struc­tors helped me a lot back­stage so it wasn’t so stress­ful and the show pro­duc­ers were very or­ga­nized.”

The big mo­ment came at the end when she walked the stage with one of the mod­els. Min­gling with other de­sign­ers was also a high­light.

“Be­ing around like-minded creative peo­ple makes me push my­self even harder to find other creative ways of achiev­ing goals. Yes, I do get in­spired by other de­sign­ers.”

Obodo’s pas­sion reached a cross­road when she worked at a ma­jor bridal salon in Toronto. That job lasted just three weeks be­cause she had to set aside her own de­signs and work ex­clu­sively for the com­pany. She was not pre­pared to do that.

She fo­cused in­stead on a stu­dio in her Kitch­ener home, with plans to open a bricks-and-mor­tar shop in 2019.

“I love the en­ergy in down­town Kitch­ener. That’s why I want to move there. Peo­ple can walk in, see what they like, place an or­der. That’s what I’m work­ing on for next year.”

Obodo posts pho­tos of her creations to her web­site – queendavis.com and her In­sta­gram ac­count – queen­davis_­wom­enswear. She re­vealed her am­bi­tions in a post.

“Cre­at­ing my own empire by do­ing what I love. Get­ting this gown ready for a photo shoot,” she wrote, af­ter leav­ing the Toronto bridal salon to start her own busi­ness.

“You can’t have your own brand when work­ing with a com­pany, so I thought I bet­ter build my own empire, no mat­ter how small,” Obodo says. “I’ll build mine one day at a time. It doesn’t mat­ter how long it takes.”

Obodo has at­tended small-busi­ness work­shops and knows that a startup comes with chal­lenges. She of­fers this ad­vice for young en­trepreneurs with small busi­nesses: and be pas­sion­ate about what you do. busi­ness re­quires a lot of time and sac­ri­fice. be on your way to suc­cess.

Obodo’s hus­band, Ikechukwu Obodo, who is an im­mi­gra­tion con­sul­tant based in Burling­ton, helps his wife with the busi­ness side of QueenDavis.

The com­pany name com­bines the cou­ple’s names. She took davis from Mac­davis, one of her hus­band’s given names. She laughs when ex­plain­ing that they each have sev­eral mid­dle names. “You got to get it from your grannie, from your par­ents, every­body names you.”

Obodo ex­pects to be busy in 2019 grow­ing her busi­ness and cel­e­brat­ing 10 years of mar­riage. Did she de­sign her own wed­ding gown?

“I didn’t make it. That was many years ago,” she says, smil­ing. “I had in­put. I went to the store, told them what I wanted, then they got it. I tried it on and that was the only dress that I wanted and I took it.”

It was a happy mo­ment and she likes to repli­cate it for her clients. The best part of her job is the joy she cre­ates for them.

“I think it’s the ex­pe­ri­ence with them. There is a feel­ing that you get when you make some­body happy. She looks good. She is happy. It’s her spe­cial day. I want to be the per­son that makes her feel this good on her wed­ding. I think that’s what drove me to do the bridal line. The ex­pe­ri­ence with the brides.”

Mak­ing a woman feel like a queen for the day. That’s a cus­tom ex­pe­ri­ence.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF AMAKA OBODO

Amaka Obodo, owner of QueenDavis, de­scribes her per­sonal style as “sim­ple with an edge.” She didn’t de­sign this dress; it was an an­niver­sary gift from her hus­band. “He knows my style.”

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